On Erased James Franco and Other Films as Films Disguised as Other Films

April 23, 2009
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In a recent Culture Monster post, the LA Times's David Ng quickly profiles a new 16mm film by the artist who goes by the name Carter. Titled Erased James Franco, it's over an hour's worth of footage in which the titular lead plays himself. Or, synecdochically speaking, he appears as the actor presently known as James Franco.

Playing out starkly distilled and sequentially unmoored solo reproductions of scenes from John Frankenheimer's Seconds, Todd Haynes's Safe, and even several titles from the Francography, he concretely renders the crude serialism of filmed performance. Sure, the list of works that find actors playing actors is long and even includes other artists' efforts (see Francesco Vezzoli). But in most cases, it's actors' muddled sense of identity that is roundly satirized. The strange and tedious "craft" of acting is fleetingly glimpsed, though Jacques Rivette's gigantic Out 1 spends its first few hours (!) monitoring this zone of artifice and actuality while David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE riffs on it to oneiric ends.

At present, there are no plans to screen Erased James Franco at the museum. Not quite conciliation, but I think both Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (screened at LACMA April 10 and 11) and Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light (screening this Friday and Saturday) may belong in the same Warholian continuum as Carter's film. These fictions in a documentary register use long, steady takes and oblique performances. Delphine Seyrig plays lumpen-bourgeois Jeanne Dielman, all routine and repetition in cage-like Brussels, as much as the Mennonite cast of Silent Light play their lyrical likenesses languidly drifting through Reygadas' Scope paradise. Erased looks to be the most edit-heady of the three, replacing the dizzying zoom "cuts" of The Chelsea Girls with real splices. But all three works seem entranced by the materiality of the present moment.

But where these two films seem to greatly divert from Erased is in their lack of Carter's explicit detournments. For something closer, maybe we should look at Johan Grimonprez's Double Take or just about everything by found-footage fountainhead Craig Baldwin. In these films-playing-films-disguised-as-other-films, to paraphrase Kirk Lazarus, we find phantom likenesses of Alfred Hitchcock, L. Ron Hubbard, and Jack Parsons in stories, settings, and relationships only availed though montage.

Like Carter's Franco (or should it be Carter's Franco's Franco?) these avatars are loops: simultaneously in the process of emergence and erasure. Then again Grimonprez and Baldwin more or less belong to another continuum altogether: that of Joseph Cornell and his basement wunderkammers and archive fever dreams. These channels of eternal return messily mutate, remap and recycle. They're porous and fluid, while Erased seems closed and somewhat sculptural in its density. After all, regardless of its title, Erased James Franco is a production, sort of somewhere between séance and Sweding.

Bernardo Rondeau