James Franco Options Zeroville: Just Another Reason to Start a Backlash to the Franco Backlash

Even before James Franco had finished his tour of duty as the most deadpan (and just plain panned) Oscar host, the polymath actor had already become a moving target for the haterazzi. Why? Because he didn't play hard to get. Franco bypassed  the customary false-humility and fear of over-exposure, and spent the past six months cashing in on his sudden surplus of clout and bankability, gobbling up options on literary properties, pouncing upon stage and screen roles, and launching a slew of sideline endeavors as bar owner, painter, teacher, and academic. Unlike most newly minted stars, he wasn't paralyzed by the prospect of picking a new project and at the mercy of a team of marketing professionals for whom over-exposure is synonymous with career-suicide. Franco clearly hasn't even cracked that playbook, and has shown little interest in operating by  anyone's rules but his own.  That combined with the lingering bitterness over his refusal to mug for the camera or spout his own version of Billy Crystal schtick has caused the worldwide peanut gallery to turn on him something fierce. Still, the beauty is that despite all the relentless bashing, Franco remains relatively unfazed. He hasn't retreated into the Yale library or made any effort to keep his movie biz machinations on the DL. Quite the contrary. Just yesterday, Franco added Steve Ericson's Erickson's Zeroville to the crowded shelf of books he's optioned. Ericson's Erickson's 2007 novel is a fitting choice for academic-actor-auteur, given the book's cine-centric subject matter and its author's position straddling the literary and film worlds. Ericson Erickson, an acclaimed novelist known for his modernist experimentation with narrative structure and voice, has also written widely about film as Los Angeles magazine's film critic. Zeroville's hero, Vikar Jerome, is a hardcore cineaste and cinephile, who processes everything, personally and professionally, through the prism of the films he loves, primarily classics from the twin golden eras of the '40s and the '70s. After he lands a job as a film editor, he falls down a celluloid rabbit hole and makes some startling and tragic discoveries about himself and movie history. If done right, Zeroville sounds perfect material for David Lynch or David Cronenberg. It's still too early to judge whether Franco's got the visionary chops as a director to handle such mysterious, multi-layered material. But still, we're willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, mainly because of his velvet subversive approach to movie stardom and his bloody good taste in books. With that, we leave you with our four-point case in Franco's defense. Feel free to weigh in with your own arguments in support and against the Great and Powerful Mr. Franco. 1. Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian: Directors like Ridley Scott and Todd Field have been foiled in their attempts to adapt this masterpiece of Western gnosticism about a teenage runaway who takes up with a gang of scalp-hunters. But that didn't stop Franco from taking over the rights last fall and announcing his intent to direct the beloved book. 2. William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying: At the same time as declared directorial dibs on Blood Meridian, Franco made the mui macho move of snatching up the rights to this defining work of another 20th-century literary giant. Faulkner's fifth novel interweaves plotlines following a motley ensemble of characters touched by the death of Southern matriarch Addie Bundren. 3. The Broken Tower by Paul L. Mariani: This exploration of the tragic life of modernist poet, Hart Crane, a contemporary of T. S. Eliot who committed suicide at age thirty-two by flinging himself off the side of a steamship, currently shooting in New England, marks Franco's debut as a triple-threat writer-director-star. 4. "Oz: The Great and Powerful": Franco is not involved in this project as a filmmaker (Sam Raimi's got that job well under control). But from the moment he signed on the play the titular wizard, he brought the necessary amount of mystery and showmanship to exponentially ratchet up our fascination with this reboot of the L. Frank Baum classic.