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.

  • I think the backlash should be reserved by the Hollywood folks who think we need yet another reboot of Spiderman or Superman...

  • The backlash should be reserved for the Hollywood folks who think we need yet another reboot of Spiderman or Superman...

  • Mikki

    I love that James Franco plays by his own rules. He won't be as great at some things as others, but he's not afraid to try.

  • BrunoT

    This guy is a modern day Chauncey Gardner.

  • Mark

    "Frank L. Baum"


    • Word and Film

      Thanks for pointing out our typo, Mark. We've made the correction above.

  • John Boles

    L. Frank Baum, L. Frank Baum, L. Frank Baum ...

  • David

    I did not know I was supposed to dislike James Franco's hosting gig until I read in the media that in was supposed to. Until then, I thought I liked it. I stand corrected.

    • David

      I agree, I thought the performance was witty, funny, dry and refreshing. I thought the two hosts nailed it.

  • Helen

    Matriarch Addie Burden, not patriarch. I agree with you on Franco's excellent taste, but if you're going to compliment him on it, perhaps you should read the books yourself first, hmmm?

  • Nate

    Um, it's Addie Bundren, not Burden, and she was not, in fact, a "patriarch." Not that James Franco would be aware of either of those things himself.

    • Michael

      I don't know, Nate. The man is a doctoral student in English at Yale, while simultaneously pursuing a masters in film at NYU. I'd give him a bit of credit. Since his professors have described him as a "dedicated student," I assume he can figure out Addie Bundren's gender and the proper spelling of her name. I would also surmise that he is capable of dinstinguishing between the errors of an essayist and the attributes of the essay's subject.

  • Cacciatto

    The guy's almost as prolific as Thomas Jefferson. I'm waiting for the James Franco Whirligig. The only criticism I have is that he makes us mortals look like underachieving losers. I mean, I normally feel that way anyway, but he really rubs it in.

  • Majestyk

    All the dissing of Franco appears to come from the media to me. I can't really think of anyone outside of that who's said anything bad about him. I have no problem with him other than I envy his passion for his work. He always came across as a good guy to me so I'm not sure why the media is all over him.

    I say keep going, James, you're on a roll and do whatever makes you happy.


  • Word and Film

    Thanks, Helen and Nate, for your corrections. We've made the adjustments in the post. Best, Word & Film

    • J

      Actually didn't quite make the second correction. It's Bundren, not Bunden.

      Cheers 🙂

  • josh

    here's some criticism of james franco: he's a terrible actor. he looks like he's about to laugh every time he's on screen. spiderman wasn't great, but he killed it.

  • John

    YOU GO BOY! Two thumbs up for tackling Hollywood on your terms!

  • J

    Gosh, that smile wasn't meant to look quite so evil as that one does. Just a friendly one.

  • Peaches

    Dear Word & Film,

    You still have it wrong - it's "BUNDREN", not Bunden. Try again, I hear third time's the charm.

  • C. Webster Rose

    The media is on him because he is something they thought would never again exist. An intellectual with superb acting ability who can clarify to himself the best answer to all of those questioning his ability to do what his action look like he is going to do.
    There are a lot of us that don't need the critic's telling us what is sound decision making let alone if a film is any good.
    I believe Mr. Franco will surprise the media and provide us with great entertainment.

  • bob sacco

    Loved him the second I saw him on Freeks & Geeks.

    He is one of the best American Actors we have. I see lots of Johnny Depp in him artistically.

    He seems to be doing acting for all the right reasons...the art of it.

    How can you not love a guy who at the height of his career decides to go on a soap opera calling it "performance art!"

    That's brilliant! And I bet he's laughing along with all whom get the joke.

    • kim kelley


  • kim kelley

    he can do no wrong...

  • James

    Seriously... here's a guy who get's a modicum of fame under his belt. And instead of using it to party balls or produce the next sex tape du jour, he takes all the things he was passionate about when he was a hungry artist and tries to realize them. Even if he doesn't do all of them with genius... thank god that at least someone with new clout is at least trying. And really... with his ability and schooling, he might actually pull it off.

  • Frederick

    The media can say what they want, but the fact remains, Mr. Franco is one very like-able guy.

  • I do not get it….

    People who are unapologetic about being good looking, intellectually curious, and successful will always be skewered in this petty culture. Unless, of course, they fight some sort of addiction or disease and then they become a darling of the media.

  • James looking more like Jeff Buckley by the hour. He ought to star in bio pic before it's too late!

    • schiffer

      Buckley! Wow, you nailed it.

  • Terri

    I love James. It's refreshing to see an artist such as him doing such serious and amazing work at his age.

  • freaks & geeks

    his bit on stephen colbert was brilliant.

    two erudite actors loving what they do.

  • Anath White

    Whether "typo" or misspelling, it's crucial for a site called "Word and Film" to show up as flaw-free as possible. Yet, even though the cover of the book is seen with its author's name spelled correctly, your writer gets it wrong, over and over.

    Doesn't anybody proofread?

    The author of the Franco-optioned "Zeroville" is Steve Erickson - with a K.

    • Word and Film

      Thanks, Anath. We've made the correction to the spelling of Erickson's name above! Mea culpa.