Thursday, May 23, 2013

James Franco won't lay dying

James Franco is dividing critics, as usual, this time with his adaptation of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying which screened at Cannes this week.  Interesting to note even the negative reviews grant Franco respect for the effort. An E for effort in the school-like references that critics like Mary Corliss in Time are making as a sort of snarky nod to Franco's grad student status. 

Franco brought it on with his own essay online in the online compendium Vice challenging the critics of Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby
 “The critics who’ve ravaged the film for not being loyal to the book are hypocrites.These people make their living doing readings and critiques of texts in order to generate theories of varying levels of competency. Luhrmann’s film is his reading and adaptation of a text – his critique, if you will.


Feelin' Fine
Corliss begins her review of I Lay Dying by including the quote and going out of her way  to identify the author as "A Ph.D. candidate in English literature at Yale University" before revealing the author as Franco. Corliss goes for the collegiate dig, summing up the film this way 
"... the film of As I Lay Dying reveals itself as a successful summer project for a multitasking graduate student.  But that’s just one opinion of the film. For the definitive take, we must await James Franco’s review of his own film: his critique of his critique, if you will."
It's worth noting that most of the critics focus on Franco's use of split screens; Corliss puts it this way
"Faulkner told this story in a chorus of voices: 15 narrators in the 59 chapters. To locate an equivalent for the novel’s polyphonal scheme, Franco often employs split screens. They may give views of two characters, as when Ma is inside the shack beckoning to Cash outside; or additional perspectives of a single calamity, such as when Addie’s coffin is lost in a river. Sometimes we get two aspects of the same character from slightly different perspectives, as if showing Take One and Take Two. The device imposes a strange rhythm on the images. It distracts as often as it enlightens, and Franco himself seems to have tired of the tactic. He mostly dispenses with it halfway through the film."

Whatever the critical verdict Franco won't be stopped. He's already got the adaptation of Andres Dubus III  Garden of Last Days in development; he'll direct and likely star. 

Below, links to a few of the reviews. First up, THR's Todd McCarthy's rather glowing one!
I'm intrigued.


"James Franco has pulled off a devilishly difficult literary adaptation with this faithful yet cinematically vibrant version of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. "

The Guardian               
"But with As I Lay Dying Franco can chalk up a qualified but distinct success, and another chapter in what is becoming a very notable career."

TIME                                 
"And the movie, whose script he adapted with his Yale classmate Matt Rager, could be an elaborate summer project: attempting to find a cinematic language for Faulkner’s text — Franco’s critique, if you will. The effort is honorable, a mixture of mannerism and earned emotion."

The Independent            
"Franco’s approach to the task is bold and yields some startlingly beautiful sequences but, as feature length drama, it is also lumpy and very uneven"

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