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James Franco's Queer Catalogue: 10 Very Gay Career Highlights

By /bent | /Bent March 5, 2014 at 2:39PM

James Franco has engaged with queer culture across film, poetry, art and other media. But to what end?
James Franco in "Milk"
James Franco in "Milk"

With FrancoFest, a retrospective celebrating the work of James Franco kicking off today and running through March 13th (check out the full schedule here) -- we figured it was an opportunity for us to take a queer look back at what has truly separated Franco from any of his A-list actor contemporaries: A borderline obsession with incorporating explicit queerness into his work (and thus fucking with a confused mainstream media in the process). In between big budget studio offerings like "Rise of the Planet of Apes," Franco has -- whether through acting or directing or writing (or all three at once) -- explored issues or concepts the vast majority (all?) of his Hollywood colleagues would never touch. It hasn't always worked for us, but we have to preface the following rundown of examples with the fact that we certainly appreciate that Franco has collectively gone there. With that said, here's our thoughts on Franco's queer catalogue:

30 Rock. James Franco was at his comic best during a 2010 guest appearance on "30 Rock" that riffed on closeted actors and their beards (not to mention speculation about his own sexuality). Playing himself, Franco begins a fake relationship with Jane Krakowski's Jenna to cover up rumors that he's in love with... a Japanese body pillow. It's pretty brilliant:

The Clerk's Tale. This short film was based on a poem by queer poet Spencer Reece. The poem and film share a title, which itself comes from Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales". I saw this a while ago, screened at one of Reece's readings. It put Anne Thompson to sleep, but I was luckily aided by a glass of wine.  It was fine but unremarkable, like many short films from early-career directors. I don't want to be too down on it, everyone starts somewhere, but then again not everyone gets the publicity, or the immediate praise, Franco seems to elicit. But still, it was a queer inflected film with older male protagonists with scope for development. My worry with Franco is he's told he's good at so much he gives nothing the time it needs to be anything more than competent.

Feast of Stephen. Franco's short film adaptation of Anthony Hecht’s poem is pretty damn gay. And while it’s not exactly edifying that the protagonist’s strikingly queer fantasy images are followed with a rather nasty comeuppance, perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps.

"Gay Town"
"Gay Town"

Gay Town. Calling an exhibition "Gay Town" certainly creates a good headline, but we're not entirely sure what else it achieves. At last year's Berlinale, James Franco launched a show under the aforementioned name, whose highlights, if that's an appropriate word, included a Spider-Man image scrawled with the words "Fuck Spidey" and an image of Snow White in sexy underwear with a pair of fake breasts attached and marked "K Stew". /bent actually attended this exhibition, and we're still wondering what it all means.

Howl. Long before Harry Potter was a gay poet (the essential tabloid take on Daniel Radcliffe’s turn as Ginsberg), Franco offered his own take in “Howl”, a much more interesting film on formal terms at least. Whether it entirely works or not, few feature films have ever featured poetry so prominently, let alone as defiantly queer a poem as the eponymous epic (and Franco is pretty great as Ginsberg).