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

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by /bent
March 5, 2014 2:39 PM
7 Comments
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Interior. Leather Bar. I love this film. The conceit is clever, the execution is exquisite; it's funny without being knowing, it tricks you but isn't smug about it, and best of all it's about hard-core gay sex and its perception both within and without the gay community. But you know the thing I don't love about this film? James bloody Franco. I wasn't that suspicious of him before this, I just thought he was a potentially interesting guy who got lucky and was understandably riding that wave. We'd all be the same. He is, for example, a disastrous poet - truly abominable - but a press came calling so why shouldn't he publish? This felt different. This was beyond opportunism. His contribution to "Interior. Leather Bar" was patronizing, self-promoting and embarrassing. Worst of all, though, was that he didn't see it. He made a great piece of cinema a little worse, and that's a hard thing to forgive. He should have noticed this in the edit - he took a director's credit -  and he should have insisted that his parts were cut down. That way he could have maintained his chosen role as Grand Queer Investigator without the attendant shambles of his tedious contributions.


Milk. Gone are the days when it was considered taboo for a straight heart throb to take on a gay role. As Harvey Milk’s partner Scott Smith, Franco was firmly in love interest territory, and firmly in “not as irritating as Diego Luna’s character” territory. 

My Own Private River. After working with Van Sant on "Milk," Franco teamed up with the director again for a project related to Van Sant's queer classic "My Own Private Idaho." Franco said he's been obsessed with “Idaho” since he was a teenager, which led to “My Own Private River,” a remix of "Idaho" that puts a greater emphasis on the late River Phoenix’s performance and inserts a number of the actor's alternate takes and deleted scenes. It was an extraordinarily ambitious project that plays respectable homage to both Phoenix and "Idaho" -- and absolutely worth seeking out. Here's a Q&A with Franco about "River" from a 2012 event at New York's Film Society of Lincoln Center:


Sal. Franco chose to make one of his first directorial efforts a well-intentioned exploration of one of the very first Hollywood actors to come out publicly: Sal Mineo. Played in the film by Val Lauren (who would later start in "Interior. Leather Bar."), Mineo's homosexuality is explored through a chronicle of the final day of his life (he was stabbed to death at the age of 37). It was an early example of the meta-ness of Franco's work, given he portrayed Mineo's "Rebel Without a Cause" (more on the gay subtext of that film here) co-star James Dean in the 2001 TV biopic "James Dean" -- which, given Dean himself is a considerable gay icon -- probably warrants a spot on this list in itself.

This is the End. Last year's apocalypse-by-way-of-Hollywood-satire comedy "This Is The End" is sure to become a cult classic soon enough (it's the best comedy of last year, as far as we're concerned), and once again finds James Franco playing himself -- and poking fun at his sexuality (which he seems to do best when offering it through a comic lens). It plays up Franco as a narcissist who is in love with Seth Rogen (who co-directed the film and also stars as himself) and includes the following quotable care of Danny McBride as he refuses to believe the world is ending: “James Franco didn’t suck any dick last night? Now I know y’all are trippin’.” The film also was the beginning of a faux gay series of collaborations between Franco and Rogen. For one, they hilariously spoofed Kim and Kayne late last year by making a super gay shot-for-shot remake of their bizarro "Bound 2" video for no apparent reason other than to entertain us (and to lead to this).

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7 Comments

  • Andrew | March 12, 2014 11:49 PMReply

    James Franco is gay and only an idiot would not know that! Franco uses art as a medium to explore his sexuality.Franco is a coward if you have seen interior leather bar you KNOW Franco is indeed gay.

  • ANNA | March 7, 2014 5:46 AMReply

    Pour ma part je pense que James Franco s'approprie la culture gay uniquement pour des raisons commerciales!! Il ne partage rien avec la communauté gay et il est purement hétérosexuel!! C'est un escroc!!

  • David Glassman | March 6, 2014 10:37 AMReply

    I sincerely appreciate this, thank you for the post. I think this is a very interesting discussion for queer folks to have: what exactly constitutes "appropriation" and what constitutes "homage"? When should our feelings be hurt and we do we say that a straight person's interpretation of our culture is illuminating? Franco to me is an example of someone who might have good intentions --his recent staging of little-known Tennessee Williams plays with his students at Cal Arts is an example-- but I feel like the execution and explanations of his dabbling in queer culture often are lame.

  • Freddy Letreuse | March 6, 2014 6:17 AMReply

    Have you guys seen the Broken Tower? Probably the queerest thing he's done. I'm torn - every time I see an interview with him he comes across as a self-important, arrogant jackass. But I don't know what I think about whether a culture should "belong" to certain people and not others. But then, it annoys me that JF is the one who gets to make all this queer cinema as what seems like a hobby, and to give him an edgy anti-Hollywood image.

  • Cassidy | March 6, 2014 4:34 AMReply

    Appropriation, curiosity, cynical exploitation, I'm not sure why Franco, a supposed "straight" guy, keeps drawing from this well. It's a real hum-dinger because he doesn't set off my gaydar at all, but his film choices are so gay, and not in an obviously mockish Nick Swardson kind of way, but in an insider, deep cultural way. However, he's also well known for playing stoners and says that he doesn't really like smoking pot... so there you go.

  • David Glassman | March 5, 2014 3:42 PMReply

    So it's ok for James Franco to appropriate queer culture like a fiend, but not someone like Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club? I personally find Franco's constant borrowing from trans, gay, queer and bisexual worlds very problematic.

  • Alice Lytton | March 5, 2014 3:48 PM

    I couldn't agree more, David. We wanted to look at what we think Franco does well, as well as what might be more problematic, but as you'll notice from my thoughts on ILB, I certainly don't think his work is beyond criticism!

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