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SXSW '12: Jack Black Talks Musical Aspects Of 'Frank Or Francis' & Says Charlie Kaufman's Film Has "A Powerfully Surrealistic Tone"

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by Todd Gilchrist
March 15, 2012 10:05 AM
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After high-profile roles in commercial fare such as “School Of Rock,” “Nacho Libre” and “The Big Year,” Jack Black has tapped into a series of smaller and more idiosyncratic opportunities, starting with Richard Linklater’s true-crime dramedy “Bernie.” But the comedian and actor has even bigger challenges on the horizon with “Frank Or Francis,” Charlie Kaufman’s follow-up to his 2008 film “Synecdoche, New York.” While appearing at the SXSW Film Festival for the local premiere of “Bernie,” Black revealed he didn’t know how soon shooting was set to begin, but he characterized the film to The Playlist as an incisive portrait of celebrity culture.

“It’s really an incredible look at our entertainment-obsessed society,” Black said Wednesday in Austin. “It’s the most original film about Hollywood that I’ve ever read. I love it and I’m very excited about it.”

Black, of course, is no stranger to music-oriented entertainment, having spent more than a decade as one half of the rock & roll act Tenacious D. But despite reports that “Frank Or Francis” is “set to music,” he said that he’s not yet sure how extensive it might be. “It’s a musical, but I don’t know how much of it will be sung and how much will just be spoken,” Black explained. “I haven’t heard the music yet; that’s still in production.”

Black describes the film as an art-imitating-life tale of the relationship between film bloggers and the people whom they write about. “The character is a blogger, a guy who’s obsessed with a particular filmmaker and feels that he’s better than that filmmaker,” he revealed. “[He] feels that that filmmaker who everyone hails as the greatest writer-director of our time basically does not live up to his personal heroes, who are totally obscure European filmmakers that no one’s ever heard of -- that are mostly made up by Charlie Kaufman.”

Fans of “Synecdoche, New York” recognize that much of that film's appeal lies in its sophisticated, dreamlike, metatextual folds, even if deciphering them is a challenge for many mainstream moviegoers. When asked whether “Frank Or Francis” would follow the same challenging direction taken by 'Synecdoche' or be (comparatively) more accessible, like the films Kaufman made with Spike Jonze, “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation,” Black said "Frank Or Francis" shouldn’t be a total brain-scrambler.

“It’s more accessible in that ‘Synecdoche’ was very much going in and out of a dream state,” he said. “It was more of a science fiction that it never could [exist] outside of the realm of possibility. This one feels slightly more rooted in reality, but it still has a powerfully surrealistic tone.” Black added that it offers a particularly savvy dissection of the obsessive attention that celebrity-worship inspires. “There’s some just beautifully written examinations of celebrity as a mental illness that blow my mind.”

“He’s always blown my mind,” Black added. “He’s always been my favorite writer, so it’s a thrill to be working on something like that.”

"Bernie" opens on April 27th.

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