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James Franco Thinks Being A Sex Addict In 'Shame' Wasn't So Bad, Criticizes Gay Club Sequence

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by Kevin Jagernauth
November 15, 2013 2:10 PM
28 Comments
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So, James Franco has seen "12 Years A Slave" three times already. And after the second viewing, he penned a review for Vice because that's what he does sometimes these days. And leave it to Franco to reference Alexis de Tocqueville and two of his own movies ("Homefront," "This Is The End") in the process. But he also talks about "12 Years A Slave," the book versus the movie and the previous movies of director Steve McQueen, notably "Shame," which Franco has some problems with. Mostly, he thinks being a sex addict probably isn't so bad, and more crucially, he thinks the downward spiral culminating in a gay sex club visit during the third act was a bit offensive: 

Watch Michael Fassbender in Twelve Years a Slave. He has been in every McQueen film to date—did McQueen’s parents like the actor Steve McQueen? Just wondering...—first as the hunger striker, Bobby Sands, in Hunger; then as the sex addict in Shame. He wasn’t such an addict in my opinion, though. I mean, what did he do? Watch porn and screw a handful of people a week? I could point to quite a few folks who do that. And that scene where he’s at his lowest point and wants to fuck and goes into a gay club, and it’s depicted like the seventh level of hell... I mean, it goes back to the horrible representations of gays in the 70s, where the gay club is meant to signify everything dark and depraved. Then the guy gets a minor blowjob, from, Oh no, a man! The horror

Of course, Franco seems to be missing the point that it's not about who Fassbender's character is getting sexually involved with, it's more that his addiction has gone beyond desire or carnality into just needing a fix any way he can get it. That it's in a gay club adds a dramatic weight for a character that is straight, but we do see where Franco is coming from in how the club is presented. Anyway, it's some interesting food for thought. As for "12 Years A Slave"? Franco is utterly blown away by Fassbender's performance and movie itself, and watched it two nights in a row. We'll just let him explain.

This is Fassbender’s film. I don’t say that because the other actors don’t give equally strong performances; it has less to do with the work by the actors and more to do with the way the characters are framed and the kind of material they are given to perform. (As a contrast watch Fassbender in The Councilor [sic] and see him in a passive role. He didn’t suddenly turn into a lesser actor—he filmed it immediately after Twelve Years a Slave—but he was given a part that doesn’t take action, he just sits and suffers.) If this is, in fact, a movie about Epps the slave owner as much as Northup the slave, what does that mean for the audience? We get to watch an incredible actor behave like a monster and we like it, we love itbecause he is so charming, and handsome. We like watching humans get beaten, and if such beatings are framed in the right way, in this case, in an important film about American history, then we will lap up all that brutality and want more. I know I did. I watched it two nights in a row. I love this film. I’m beguiled by it.

*A little postscript after watching the film for the third time: Northup is a hero for the ages, and McQueen has given us a gift.

Agree or disagree with Franco? You know where to go ...

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28 Comments

  • MVS | November 21, 2013 6:34 PMReply

    Yes, and of course had the character been gay and his lowest point of his "addiction" that went beyond "desire" or "carnality", he had picked up a woman for sex, it would by most viewers be seen as a first step in recovery and his life is improving. It would not at all have been useful as a tool in a narrative as a contradictory depravity of one's true sexuality due to addiction. Face it, Gay men (not women) may not for a long time if ever, be treated with the same respect and sensitivity as straight because it defies society's conditioned archaic expectations of the role and duty of men. Not to mention, it is a minority that just about every society in the world uses as the joke in popular culture, at best the joke, masked as inclusiveness and progress. Kinsey had it right 60 years ago and was despised for what we all know is true, sexual attraction in most people is not bound by gender difference. People who pretend otherwise are liars and hypocrites. Mr. Franco has the integrity and high moral character to call it as it is. It just happens to make everyone uneasy. Truth often does.

  • Joanna Folino | November 17, 2013 8:14 AMReply

    James Franco is no Russell Brand that's for sure. He liked the violence in 12 Years A Slave? Something ain't right with the guy.

  • Bryan | November 16, 2013 4:29 PMReply

    I think Franco is spot on about 12 years a slave. I think the first part of the movie was so so and only after Fassbender's character showed up, the whole movie comes to life. His acting and presence really injects the energy and the power to the film. I have never seen any actor emerged so effortlessly into every role he played on screen. What a great actor!

  • Atasi | November 16, 2013 1:10 PMReply

    Oh please..... Franco baby just not one of those types ahhh hahahahaha!!

  • Donella | November 16, 2013 1:01 PMReply

    James Franco's review of both Shame and 12 Years a Slave sound less like legitimate, informed movie criticism and more like closeted come ons for Michael Fassbender.

  • dl | November 16, 2013 11:58 AMReply

    I think brandon was at his most desperate when he went to the gay club but at his most addictive when he had the threesome- it was so horrific to watch someone just trying EVERYTHING to numb what ever pain he had nothing seemed to work for him. As for the movie 12 years I havent seen it yet and I want to but I think its disrespectful to chiwetel for franco to say this is fassbenders film when HE is the lead and its about HIS experience.
    From what I hear the performance is dignified and unshowy. Why are performances like that which are sutle and nuanced always overlooked for the more showy, hammy ones? (not to say the lovely micheal is a showy actor mind!)

  • Will | November 16, 2013 10:59 AMReply

    What a dumb review of a intelligent movie (12 Years). Franco...STFU!

  • Danny | November 16, 2013 1:03 AMReply

    I think it is time for James Franco to come out of the closet LOL! This guy seriously needs to stop being a coward and just come out and admit he's gay or bisexual. All of this coy talk about male homosexuality is fooling nobody.

  • BN | November 17, 2013 7:42 PM

    @ AE

  • BN | November 17, 2013 7:42 PM

    Perfect answer

  • AE | November 17, 2013 9:35 AM

    Whatever Franco's sexuality, the idea that a movie star should just come out is naive and ridiculous. We live in an overtly homophobic culture, and as Franco points out in McQueen's Shame, a more ingrained subtle homophobic culture too. I don't care whether Franco is gay or not but the sexual ambiguity and mystery sure adds to his movie star appeal; if he 'came out' his career would be downgraded to dull topical personality and the good film roles would dry up. The silver screen is a projection of totally unrealistic fantasies, & dreams and in order to fit the mould there is no movie star alive who has been or is honest about who they really are or what they have done in their lives.

  • G5 | November 15, 2013 11:55 PMReply

    Franco is simply not the sharpest tool in the box, he seems to be just a tool.

  • ab | November 15, 2013 6:16 PMReply

    Franco just wants to be buggered by Fassbender.

  • AE | November 17, 2013 9:44 AM

    Are you sure your not the one with the latent buggering desire, or maybe you'd rather watch?

  • HF | November 15, 2013 5:50 PMReply

    I actually think it was a brave choice, and was glad the film went there - addicts subsititute all the time, and this scene was a perfectly set-up example of this in action. It also showed his character having to navigate other men to find one who was not dominant like himself. Interesting to watch and gave us more character information.

    And sex clubs look like - sex clubs; even straight or mixed sex clubs look like that.

  • Charles | November 15, 2013 4:32 PMReply

    The scene at the gay club is problematic and I see why people take issue with it. But don't forget that it isn't his lowest point. Other people have pointed out the scenes directly preceding it (hitting on the girl and getting beaten up by her boyfriend), but no one has mentioned the scene that immediately follows the gay club. The whole downward spiral culminates in Fassbender having a threesome with two prostitutes. You see the horror and helplessness on his face as he's pounding away at these women of the night. Threesomes are usually depicted in a very positive light (to say the least), but in this case it was used to show Fassbender's character at his lowest point.

    So yeah, the gay club wasn't his lowest point. But I see why people would be upset by it. I just think, as others have said, that it was Fassbender getting his fix any way he could get it. And the fact that he did all of these sex acts in one night, that's the negative depiction of his addiction. It's not that he hooked up with a dude, but that none of these sex acts were enough.

  • anon | July 23, 2014 6:31 AM

    exactly

  • bklynfilmgirl | November 15, 2013 4:24 PMReply

    1) James Franco seems to be babbling in this piece, so...caveat emptor (although he is dead on about Fassbender in "The Counselor").

    2) Franco completely misses the point about the gay sex club scene in "Shame" (as did some of the folks who have posted comments). The point isn't about how "dingy" the place is (I've been in "straight" clubs and bars that have the same lighting, decor, etc). The point is that Brandon needs to get off, and he can't find a nearby woman to do it. Franco takes the scene out of context from the scene BEFORE it, in which a bouncer denies Brandon access to a co-ed dance club (as well as the scene before THAT in which Brandon hits on a girl in a bar and proceeds to get beat up by her boyfriend). Brandon sees a man across the street checking him out, and he follows the man into said gay sex club where he looks for him. When the man tries to kiss Brandon, Brandon reacts with disgust and pushes his head down for a bj. This scene shows how desperate Brandon is to get his fix (as the post's author aptly put it), that he would allow a man to fellate him. Hence: his sex addiction. Perhaps the face Brandon made depicts his OWN homophobia (and obvious hypocrisy--but that combination isn't unusual); that may have been a choice that Fassbender made acting-wise. But to say the scene ITSELF is homophobic is simply ludicrous.

    It still stuns me how "Shame" went over so many people's heads.

  • Pope | November 17, 2013 9:41 PM

    Yea I agree. I hate when people find that scene offensive. I don't understand how it would be offensive in that he's a str8 male. Him being str8 is not him being anti-gay. People are confusing Brandon's personal rock-bottom (as a str8 male) with some type of non-existent statement that a sexual rock-bottom is being gay. He has completely subverted his nature because he is an addict and once again...not anti-gay in the least. Besides, it wasn't just some gay club. From what I remember, the place was full of "action." People weren't just sitting at a bar or anything like that. That in itself seems kind of low, no matter if it was gay or str8.

  • Ted | November 15, 2013 4:10 PMReply

    When are we going to give up on the idea that Franco is a serious intellectual and critic? He's a pretender. Look at his reference to de Tocqueville that was mentioned. What does that citation accomplish? It doesn't enhance our understanding of the film, it just proves that Franco possibly once read "Democracy in America." He's basically a college sophomore blurting out random nonsense to appear intelligent. As far as his review of "12 Years a Slave" - there is nothing there to much disagree with because he says nothing meaningful. His only observation is the film has an alternating narrative mode - but that's trivial. I haven't seen "Shame," so I can't say much about those comments.

  • Lou | November 15, 2013 3:58 PMReply

    I can understand why some people might, but I don't consider the scene homophobic. Look, up until that point in the film, we see no indication that Brandon has homosexual tendencies. He is, by all accounts, a straight man. So when we see him go into that club and have a sexual encounter with a man, it is meant to represent the point at which his addiction has completely taken over. It's no longer about pleasure (if it ever really was); it's about feeding this out-of-control impulse.

  • Ugh | November 15, 2013 3:16 PMReply

    Franco's a tool. He calls out McQueen - a British filmmaker - for telling a story that is intrisically American. But then how is this boy for Palo Alto allowed to tell stories about inbred Hicks living in the deep South excused from this?
    Franco's just doing what Franco does best - make EVERYTHING about HIM.

  • fitzcarraldont | November 15, 2013 2:58 PMReply

    this problem with shame was a nail no one had really struck squarely on the head. agree. those two fassbender films reflect two totally different levels of research and inspiration.

  • droop | November 15, 2013 2:43 PMReply

    "That it's in a gay club adds a dramatic weight for a character that is straight." This, of course,is evident nowhere in the film. I have to agree with Franco here, in retrospect it was a sloppy way to portray the guy at his lowest.

  • Eddie | November 15, 2013 4:06 PM

    I can see where you're coming from, Droop, but I think McQueen and Morgan were going for an extreme situation to show just how powerless Brandon was to his addiction.

    Also—and I haven't seen the film in quite a while, so forgive me if I'm misremembering—doesn't the man he encounters in the club somewhat resemble the guy who had just beaten him up outside the bar? I read part of that club scene as Brandon trying to get back at that guy, trying to exert some control after having just been completely destroyed both physically and emotionally. I'm probably completely wrong, but just something that's stuck with me.

  • TimParker | November 15, 2013 3:22 PM

    *"at HIS lowest" - correcting my error in my own post

  • TimParker | November 15, 2013 3:19 PM

    I think the criticism depends on where one gets the idea that he is "at this lowest". Of course it's the music, the way it's filmed and the way the club looks but I also feel like we should look at all the creators of the film and think about intentions. Are all 3 (McQueen, Fassbender, and Abi Morgan) homophobic / anti-gay?? Because for them to be intentionally stating that one really has to be at his "lowest" in order to enter a gay club and that this is what they believe "gay clubs" in general to be like would be quite an offensive way of thinking. I think that as with any other scene in this movie, it simply is a demonstration of what is happening to the character. The club is portrayed in this manner because it is a fetish, darkly-themed gay club and is not portrayed this way just because it is a gay club and that that is what all gay clubs would look like. In other words, these types of clubs exist, and the scene is a demonstration that despite all previous actions and dialogue and appearances, a man who may have come close to committing to his female co-worker (do not have her name readily available) has gone very far from being in a monogamous heterosexual relatonship. This is not a statement that implies wrongdoing by homosexuals or that it would be wrong for this character to become a homosexual. It clearly is a personally unsatisfying experience for this character, despite the physical draw (based on the addictive tendencies).

  • Just Say No | November 15, 2013 2:40 PMReply

    Who really gives a damn what this delusional / pseudo intellectual / egotistic punk truly thinks ?! I mean really , people . This idiot has to be everywhere .

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