May 31, 2013

James Franco adapted Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, because of course he did


2013 has already seen Baz Luhrmann’s controversial adaptation of The Great Gatsby; adaptations of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and Dickens‘ Great Expectations are forthcoming. At the Cannes Film Festival last week, actor/student/blogger/artist/musician/professor/writer/director James Franco premiered his own adaptation of an American classic: William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

Initial reactions to Franco’s take on the novel were mixed, mainly because of his decision to shoot the film almost entirely in split-screen—but is this not exactly what we should expect from the modern Renaissance Man?

Actor/student/blogger/artist/musician/professor/writer/director James Franco

Well, maybe he’s not quite a Renaissance Man—that would require actually mastering all of the subjects he chooses to pursue. But Franco’s relentless pursuit of new fields is precisely why his choice to shoot this film in split-screen should come as no surprise. Sure, it could have to do with Faulkner’s own multiple-narrator technique in the novel, but come on, we’re talking about James Franco. He’s never been able to focus on one thing at a time, so why should he focus on just one scene?

And who’s to say Franco’s ADHD hasn’t worked to our benefit? Thanks to his refusal to devote himself entirely to any one role, we’ve been blessed with myriad so-so performances from the James Dean lookalike. Franco has a special ability to perform just as well in blockbuster sellouts as he does in potentially award winning independent and art house films, which is to say he does a pretty good job in all of his films.

The fact is, Franco doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks of him—he’s going to act in all the roles, direct all the movies, take all of the classes (and then teach them), all the while bringing attention to how awesome he is. We can criticize all we want, but his stoned smile, Ivy League pedigree, and bohemian attractiveness make him hard to truly hate. Even as some critics advised that he choose one career and stick to it, TIME magazine came to his defense by calling him the 21st Century’s first great public intellectual.

So, even if Franco’s adaptation of one of Faulkner’s most enduring novels flops artistically and commercially, Franco will probably be fine—at the very least he’ll still get attention for doing just about anything. He’s a bit like the film world’s only child—we’ll continue to put all of his paintings and poems on our refrigerators regardless of their quality.

As for Franco’s adaptation, he’s already defended himself from whatever critics may speak out against the project. Defending Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, he explained that film critics who criticize film adaptations are hypocrites (that’s a lot of criticism in one sentence). He believes that a director’s adaptation is, in a way, his own critique. As he claims to be an ardent fan of Faulkner’s, and since he has just as many personalities as the novel does narrators, this may be Franco’s most logical endeavor yet—we’ll see if it’s his most successful.



Jean-Patrick Grillet is an intern at Melville House.