giovedì 15 settembre 2011

Everything you need to know about James Franco in Venice

So, international readers from the blog, this is for you! JAMES FRANCO ITALIA bring you an exclusive review of James' work at the Biennale. Our friend and correspondent Chiara Fasano was in Venice and now is here to talk about 'Sal' movie, 'Rebel' installation and the round table about Nicholas Ray's movies. You can read all of this (and much more) after the jump.

SEPTEMBER 4th 2011

Every year, since 2006, I've been spending the first two weeks or so of September in Venice. I always go to the Mostra del Cinema. I love movies, I love the festival atmosphere, I love the fact that I can see little movies that will never get a large distribution, I love to meet the people that I admire and to see their films. This year has been a special year for me, because I had the chance to meet and see the works of an artist that I deeply respect: James Franco.

At 12.00 a.m I'm at the Lido, waiting for James to arrive at the press conference for his movie, 'Sal' that I will see some days later at the Certosa Island, as part of his art exhibition 'Rebel'. James Franco and Val Lauren arrive on perfect time. There are a lot of people waiting for them, hoping to get some autographs, but, at the same time, aware that in those occasions almost nobody stops to say hello to the public, because it is not a 'red carpet moment'. Still, we are all stunned by James' kindness and availability. In five years I'd never seen anyone signing so many autographs and spending so much time with the public at the press conference entrance. He was so kind that, even though he was already walking to the entrance of the Palazzo del Casinò, he came back to me when I called him and asked for a picture together.

At 5.15 p.m., after the projection of Nicholas Ray's restored version of 'We Can't Go Home Again' I assist to the roundtable on Rayìs cinema, held by the Festival director Marco Müller, Alberto Pezzotta, author of a book on Nicholas Ray, Ray's wife Susan, visual artist Douglas Gordon and James Franco. Before the conference starts I have my 'special moment of the day': James looks at me and, recognizing me from that morning, smiles to me and says: "Hi!". 

The panel is very interesting. Müller and Mrs. Ray talk a little bit about the movie and then he asks James what he likes about Ray's cinema. James says that what he loves is his way of portraying teenagers. It was totally new at the time and incredibly relevant today too. Ray used to face youth in a psychological way, told the stories of the kids from the suburbans and gave them voice. He was able to do that because he surrounded himself with teenagers, both in front and behind the camera. James also says that he is always moved by Ray's films, by their stories, by the colors and the emotions that come from the performances. 

Then Pezzotta talks about how contemporary is Nicholas Ray's cinema. He started working on movies in 1946. Before that, he used to work for the television and the radio. In this period he developed a sense of disillusion, derived mostly from the New Deal utopia. According to the author, it's from that that Ray'’s sense of history arises. When he had a project in his hands he already felt the History behind him, nonetheless he needed to start over again. Nicholas Ray didn't want to reveal absolute truths, didn't have a style to impose. On the contrary, he never wanted to repeat himself, he didn't want to become an imitation of himself. For example, in a film, he refused to use a 360° framing, because he had already used it in 'Rebel Without a Cause'.

Afterwards the discussion shifts to 'Rebel', collateral event of the 54th Biennale d'Arte. It is an artexhibition by James Franco in collaboration with Douglas Gordon, Harmony Korine, Damon McCarthy, Paul McCarthy, Ed Ruscha and Aaron Young. Marco Müller says that in 'Rebel' Nicholas Ray's poetics and contemporary art merge together. James nods and says that the idea was born from the will of dealing with Ray's themes but also involving people from the art field. In that way they could put their hands on elements which would have been impossible to work on in an exclusively cinematic product, especially at Ray's time. So James presented his material to Douglas Gordon who find it so original and interesting that he was more than happy to be part of the project. He also contributed with a video featuring Henry Hopper.

What would James Franco ask Nicholas Ray today? He thinks a little bit about it and then says that he simply would ask him for working together on something. And what is the difference between the youth portrayed by Nicholas Ray and nowadays youth? James looks impressed: "That's a big question!", but there is no question that gives him trouble. He's a volcano, his way of talking about cinema and art is mesmerizing. He says that Ray was seen as a subversive because he was the first to deal with some uncomfortable themes. Let's think about Sal Mineo, the first gay teenager in the history of cinema. Today there is more freedom. Once Gus Van Sant told him that he was forbidden to put some sex scenes in a TV series. Today it is the opposite. The producers themselves push to have those - verbatim - "cable moments". Susan Ray adds that Nicholas' youth was very physical. Today teenagers live in a virtual world, they're almost alienated.

The public applaud and Marco Müller thanks everyone for coming. I leave the Palazzo happy and satisfied to have assisted to a really interesting talk. Happy and proud to be a fan of such an extraordinary person as James Franco. Happy and excited to go and see 'Rebel', some days later.

SEPTEMBER 7th 2011

I go to the Certosa Island. The first thing that catches my eyes is the wildness of the Island: 2500 m2, woodland and weed all around, no delimited paths, goats and mufflons moving about undisturbed. The only signs of 'civilization' are a bar and some warehouses. In that moment I wander why they chose such a savage place. I’ll try to figure it out at the end of the visit. 'Rebel' is a set of video installations placed in four buildings in different spots of the Island. I go to the first one, called Castello delle Polveri. I turn the door handle. Closed. I wander around, hopefully I'll find someone to ask for some information. But there is nobody there. After some minutes I meet a guy, as desperate as me because every building is closed. So we make a lot of phone calls to the Biennale. We are told that they would send someone. An hour later here comes a man, holding some keys. He opens all the doors and makes up a story, trying to purge himself.

Anyway, I finally enter the first building and I see the first video: Sal, by James Franco. I absolutely loved it. It's the tale of one normal day in the life of a man. An actor, whose life finally seems to have gotten to a turning point: the opening of a play he's in is close to hand and he will finally be able to direct a film he strongly believes in. The camera is on Sal like a ghost. Through beautiful close-ups we follow him during the day and see everything he does. We are with him when he gets up, has breakfast, reads some magazines, brushes his teeth, reviews his script, drives to his friend’s place and goes out with him… Here are the most amazing scenes of the film. My favorite ones, anyways: Sal driving. Every time he starts the car, he listens to the same beautiful song from the radio. When this breathtaking female voice is on the background, the scene gets slower, the framing fades, the lights and the objects melt together. There is something so beautiful and so poetic within these scenes! I thought about Sophia Coppola, Cassavetes, Wong Kar Wai. Sal's day goes on. Back home, he phones to some friends and invites them to the opening, argues with his housekeeper, goes to the rehearsals. Here's the longest scene of the film. He repeats his lines with his co-protagonist, played by Jim Parrack and they are directed on the stage by the character played by James Franco himself. However, we never see James' face. Either we see his back or we only listen to his voice. At the end of the rehearsals Sal goes back home, happy and with high hopes. But… something else is waiting for him, someone else: a man with a knife in his hand. And the rest his history. Some critics complained because according to them the film is too slow and the sequences never-ending. I do not agree at all. It is exactly like it should be. It is perfect for the film that Franco wanted to make. It allows the public to really get to know the character. It's by those trivial moments that appears who Sal Mineo is: a good, humble, talented sensitive kid, portrayed by Val Lauren's honest and superb performance. Franco is able to tell the story of this man and emotionally involving the public, only focusing on 24 hours of his life. And he does that with such a unique and uncommon sensibility. We don't need to know more, we don't need a traditional biopic, a "history lesson", as he himself said. That's what I loved about the movie.

At the second floor of the building there is another video, always by James Franco: Brad Renfro Forever. It's a documentary on the day in which James had the word Brad carved in his arm. It is a tribute to the late young actor, also remembered by the words of James himself, Jim Parrack and Scott Haze. As I proceed on the Island I get to the next building, the Centrale Elettrica. In a very dark room the video by Douglas Gordon is shown: Henry Rebel Burning and Drawing. Henry Hopper is on a stage, burning with pain, as if an invisible hand is torturing him. He contorts, falls down then gets up again, progressively takes his clothes off, screams in agony. But then… the catharsis: he finds peace when he draws red lines on his naked body with a red pen. At the roundtable on Nicholas Ray, Gordon explained where the idea for this video came from: his daughter enjoys to trace out the lines of the tatoo on her father wrist with her fingers. In his video we find the same relationship between ink and pain.

Out of this building you’re led to the next installation, in a semi-open space. There are two videos (by James Franco) on two television screens facing each other. In one of them, Through the Fence there are some animals like horses, bulls etc. running free in a sort of ring. On the background, some rock music that you're able to listen to only by headphones. On the other one there is documentary, Cuttle: in the same ring the animals are not running free, but captured by some people who keep them and castrate them. Then they pull out the insides, cook them and eat them. These people are interviewed. They've been doing this job since ages. At the end of the video we see James on his director's chair, eating those insides as well.

After this I go to the next building, the Casa dell'Ortolano. Here there are three screens on three walls. The one in the middle is turned off. On the one on the right there is a still frame: a typical American sunny 'route'. It's Rebel Walk, by Aaron Young. On the one in front of it a video is projected, The Blind Run by Ed Ruscha. Ruscha himself is sitting at a table and is reading a script. Every now and then the image divides in two or three and on these portions of the screen there are different footages: Los Angeles roofs, an helicopter in the sky, the helicopter on the ground with some people inside. I recognize James Franco and Agyness Dean. When this film ends, the image in 'Rebel Walks' changes. It appears a blue car, in a vertical position, which, all of a sudden falls down and disappears into the street. At the end of this other video, the screen in the middle turns on and a film starts: Caput, by Harmony Korine. It’s the bloody fight between two Los Angeles gangs, both made up of many naked girls. One is headed by a masked boy wearing a t-shirt with James Dean’s face printed on it and the other one is headed by James Franco, with a Sal Mineo t-shirt. James/Sal triumphs: the other guy’s head is in his hand. This is the end of the last video of the installation.

As with every work of art, I try to figure out the meaning, that, of course, is very personal and subjective. I start from the name of the exhibition, 'Rebel'. The video featuring Henry Hopper and 'Cattle' have something in common: they portray naturally rebel individuals who are, somehow, bridled. The teenager, by an invisible hand that makes him suffer and the animals by the more physical human hand. So the rebel nature is subjected to an external limitation. The same external limitation strikes down the lives of two young men at the height of their existences and with an universe of possibilities in front of them, Brad Renfro and Sal Mineo. They are young. The young are Nicholas Ray's favorite subjects. We can find the same gangs fights of 'Rebel Whithout A Cause' in the video by Harmony Korine, presented in an equally dramatic way. Here comes again the word 'Rebel'. The whole thing is set in a singular place, the Certosa Island. Now I can answer my initial question: why such a savage place? Why not a normal city building? It is just a set of videos after all… Well, no. I think that the setting is functional to the general idea of the work: the spots are definitely as messy, as boundless, as wild, as REBEL as the protagonists of the videos.

13 commenti:

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I was fascinated with the 'Rebel' Installation from the first moment I heard about it. Your description and review of the project was very insightful, and now I wish that I could have seen it myself. Also, congrats on getting to meet and have your picture taken with James! He is brilliant and amazing!

  2. You're welcome DocAimster! It was a pleasure to share my experience with you all. I'm so glad you liked the article!:D
    I hope my English is fine, I apologize for the possible mistakes.

  3. Bravo Sonny ,, I enjoyed it and its amazing :) xoxo


  4. Bravoooo¡¡¡ My friends¡¡ a great Review.. how amazing is James in everything he does, as a director has very good projection and sensitivity, I would love to see Sal and the other documentaries, hopefully soon,
    wonderful review ... Thanks
    Cilvia :D

  5. You're welcome Shaima and Clivia!

  6. Thanks for comments guys, much appreciated! :)

  7. Gracias y felicitaciones! Es un review excelente!!! Que suerte tenes, disfrutaste de Rebel y tenes una muy linda tu foto con James.

  8. Excellent review!!I'm dying to see Rebel.

  9. Muchisimas gracias EzSole!! =))))
    Thank you Anon! =))))

  10. Chiara, the way you portrayed everything was art as well, I sense you're quite a storyteller yourself, you have your ways to get people inside your memories, your review was sublime. Thank you and Sonny for that.
    When I heard about the "Rebel" installation I was captivated by it instantly because there were so many ways to portrait rebellious people, times, places, feelings; that I was more than interested in it. And of course among all the ways in which one can portray rebellion is youth, one can be a rebel all our lives but everybody is at least a rebel once in their lives: when we're young. Mostly, we all experience that during youth. A friend of mine was at the Venice Bienale this year, he's a visual artist (painter) and a Beaux Art student like me, he's also a musician (a drummer), so he always gives the fullest of descriptions, since he feels and experiences art in so many ways. He told me he had "tasted in my tongue" the rebel feel of the whole installation. I feel there's always many ways in which we all are rebels at. I find the most important of all to be a rebel to ourselves, to not compromise to things we do not believe in. It's the most difficult of all rebellions we could deal with, since we fight it with ourselves; but it's always a good battle to win. All these different documentaries talk about one same thing: experiencing that battle with ourselves, in the flesh, actually feeling it in our bodies. Even the smallest things, the things that we do on a regular basis can be a rebellious act. It's imperative that we start being rebels not only with our words, but with our minds.

  11. I'm speechless Hattie! Thank you so very much for your beautiful words about my article! It means a lot to me.
    And thank you for the amazing things you wrote about the rebel nature of everybody. Not only I agree with every single thing you said, but I've also understood something more about James' installation. Sharing our own impressions can be so stimulating! Thank you very much!

  12. @Nad, I love every single word you wrote, and most of all I love the fact that this came from James work... "It's imperative that we start being rebels not only with our words, but with our minds." You are damn right! It's not easy to be ourselves in a "rebel" kind of way, that is for me is to be honest with ourselves at first. It's a thing that I forget too often... but I'm still trying! :))