You know him. You might love him, and there's just as likely the chance that you hate him. His career began conventionally enough with Judd Apatow's short-lived Freaks and Geeks, where he played the handsome, morally dubious slacker Daniel Desario. Like others from that beloved television show, he moved on to film where roles in successful, occasionally critically acclaimed projects (127 Hours, Milk, Spider-Man 1, 2, and 3) garnered Franco multiple accolades including an Academy Award nomination, a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, and even a nod from the Grammys.
He might have stayed the course to mainstream movie-stardom, but Franco has never surrendered to the mainstream. He induced bewilderment in daytime television watchers with an extended cameo on General Hospital as an actor/serial killer named "Franco." He's a painter, a poet, and a novelist (to varying degrees of acceptance and praise), and he's enthusiastic about continuing education (if not addicted to it), with a stint at the Rhode Island School of Design, an MFA from Columbia, and the pursuit of a PhD at Yale. The apotheosis of this behavioral arc might have been his Academy Awards co-hosting gig with Anne Hathaway, where his delivery could generously be described as laconic, but many, offended by the affront to this apparently sacred institution, called it much worse.
So what is James Franco doing? Some may see an actor overflowing with self-importance, an "elite" disconnected from everything but himself. Others might suspect something a bit more meta, a slow-burn troll similar to Joaquin Phoenix's year-long quest to reinvent himself as a hirsute hip hop star, or a Shia LaBeouf with discipline. Maybe he's just having his own kind of fun - making his own kind of art - and he's in a position to do it. All three seem to annoy a lot of people; he's just not serious.
Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan Editors - editors of THE THING Quarterly, THE THING The Book: A Monument to the Book as Object - seem to have a line on it, or at least are interested in figuring it out. They've published Franco's latest endeavor, THE THING Postcard Book: James Franco, a collection of 30 covers from classic books - all important to the actor - with himself inserted into the jacket. Is it art? I have no idea. Funny? Often. Absurd? Absolutely.
That might be a perfect combination for me, but judge for yourself. Here are four sample postcards from the book, as well as note from the editors, wherein they explain their own fascination.
A Note from the Editors
We were first truly drawn to James Franco’s work back in 2011 when he was on General Hospital playing the character “Franco,” artist and serial killer. It was a befuddling moment for pop culture. Why was James Franco, a bona fide movie star, acting on a daytime soap? And then to compound it further, The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, under the direction of Jeffrey Deitch, curated an event called Soap at MOCA, which involved a live taping of a General Hospital segment— a performance piece, wherein James Franco performs as “Franco,” a performance artist in a soap opera. From that point forward, James has been blurring the lines of art and pop culture on a stage larger than the institution or the movie house. With our experimental publication, THE THING Quarterly, we’ve worked with him on two projects, and each time his work pushes this boundary further and further. In fact, his issue with us (Issue 14) involved James carving the word Brad into his arm as a memorial to the deceased actor Brad Renfro. People ask us: Is that for real? Did he really do it? And, of course, that’s part of the beauty of it. It’s the question of reality or fiction. And, yes, he did do it.
The same is true with this project. James’s approach to the postcard book has been to treat it as a moment of adaptation, a way for him to embody some of the characters in some of his favorite books by some of his favorite writers. And for a brief moment, he lives in that reality. But in doing so, he also makes it part of his own reality . . . and yours.
In other words, he pushes the fiction further into reality and reality further into his fiction. Also, let’s not forget that these are postcards, which are an extremely utilitarian way of sending a short note to a friend on the other side of the world. And it should not go without saying that postcards make for an excellent way to create your own fiction in reality.
Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan Editors, THE THING Quarterly