A few minutes before last night's L.A. Film Festival premiere of The Broken Tower, which James Franco wrote and directed, a publicist emailed asking if we'd like to interview Franco. Quite. We sprinted to the Regal Theater sans tape recorder or interview questions, notebook in hand, hair trailing behind us in what we hoped was a sensual wave. We took our spot in a line of reporters, and attempted to look official until prompted to speak.
"Why Hart Crane?" we asked when our moment arrived, readying ourselves for a spirited debate on the nature of the early twentieth century epic. Sure, Franco might be pursuing a Ph.D. in literature at Yale, but we did our 8th grade poetry presentation on an excerpt from The Bridge. "It was seven years ago," he said. "I was reading his poetry, and I read his biography by Paul Mariani. Like most of my projects, it just hit me when I read it." Oddly, the actor appeared to be reading from an invisible teleprompter just above and to the left of our head.
"The story spoke to me," he added. "Seven years later, I was at NYU film school and I had to make a thesis. I had been adapting poems into films -- I was making short films, and I thought why not make a movie about the life of a poet, and not a single poem."
Fair enough. And how, pray tell, had he come to discover Crane's work?
"I can remember it perfectly. I was working on a film directed by Nicolas Cage called Sonny. And I was reading a lot of Harold Bloom at the time, and he always talks about Hart Crane. I think in one of his introductions, he mentions Mariani's biography."
A Harold Bloom reference! We felt like we were back in college already. We were ready to dig deeper, but the publicist made a little "hurry-up" motion with her fingers. An assistant smiled cheerfully in a way that meant "wrap it up." We retreated to a corner to type up our notes.
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Two teenaged festival volunteers consulted us nervously: should they ask to get a picture with Agyness Deyn, Franco's rumored girlfriend, who was observing the scene from a few feet away with a face like a patient flower? "Go for it," we advised.
The Broken Tower turned out to be a black-and-white study in experimental minimalism. We watched as the poet (played by Franco) fought with his father, got drunk in Paris, made visceral love to a sailor and recited the book-length poems that evaded success while he lived."This is not Pineapple Express," Franco said.
True. Instead, the actor seems to have put his NYU MFA to use, creating a project whose influences range from Éric Rohmer to Jean-Luc Godard. Admittedly, the movie's dreamlike narrative made it hard to comprehend on first viewing. Never mind. We're certain our invitation to the Franco screening room is on its way.
After the movie, Rhode Island School of Design professor Francisco Ricardo interviewed Franco briefly about his creative process. "Now," he began. "Why Hart Crane?"