new years eve, 2009. i only work a half-day and return home to find the house all to myself. this is when i realize i should quit my day job and become a soap-opera addict.
flipping through TV, i run across general hospital. but something is wrong; i recognize one of the actors (and not in a i’ve-seen-this-guy-on-the-cover-of-those-soap-opera-magazines-you-see-at-grocery-stores kind of way, but in a i’ve-seen-this-dude-in-movies kind of way). i search my memory database for some recognition of this actor. no luck. it’s only after everyone keeps calling the familiar actor “franco” that it comes to me: it’s that (james) franco dude — you know, the one that was like the hottest up and coming actor last year; the only thing good about pineapple express and the heart-throb from milk. (2008. it seems like forever ago, but it was only last year.)
is franco now a regular on general hospital (genH)? is this a cameo? and what’s with everyone calling him franco? is he playing himself?
as james franco himself explains, in a piece he wrote for the wall street journal, he sought out this gig on genH as a kind of performance art piece as he charts a kind of history of performance art:
i disrupted the audience’s suspension of disbelief, because no matter how far i got into the character, i was going to be perceived as something that doesn’t belong to the incredibly stylized world of soap operas. everyone watching would see an actor they recognized, a real person in a made-up world.
one of the reoccurring features of the “incredibly stylized world of soap operas” are those fixed glances characters give each other (usually before the show cuts to a different scene or commercial) — the music hits a dramatic note and the two characters stare at each other as the camera slowly zooms in on each of their faces. while this is precisely the sense of boredom experienced by any new-comer to a specific soap opera, this slowing down is a necessary for any real fan of a given soap. it is in this slowed down space that the viewer can reconstruct the relationship of the two characters through their past interactions as well as their relationships with all the other characters on the show (who slept with/back-stabbed/tried to murder/stolen a lover of/dreamed about in a coma/faked the death of who(m) — the longer the running of a show, the more complicated and incestuous these relationships become).
the rupture franco refers to in his piece happens here: those glances involving franco are not shot through with traces of franco’s past genH deeds; it’s rather the other franco, the one that exists outside of genH, that fills in the spaces in those long stares.
it’s hear that franco’s description of “a real person in a made-up world” becomes interesting. presumably, every character on genH is also “a real person in a made-up world” (they all have lives separate from their appearances on genH where they eat food, have pets, go shopping, breathe), what makes franco different is that he also has a “reality” in other made-up worlds. the context shot through in those stares involving franco are his other roles — from pineapple express and freaks and geeks to his interviews on entertainment tonight and appearances at movie award shows. it’s precisely his other television persona infringing on the world of genH that cause this disruption.
in genH, franco is a famous artist who works in multiple media. he’s also at an art show — his art show. franco re-creates(?) crime-scenes (from crime photography to turning rooms in the art studio into actual murder scenes complete with police tape, graffiti, blood and dead bodies). he uncovers the obscene underside of genH to wealthy elites so they can then view it at a critical distance.
but can they? some of the re-creations bear an uncanny resemblance to some murders featured on previous genH episodes. a few of the regular genH-ers attending the art show appear to have had something to do with the orignal murders. and franoc is aware of their involvement. there’s an interesting exchange between franco and this one shady looking dude (black leather jacket, slicked black hair) about how realistic the re-creations look (paraphrasing):
franco: how do you know they look so real?
shady dude: i read a lot.
shady dude: you must have done quite a bit of research to get these to appear so real.
franco: i read a lot.
shady dude: you gotta be careful of that — reading too much. you’re mind begins to blur what’s real and what’s not.
i would take that a step further and say that blurring caused by reading makes it so you’re no longer sure if what you’re saying are your words or ones you’ve read.