Oscar nominee and post-grad student James Franco is fast becoming his generation’s answer to John Cassavetes, the legendary indie filmmaker. He and his Rabbit Bandini production crew wrapped their Sal Mineo movie at 5am on Monday–it was a nine day shoot. Then, last night, the gang–including Franco–unveiled “The Broken Tower,” Franco’s latest feature directing effort (his other credits including “Good Time Max” and “The Ape”) at the LA Film Festival, followed by a karoake party at The Brass Monkey.
This morning, Franco and manager Miles Levy flew up to San Francisco for a days’ worth of work on “Cherry,” an indie film about a porn actress–not the Linda Lovelace story. Franco is doing a cameo in “Cherry” as a favor to writer-director Stephen Elliott. Got all that?
So what of “The Broken Tower”? Franco introduced the film by reminding everyone: “This is not Pineapple Express.”
Shot in gorgeous black and white, the intimate film is a character study of 1920s poet Hart Crane, a very public homosexual and troubled writer who committed suicide at 32 in 1931. (He jumped off a cruise ship off the coast of Florida.) Franco and crew shot the film in New York, Mexico (substituting as Cuba), and Paris–the latter in a 48 hour adventure that included Notre Dame and other locations gotten on the fly.
The shock is that for no money they’ve made quite a fascinating, well crafted piece that will be a favorite in art houses. Franco knows where to get actors–his mom, children’s book author Betsy Franco, plays Crane’s mother. Franco’s literary agent, Richard Abate, plays his father. Younger brother Dave Franco plays Crane at a younger age. Michael Shannon, a good friend, is in there, too, as are Franco producer Vince Jolivette and other pals.
As Franco himself said during a Q&A following the invite only screening, two scenes will be talked about–one in which Crane (Franco) is shown giving oral sex to another young man. (It’s a prosthetic, don’t worry.) And then there’s a reading Crane gives of one of his poems that goes on, uninterrupted, for ten minutes.
What’s interesting is that Hart Crane is not a particularly sympathetic character, but in Franco’s rendering you come to care about him. Franco’s camera work shows a real style of his own, too, and one that would work well for his planned adaptation of “As I Lay Dying.” The film has a neat cinema verite aspect–not a shaky camera but closeups and angles that suggest a you-are-there feeling. More importantly, Franco the actor melts into the Crane character. He loses himself in the poet.
So what’s next? Rabbit Bandini is shooting some kind of short film concerning Gus van Sant. They’re also attempting a documentary about Gucci’s famed creative director Frida Giannini. There’s also that “Rebel” film I told you about last week. It’s guerilla filmmaking on a very tight budget–Cassavetes must be smiling.