Francophrenia: Tribeca Review

Deliberately oddball doc takes the form of experimental cinema while amusing fans who'd watch James Franco do anything.

James Franco's documentary delves into his experience on "General Hospital."

Like an art-school reimagining of the standard making-of featurette, the Frankensteined Francophrenia culls through 40 hours of mundane backstage material to produce something that looks and sounds like experimental cinema but feels more like one big inside joke. It's an inside joke we're all invited to enjoy, though, and the oddball pic makes a diverting cult object to slot alongside other unusual side projects by actor/student/artist/et cetera James Franco.
After having assistants shoot footage on the set of his well-publicized General Hospital episode at L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art, Franco handed the material over to documentarian Ian Olds with a carte-blanche assignment to do something avant-garde-y with it. Olds sliced and diced, ran scenes of the finished show through video-FX filters, and manhandled the sync sound; after achieving the desired aesthetic, he added another layer of meta by writing a stream-of-consciousness voiceover for the "James Franco" onscreen and voicing it himself.
The loose narrative implied in this voiceover (where Olds' "Franco" is occasionally taunted by other imaginary voices) is of an actor on the verge of a crackup: "I'm all alone in this machine," he says early on, in between less heady complaints about needing to get something to eat before he shoots his next scene.

There's a whiff of psychological horror here, with Franco making repeated comments about "losing it," and wondering if Franco the actor is becoming infected by Franco the General Hospital villain. Olds doesn't try too hard to sell this narrative, undercutting it with weird humor, but he does construct things such that a willing viewer might find other sorts of psychodrama: Other members of the show's cast, standing with blank stares or doing warm-up rituals while waiting for the cameras to roll, begin to look like automatons in a world constructed by unseen, possibly malevolent forces.
One suspects that Olds and Franco will be happy with any interpretation of Francophrenia -- that the point isn't so much to elicit a particular response as to produce one more artifact standing against the notion that the actor's just another dude whose remarkable looks were a ticket to easy fame and fortune.
Or, as Olds' version of Franco puts it here, "I went to graduate school for a reason, people."


Production Company: Rabbit Bandini Productions
Director: Ian Olds, James Franco
Screenwriter: Paul Felten, Ian Olds
Producers: Vince Jolivette, Miles Levy
Director of photography: Doug Chamberlain
Music: Joe Denardo & Kevin Doria
Editor: Ian Olds
Sales: Vince Jolivette, Rabbit Bandini Productions
No rating, 68 minutes