Friday, September 03, 2010

Fashionable Do's and Don't's in the Penny Press!

Whatever the current himbo-du-jour James Franco is paying the publicists he claims not to have, it's not enough: as the cover of the latest Esquire truthfully declares, the guy is everywhere (not that I'd expect you to know what that cover declares, considering how unbelievably, amateurishly cluttered it is). This is partly due to the usual reasons – he's got upcoming work (movies and a book) to hawk, or to be hawked around him while he appears not to care. But it's also partly due to the fact that Franco in the last few years been morphing from a fairly assembly-line Hollywood leading man into … well, “an individual” would clearly be going too far, but at least a good simulation of one. Increasingly, his antics – going back to (several) schools, studying baroquely useless things like literature, doing a turn on a daytime soap opera, putting up scandalous art exhibits, the aforementioned book – look like the kinds of things any 32-year-old guy would do if he suddenly found himself in possession of fame and money – if that guy were an individual, or maybe wanted to become one (whereas the New England Patriots, alas, can boast a perfect example of what such a guy does with fame and money if he's got no interest in being an individual: he knocks up and discards his girlfriend, buys the most famous idiot runway model currently available, and carries a man-purse in St. Tropez).

This Esquire “profile” (that's what it calls itself, though it isn't even close to being one – think more “press release with digressions”) is by Tom Chiarella, so you know you're going to get good peppy prose. And he doesn't disappoint:
Sometimes Franco gets a little hypnotic with the eye contact. What starts as a steady gaze generally transmutes into the oddly pleased squint that is his war paint, a look that allows him to play both stoner and supervillain with the same incredulous vacancy. He sighs a little, apologetic. “You probably know I have a lot of projects,” he says. “But that one is way, way off. It's just something I'm thinking about.” He whisks at something in the air then. “Off in the distance. Way off.”

These words are so bloated and vague, they almost bob in the air. Franco knows this. “Okay. I want to write a children's book.” He guts out a laugh, snorting himself off the hook. “Someday.” This is a kind of hedge – people are constantly vetting his agenda, because it is unlike the typical high-quote actor's, because it is puzzlingly arcane, because he isn't notching his belt or collecting motorcycles or figuring out new enthusiasms in laboratory drugs, because that agenda appears to have nothing to do with being a rich, laconic, and ultimately free thirty-two-year-old male.

Chiarella's article starts out with some standard interview-code-speak: we first meet Franco sitting “by a side door near a pail of mop water. There's a paperback, palm-pinched, cover down, in his right hand ...” The reason the famous James Franco is reading a paperback one-handed while standing in an alley next to a slop bucket (though Chiarella never spells it out) is because he's smoking, something he does virtually every minute he's awake. But I'll take code-speak over outright PR, which is what Sam Anderson gave us in his Franco “profile” for New York magazine, in which he hilariously tells his readers that Franco “doesn't drink, smoke, or do drugs” - somehow, Anderson's keen perceptions failed to notice that Franco was drunk, stoned, and chain-smoking during that very “profile,” but at least Chiarella doesn't outright lie.

Or maybe he does – certainly his piece as a whole flirts with being willfully false. The text – and the accompanying little fictional squib by the so-talented-he-really-ought-not-to-do-crap-like-this Ben Percy – is constructed in such a way as to encourage readers to take on faith not only that Franco is sincerely interested in all these “projects” of his (as opposed to being interested mainly in the attention they get him) but that the projects themselves aren't worthless. When a gorgeous young actor/model begins shopping around so openly for a new avenue of self-expression, we can reasonably assume the results will be worthless; if Joe Gordon-Levitt decided to write a book, for instance, that's exactly what we'd assume (although of course such predictions can be wrong; Michael Bergin, with nothing but his washboard abs to recommend him, wrote a book that was actually good) – we'd encourage him to confine his personal reinventions to acting, where at least he's got credentials. Franco in these last few years has seemed rather desperately in need of extracurricular credentials, and it's far, far from clear that he knows what work is.

Then again, it's possible that success has fueled experimentation – that happens even to ordinary non-stars. Franco's forthcoming short story collection is a genuinely good debut, and most of its work predates all this art-installation nonsense. Perhaps he should cancel his four post-doc degrees-in-progress, shutter his studio swannings, and buckle down to that most incredibly arduous of all mortal tasks: writing a second book.

It's unlikely, if only because writing is the least glamorous of all the arts – and Franco, being a handsome young man, finds a certain appeal in glamor: hence the appearance in Esquire, which started out its life exclusively as a men's fashion magazine and still pulls in the latest ads from all the big fashion industry names. We see quite a few such ads in this issue. There's Armani, swathing a distracted model in fog and confusing the known order of the universe by making him put on a pair of Michael Jackson gloves:

And there's Lincs, trying to perpetuate the delusion that young men can look heterosexual while wearing ridiculous “skinny” clothing:

But the normally level-headed Tommy Hilfiger stumbles rather badly in this issue – their latest spread contains what could only be termed a hideous fashion faux-pas:

Can the brand be salvaged? Those outfits can't be.


JC said...

Both of these basset hounds look TERRIFIED

steve donoghue said...

Plopped down naked on the lap of a pretty girl - who WOULDN'T be terrified?