Black and white cinematography, a moody, troubled presence, the droning, grumbling voice of James Franco reciting poetry–as deja-vu goes, it’s not so bad. All the same, when it comes to the treatment of Hart Crane, the suicidal gay poet of the 20s and 30s, we’d prefer Franco keep his hands off. Why? Because it’s just possible that the life of an artist doesn’t have to be treated with the painfully pretentious kid gloves of the arthouse genre. Crane’s life and story is one of the most interesting of his era: a minor poet whose modernist paean, The Bridge, placed him among the ranks of T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams, he killed himself at the age of 32 (as any good poet should) by jumping off a steamship. The story of his death became tantamount to legend in years to come, spurring all kinds of artistic tribute, the most famous of which is now showing at the Brooklyn Museum as part of the Hide/Seek show: Marsden Hartley’s Eight Bells Folly.
Whether or not Franco has the understanding and sensitivity to play Crane is beside the point. What started as a propensity for ‘daring’ roles and ‘different’ styles of storytelling has become, by its sheer plentitude, insultingly boring. The lyrical genius of Crane is simply too beautiful and too unique to be heard through the filter of James Franco’s ubiquitous, undiscriminating voice.
Of course, we’ll still be seeing this film, if only to piss ourselves off–and to see where in hell Michael Shannon fits in.