S & M with the Wizard of Oz

James Franco is a Renaissance Man.  Actor, poet, artist;  Franco has recently added film producer and co-director to his long list of credits.  He is using his celebrity clout to pursue projects that he wants to see come to life…

James Franco as the Wizard of Oz
James Franco as the Wizard of Oz

And what does this Renaissance Man want to see?  Why, gay porn of course!

Of the 11 films James Franco either acted in, produced and/or co-directed THIS YEAR, at least three feature pornography: Lovelace, Interior. Leather Bar. and kink.

As the producer of the film, kink, James Franco conceived the project while visiting the porn film castle, The San Francisco Armory, during last year’s filming of  About Cherry (about a young woman who gets involved in the porn industry).  He persuaded a fellow filmmaker, Christina Voros, to make the documentary.


kink is–dare I say it?–an almost sweet film about BDSM.  It  portrays this world of bondage and submission as well-mannered, and as concerned with the bottom line and well-crafted product as any other small business.  The film-making is straight-forward “talking head” documentary style with only one creative camera move in the film.  There’s little need for it with such a titillating subject but there’s one interview that takes place outside the Armory where the subject is framed in medium shot.  As a professional dominatrix reveals her emotional dilemma about when to tell her children about her job; she seems stranded in the sea of grey concrete surrounding her.  It’s such an intimate scene, but it’s told in an almost informal style that does nothing to bring the audience in.

An interesting element of the film is how many of the directors, videographers and models in the film are queer.  The scenes that are being filmed may not be queer-oriented, but there are many scenes of same-sex BDSM with gay directors telling their same sex models and dominatrix how to interact.  What is also clear in kink is how everyone takes their craft seriously and how many of them feel it’s not just a way to make some serious cash.  By showing a discussion of web “hits” and the directors gathered to discuss what is working in their area of expertise, kink demystifies this erotic business.  Not for the faint of heart, or for viewers with no exposure to pornography, the film is sexually graphic, but goes out of it’s way to be accessible with a focus on the people making the content.  kink is more about the dynamics of the whole team rather than the mechanics of what’s being done for the video.  An insider’s view of a world most will never see, kink is a very interesting film.

Not only did James Franco star as the Wizard in Oz, The Great and Powerful, he also found time to co-direct a short film.  And, like visiting the Land of Oz;  Interior. Leather Bar. is also a visit to a different world.  This “queer docu-fiction” –as Travis Matthews, the co-director, labels it– is based on an explicit scene cut from William Friedkin’s Cruising, the 1980’s crime thriller starring Al Pacino.  Conceived by Franco as a study in how gay pornography is sensationalized by straight audiences, this 60-minute film is an odd mix.  It’s a re-enactment of a film scene few have ever seen and a behind the scenes look at how a straight actor might feel encountering and/or participating in such a scene.

Drawn to the project by Franco’s participation, the actors in the film are shown discussing how they’re really only there because of the star.  One actor seems to be a long-time friend of Franco’s and worked with him in a theater company.  Val Lauren plays the lead but he’s also clearly conflicted about doing a scene where there may be gay sex involved. All veracity is called into question when he’s coached on camera in what is initially presented as a behind-the-scenes discussion.  Franco appears in the film as “himself” but again, it’s not clear if he’s playing the role of director or star or friend and though he states his reason for making this film, he’s also shown leaving the set before the shoot is complete.

An interesting vanity piece, Interior. Leather Bar. is well-paired on the film festival circuit with another Travis Matthews short film, In Their Room: London (33 min).   There doesn’t seem to be a distribution plan for the film and though interesting as a social experiment; it doesn’t seem created with a general audience in mind.  It feels more like a thesis film.

James Franco is not waiting for Hollywood to create interesting roles in big-budget films for him to star in–he’s creating his own films and using his considerable celebrity clout to explore and create interesting work.

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