So, James Franco has seen “12 Years A Slave” three times already. And after the second viewing, he penned a review for Vice because that’s what he does sometimes these days. And leave it to Franco to reference Alexis de Tocqueville and two of his own movies (“Homefront,” “This Is The End“) in the process. But he also talks about “12 Years A Slave,” the book versus the movie and the previous movies of director Steve McQueen, notably “Shame,” which Franco has some problems with. Mostly, he thinks being a sex addict probably isn’t so bad, and more crucially, he thinks the downward spiral culminating in a gay sex club visit during the third act was a bit offensive:
Watch Michael Fassbender in Twelve Years a Slave. He has been in every McQueen film to date—did McQueen’s parents like the actor Steve McQueen? Just wondering…—first as the hunger striker, Bobby Sands, in Hunger; then as the sex addict in Shame. He wasn’t such an addict in my opinion, though. I mean, what did he do? Watch porn and screw a handful of people a week? I could point to quite a few folks who do that. And that scene where he’s at his lowest point and wants to fuck and goes into a gay club, and it’s depicted like the seventh level of hell… I mean, it goes back to the horrible representations of gays in the 70s, where the gay club is meant to signify everything dark and depraved. Then the guy gets a minor blowjob, from, Oh no, a man! The horror!
Of course, Franco seems to be missing the point that it’s not about who Fassbender’s character is getting sexually involved with, it’s more that his addiction has gone beyond desire or carnality into just needing a fix any way he can get it. That it’s in a gay club adds a dramatic weight for a character that is straight, but we do see where Franco is coming from in how the club is presented. Anyway, it’s some interesting food for thought. As for “12 Years A Slave”? Franco is utterly blown away by Fassbender’s performance and movie itself, and watched it two nights in a row. We’ll just let him explain.
This is Fassbender’s film. I don’t say that because the other actors don’t give equally strong performances; it has less to do with the work by the actors and more to do with the way the characters are framed and the kind of material they are given to perform. (As a contrast watch Fassbender in The Councilor [sic] and see him in a passive role. He didn’t suddenly turn into a lesser actor—he filmed it immediately after Twelve Years a Slave—but he was given a part that doesn’t take action, he just sits and suffers.) If this is, in fact, a movie about Epps the slave owner as much as Northup the slave, what does that mean for the audience? We get to watch an incredible actor behave like a monster and we like it, we love it, because he is so charming, and handsome. We like watching humans get beaten, and if such beatings are framed in the right way, in this case, in an important film about American history, then we will lap up all that brutality and want more. I know I did. I watched it two nights in a row. I love this film. I’m beguiled by it.
*A little postscript after watching the film for the third time: Northup is a hero for the ages, and McQueen has given us a gift.
Agree or disagree with Franco? You know where to go …