Such has been the life of James Franco, that he can still be in school, and when he gets the lark to make a short, he can just get on the phone and called up Michael Shannon to star in it. And that’s the case with “Herbert White,” a 14-minute 2010 movie Franco made while at NYU, which is probably one you’d probably otherwise pass over, were it not for the uh, promise, of Shannon having a sex with a corpse. Because he does.
The short is based on titular poem by Frank Bidart, and it’s one that clearly stuck with Franco, and she shares his approach to the oddball source material with Vice:
Once I decided to adapt “Herbert White,” I had to figure out what would stay in the narrative. I was struck by two moments at the beginning of the poem that led to an approach for the entire film. The first is at the very beginning, when he says, “I hit her on the head and it was good.” This is a mysterious line. Read alone, it’s ambiguous. What world allows a woman’s struck head to be “good”? I used my initial reaction to this one line to shape how I would depict the mystery around what Herbert was doing in the woods. In other words, the opening of the film was directly influenced by the ambiguity of the first line of the poem. In the film he is dragging something that can’t be seen through the woods and then he hit it and he nods as if in approval, as if it was good.
The other surprising thing for me was that Herbert has a family. He mentions leaving them in the car while he goes into the woods to have sex with the corpse. This implies a depth to him, that he isn’t simply a monster. He has a family that he supports. But more than all that, it implies that he has a secret life. And this tension between the public/family life and the secret shameful life is what I built my film on.
This is all a long way of saying that, again, Michael Shannon has sex with a corpse. Fulfill your curiosity below. And for more, Franco released a book of poems earlier this year titled “Directing Hebert White,” because of course he did.