James + Semaj is a column where James Franco talks to his reverse self, Semaj, about new films. Rather than a conventional review, it is place where James and Semaj can muse about ideas that the films provoke. James loves going to the movies and talking about them. But a one-sided take on a movie, in print, might be misconstrued as a review. As someone in the industry it could be detrimental to James’s career if he were to review his peers, because unlike the book industry—where writers review other writer’s books—the film industry is highly collaborative, and a bad review of a peer could create problems. So, assume that James (and Semaj) love all these films. What they’re interested in talking about is all the ways the films inspire them, and make them think. James is me, and Semaj is the other side of me. We don’t always get along.
This week’s column focuses on the new documentary “Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny,” which opens in theaters and on VOD on Friday.
James: So this is a documentary about the work of Richard Linklater…
Semaj: So many great movies: “Slacker,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Before Sunrise”…
James: “Before Sunset”…
Semaj: And “Before Midnight.”
James: Oh right, there’s three of them.
Semaj: Don’t forget “School of Rock” and “The Newton Boys.”
James: “The Newton Boys”? You saw that?
Semaj: Some of it. Plus, there’s “A Scanner Darkly,” “Bernie,” “Boyhood” and “Everybody Wants Some!!”
James: Okay, so you know your Linklater. Most of them, anyway.
Semaj: Those are all the best ones.
James: Well, it sounds like this is definitely a documentary for someone like you, a Linklater fan.
Semaj: It certainly is. But it’s a documentary for any film lover, especially lovers and makers of independent films, like you, dumbass.
James: What’s with the hostility?
Semaj: Don’t ask me, ask yourself.
James: What did I do? I just said you were a huge Linklater fan. You’re one of five people that saw “The Newton Boys.“
Semaj: I like that movie. It’s got Ethan Hawke, Matthew McConaughey pre-McConaissance, and my man Vincent D’Onofrio.
James: Hawke and McConaughey are the main players in the Linklater repertory company.
Semaj: Don’t forget Jack Black.
James: Yeah, but he’s more recent — he only got involved with “School of Rock,” which was a comeback project for Linklater, since he was a cold fish in the studio world after the crash and burn of your favorite, “The Newton Boys.“
Semaj: Whatever. Jack Black came late to the fold, but he and Linklater were meant to be.
James: McConaughey started from almost the beginning with “Dazed and Confused” — as the guy who graduated high school but is still cruising the high school parties.
James: Probably the best role of his career until the beginning of the McConaissance with “Magic Mike” and “True Detective.”
Semaj: Don’t forget “Mud,” that shit was sick.
James: And as the chest pounding anthem creator at the beginning of “Wolf of Wall Street.” Alright, Alright, Alright!
Semaj: Can you believe that “Dazed and Confused” was Linklater’s third film? He went right to that from “Slacker,” which was made for less that $50,000, and shot by him and his buddies from the Austin Film Society. To go from that to “Dazed,” which was a proper studio flick, and maintain such a sure hand, is incredible.
James: The cast of “Dazed” was incredible. Ben Affleck.
Semaj: Parker Posey.
James: Cole Hauser from “Good Will Hunting.”
Semaj: Milla Jovovich! She is so gorgeous in that.
James: Nicky Katt as the guy who beats up Adam Goldberg to the sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Tuesdays Gone.”
Semaj: Renée Zellweger is rumored to have an uncredited cameo.
James: But Ethan Hawke was not in it.
Semaj: He did his fair share later on. “Before Sunrise” and its sequels, “Tape,” and of course the incredible “Boyhood.”
James: All these long-term experiments. Have you noticed that Ethan Hawke doesn’t age?
Semaj: He’s an actor. He drinks human blood to stay young.
James: Anyway, can you believe that “Dazed and Confused” and “Before Sunrise” made no money when they were first released? I remember seeing “Dazed” in the theater and it was a huge event.
Semaj: Because you were in high school, stoned out of your mind. It probably felt like the most profound experience ever. Like Linklater captured your whole high school experience over the course of one movie day and night.
James: Pretty much. Except he placed it in the seventies.
Semaj: It was almost like a precursor to “Freaks and Geeks,” which was based on Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s childhoods in the 1980s.
James: And my book, “Palo Alto,” that was based on my childhood in the 90s.
Semaj: Stop promoting your own work in this column.
James: Whatever! I’m just saying that he inspired me.
Semaj: Linklater wanted to be a novelist when he was younger. He went to college on a baseball scholarship — just like the guys in “Everybody Wants Some!!” — and in his sophomore year, when he couldn’t play anymore, he spent all his time reading and writing.
James: Then he dropped out and worked on an oil rig.
Semaj: Sort of like when you dropped out of UCLA and worked at McDonalds.
James: Don’t promote my story in this column, dude.
Semaj: You mean our story? Anyway. It’s interesting how many young would-be writers of Linklater’s generation and our generation became filmmakers. I mean, look at all the people involved in your upcoming HBO show, “The Deuce”: David Simon, George Pelecanos, Richard Price, Megan Abbott. They were all novelists — except David, he was a journalist who wrote two non-fiction books, “Homicide” and “The Corner,” before working in television.
James: Well, television series are the new novel.
Semaj: Yeah, yeah. Richard Price says that he actually learned a lot of techniques writing for movies that he later applied to his novels.
James: Such as?
Semaj: How to research and write stories that aren’t autobiographical. Before starting to write for Martin Scorsese — he started by writing “The Color of Money” and was nominated for an Academy award — he wrote four novels, starting with “The Wanderers,” that were all more or less autobiographical. But after writing for the movies for 10 years, he came back to novels and wrote his masterpiece, “Clockers,” that isn’t autobiographical at all. He had to research both homicide detectives and crack dealers for that book.
James: Okay, fine, but what about Richard Linklater? We’re supposed to be talking about him.
Semaj: I think Linklater is a bit like Price — he switches between autobiographical pieces like “Dazed and Confused,” and “Everybody Wants Some!!” and who knows what else, and narratives that are more distant from him, such as “Bernie” and “Fast Food Nation.”
James: In this documentary, Ethan Hawke says that Linklater does all the projects that everyone thinks about but don’t know how to put together.
Semaj: What does that mean?
James: Well, consider the settings for these films: “Slacker,” a movie where we follow one character to another to another; “Dazed and Confused,” a single day of high school; “Waking Life,” a movie about living in your dreams; the “Before” series, which tracks the same characters over the course of a decade; and “Boyhood,” which shows a boy growing up by shooting a bit of the movie every year for twelve years. Linklater builds a lot of his films on gimmicks.
Semaj: They’re not gimmicks, motherfucker, they’re concepts! If that’s all that the films were dependent on, they wouldn’t be of much interest, but Linklater is so much more than that. He’s a great humanist who’s able to tell compelling, funny, stylish, personal stories, while also weaving in very innovative ideas — such as making a film over the course of 12 years so that the characters could actually age. I mean, fuck, what are we doing with this fucking column but pulling a “Linklater?” A guy splitting himself into two characters in order to talk about movies. If that ain’t Linklater-esque, I don’t know what is.
James: I’d say it’s more Charlie Kaufman.
Semaj: Oh, whatever, dork. I bet you were happy when Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu beat Linklater for best director at the Oscars. And then felt dumb the next year because Iñárritu was destined to win for “The Revenant.”
James: Well, “Birdman” was pretty great.
Semaj: Also built on a “gimmick,” as you call it: let’s shoot it as if it were all one shot. Fine, cool, but a filmic concept that he built into the film. And even then, in actuality it wasn’t one shot, like they did in the German film “Victoria.” Iñarritu spilt it up with hidden cuts like Hitchcock did in “Rope.“
James: Whatever, dude, you should chill with all the references.
Semaj: No, you chill. I don’t want to talk to you for a bit.
James: Meaning what?
Semaj: I don’t know. Do the next column by yourself or something. Stop using me for all my good ideas. [Semaj walks away.]
To be continued.