So Just How Gay is James Franco's Student Film?
James Franco has been dabbling in directing for a while now at New York University's film school, where he has acknowledged the influence of poetry on his early short work. Not just any poetry, though -- we're talking about Anthony Hecht's blisteringly homoerotic piece The Feast of Stephen, Franco's adaptation of which screened here at CineVegas. And when it comes to nailing the tone, vitality and flopping penises of his source material, the fledgling filmmaker is unquestionably in a league of his own. Let's break down the festival's gayest film (with spoilers!) after the jump.
Also paying homage to the trailblazing work of Kenneth Anger, the silent, black-and-white Stephen opens with its meek, bespectacled title character (Remy Germinario, in his screen debut) watching a pick-up basketball game in New York City. But the only score Stephen is keeping is the number of shirtless hunks dribbling, sweating and writhing on the court. One mop-topped stud in particular has all the moves, nudging Stephen's daydream into the more erotic realm of naked boys playing hoops -- in slow-motion, natch, and suddenly transported to a wooded glen where society's referees won't blow a whistle on their hard fouls.
That sylvan utopia quickly turns into a leafy city park, where the boys haul Stephen off for a prolonged beating. This doesn't quite reflect the eloquence of Hecht's "kilowatts of noon" or the "bully's thin superiority"; Franco opts instead for the more squirming, sustained brutality of fists, elbows, knees and blood. But one sporting fantasia calls for another, apparently, and by now Stephen daydreams of himself as the object of the naked boys' violent game. Franco pulls this together stylishly if graphically, with chests, thighs and asses pressed tight in various permutations, infusing the violence with the poem's more visceral sense of ecstasy.
No single punch or kick or bout of dry-humping, however, wields quite the diminishing power of feces smeared on one's face, which Stephen endures in Franco's grand finale. But really, endurance has less to do with his ordeal than does experience. The "feast" of the title is Stephen's big gay rite of passage, however demeaning and/or gang-rapey it might be; the literally shit-eating grin he shares with the audience at the end suggests that even the most horrendous intimacy is better than none at all.
As student films go, it's a tight, competent, attractive exercise. As James Franco projects go, it cements the young hyphenate's place in the canon of the gayest stories ever told. Howl won't stand a chance.