The New Franco-phile: James Franco “New Film Stills” in NYC


Chameleon actor-thespian-writer James Franco can add artist to his resume. His new exhibition at Pace in Chelsea—the second with the esteemed gallery—showcases his new photography series “New Film Stills.”There is more to his black-and-white silver gelatin prints than Franco dressed in drag secluded amidst noir landscapes. His series is an hommage to famed photographer Cindy Sherman’s 1970s series of the same name.

What made Sherman’s series so groundbreaking was its ambiguity to a category. She may be taking photographs of herself that resemble candids or street photography, but she’s actually personifying a role. Sherman plays the role of 1970s B-Movie characters to critique how actresses in movies are always a means to the male gaze of desire. The secretary, the disgruntled housewife, the femme fatale, the new girl in the big city—Sherman’s photographs exemplify the decades lack of strong female leads in mass media.

As we gaze into the face of James Franco’s female-self—complete with a shag wig and mauve lipstick that’s not fooling anyone—comparing the two series becomes out of the question. Sherman’s “Film Stills”were a well mastered charade that lead viewers to question the ungrounded submissive image of women—and the superiority of men—in the media. Franco’s “Film Stills”on the other hand lack a political punch, but gain a satirical edge. Franco is already a character himself, playing the many roles of actor, teacher, online personality, BFF to Seth Rogan, in his daily life—why not add Cindy Sherman impersonator to the mix?

Franco’s series becomes a photographic inception—actor James Franco dressed as photographer Cindy Sherman dressed as B-Movie female characters in self-portraits shot by her father. The mind-bending layers that lead to Franco’s silly conclusion is worth the trip—being an actor, don’t you think he’d be equipped to play a believable woman? Besides, drag is never a bad idea for an afternoon stroll through a bougie New York neighborhood.

If you go:

James Franco New Film Stills through May 3, 2014

Pace Gallery

508 West 25th Street

Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Free Admission



One comment

  1. erickuns · April 25, 2014

    Cindy Sherman created the shots, and Franco just copied them. Her message seemed to include not only a critique of movie stereotypes of women, but also showed how she could passably play all of those roles. This signaled a mutability of identity, and that roles were arbitrary and not fixed. Roles in film, as in life, were masquerades and not true identities.

    Franco seems to just have gotten the idea of putting himself in all the famous pics. Woo-hoo. I believe Sherman set up the shots herself, and I imagine Franco had professional photographers and other assistants do all that work, and he just did the posing. Am I wrong? I haven’t researched this work at all.

    Part of the perhaps unintended message of his work is, “I can do that, too”. But he didn’t, because much of the work Sherman did was deciding the angles to use, and which poses were iconic…

    However, Franco’s work first in with all that sort of “put yourself in this picture” or repose in some old picture type drivel that’s soooooo popular in social media. One-liner art for one minute of appreciation. Cheaper than a lobotomy and I dare say more effective.

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