james franco

A Curiosity: Actors Anonymous

Well, what can I say about James Franco’s Actors Anonymous (Faber)? Should I say, for a writer, he’s a pretty good actor? Should I say, by many accounts, his prose outshines his poetry? Should I say that this book is an absolute curiosity? Is it real, or unreal, or somewhere in-between?

One thing I will say is that James Franco is a strange bunny. And of course, that’s what makes him fascinating and in turn, what makes this book worth reading.

actors anonymousInspired by Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, Actors Anonymous is a dark, genre-bending work that mixes memoir and pure invention – an audacious examination of celebrity, acting, and the making of Fiction.

Actors Anonymous is unsettling, funny, and personal – a series of stories told in many forms: a McDonald’s drive-thru operator who spends his shift trying on accents; an ex-child star recalling a massive beachside bacchanal; hospital volunteers putting a camera in the hands of a patient obsessed with horror films; a vampire flick starlet who discovers a cryptic book written by a famous actor gone AWOL, who may have killed his father.

The book contains profound insights into the nature and purpose of acting, as well as deeply moving portraits of aspiring actors who never quite made it.

Franco mercilessly turns his “James Franco” persona inside out while, at the same time, providing fascinating meditations on his art, along with nightmarish tales of excess. “Hollywood has always been a private club,” he writes. “I open the gates. I say welcome. I say, Look inside.”

I’ll be honest, I didn’t always get what this book was doing. I had to skip bits here and there, parts that I found just a bit too awkward. Still, in the same way that books like The Hottest State by actor Ethan Hawke, and Horse’s Neck by Pete Townshend do, Actors Anonymous gives the reader a glimpse of a new side of a person that you know through a completely different medium.  Interestingly, it’s not the sort of glimpse you get from a memoir or a straight autobiography. Rather, it’s a view of the author’s imagination, and as creative people, this view is usually pretty wild.

Actors Anonymous is a very candid look at Hollywood, at acting and at fame. As I mentioned earlier, it’s really difficult to pin down what’s true to life here, and that can be quite disconcerting. At times I felt embarrassed, almost worried that Franco would be taken to task for exposing something ugly – about himself, about his peers, and about his craft. But then, to my relief, something would happen on the page that was so exaggerated that it’d prove that this story could not possibly be real, and I’d relax. A little.

Now, Franco’s not the best writer. His writing isn’t horrible, but it is a little clunky at times, and a bit self-involved. But, for me, the curiosity factor of this book well and truly makes up for that. It’s entertaining, and as long as you can suspend your disbelief for a little while, quite enjoyable.

If you’re a fan of James Franco, have a fascination for celebrity or just enjoy a quick, quirky read, take a look at Actors Anonymous. You can find out more about the book here…

Do you like straight books, or something a little more on the unusual side? 

Taking a Dip: Three Titles

Over the last couple of weeks, life has gotten in the way of any decent writing sessions. Between birthdays, christmas preparations, school functions and a close relative passing away, I’ve been called away from the computer far more than I am accustomed to. Still, I’ve been reading, even if I’ve not had much time to write about it. Here’s a little of what I’m reading at the moment…

Actors Anonymous, by James Franco (Allen and Unwin)
Ambitious, fairly odd but strangely compelling, I’m having fun trying to grab the tale of this slippery collection of short stories by Hollywood actor James Franco.

actors anonymous

My favourite part so far…

Jack Nicholson struggled for twelve years before Easy Rider. He started as a gopher in the animation department of MGM at eighteen. He loved basketball even then. Eventually he took an acting class with Jeff Corey, James Dean’s old teacher. Later Jack studied with Marten Landau, James Dean’s old friend.

Jack might not have even wanted the role in Easy Rider. It was intended for Rip Torn. Dennis Hopper was a nut that Jack knew from the coffeehouses on Sunset, and then was in a movie that Jack wrote for Roger Corman called The Trip, about LSD. The story goes that Jack did the role in Easy Rider as a favour to his friends Bob Ragelson and Bert Schneider, the producers, in order to look after Dennis.

It’s these random bits of trivia, close-to-the-bone observations and memiors that make this book interesting. Most of the time it’s impossible to tell where Franco’s own opinions end and the fiction begins. It’s interesting, to say the least and you can find out more about the book here.

Yours Truly, Women of Letters (Penguin)
I can’t wait until I have more time to delve into this incredible collection of letters…

yours truly

The act of letter writing allows us to slow down and truly connect, with a person, a subject, an idea. At their hugely popular Women of Letters events, Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire encourage and allow our best and brightest to lay bare their sins and secrets, loves and loathings, memories and plans. Collected here for the first time, these dispatches from Australia’s favourite people are warm, wonderful and astoundingly honest.

The first ones that I’m going to read; Amanda Palmer to Anthony (‘To the person who told me the truth’); William McInnes to Wendy Sykes (‘To the woman who changed my life’) and Leigh Sales to Amanda (‘To the moment the lights came on).

I love letter writing, and to read letters like this feels like the ultimate in eavesdropping. Find out more about the book here…

Letters of Note, Shaun Usher (Allen and Unwin)
In a similar vain, albeit with a slightly broader scope is Shaun Usher’s compilation of letters, collected together in this beautiful hardcopy publication…

letters of note

Letters of Note is a collection of over one hundred of the world’s most entertaining, inspiring and unusual letters, based on the seismically popular website of the same name – an online museum of correspondence visited by over 70 million people.

From Virginia Woolf’s heart-breaking suicide letter, to Queen Elizabeth II’s recipe for drop scones sent to President Eisenhower; from the first recorded use of the expression ‘OMG’ in a letter to Winston Churchill, to Gandhi’s appeal for calm to Hitler; and from Iggy Pop’s beautiful letter of advice to a troubled young fan, to Leonardo da Vinci’s remarkable job application letter, Letters of Note is a celebration of the power of written correspondence which captures the humour, seriousness, sadness and brilliance that make up all of our lives.

This time, for me, I’m most looking forward to reading Hunter S Thomspon’s letter to Hume Logan; Nick Cave to MTV and Zelda Fitzgerald to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

You can find out more about the book here. I’d love to know which letter you’d read first!

The greatest thing about all three of these books is that at this very busy time, they are the kinds of books that I can dip in and out of. They allow the reader five minutes of escape from the day-to-day without requiring a substantial time commitment. Of course, in saying that, I can’t wait until the holidays start and I can really sink my teeth into these amazing collections.