I do not think anyone can accuse James Franco of not doing interesting things with his time. Between being a director, writer, actor, artist and wizard, I wonder when he has time to do things like sleep, or breathe. Franco’s most recent foray into the ‘is it art or is it pretension?’ world is his art installation ‘Psycho Nacirema’ at London’s Pace Gallery. The installation is not quite an homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho, but rather an investigation of the questions and concerns that the movie inspires.
Franco created the art installation with Scottish video artist Douglas Gordon. The installation is a combination of media, including models of the Psycho motel rooms and flashing neon sign, a mirror installation that is supposed to install both the artist and the viewer in the position of Marion Crane, and video and film feeds. Franco and Douglas also include a juxtaposition between the murders and murderer in Psycho and famous cases, featuring the scandal of Fatty Arbuckle and his supposed murder of actress Virginia Rappe.
In a recent interview with The Guardian, James Franco attempted to elucidate some of his reasons for the art installation. As he comments,
The show is all about fantasy versus reality … All these layers of make-believe are what I’m interested in inserting myself into, performing as characters from the film and real people.
Franco also cross-dresses in the show, casting himself as Marion Crane.
It’s obviously an old-fashioned idea that a transvestite would be a psycho. By casting myself as Marion Crane, I hope to undermine those dated notions. I’m very into role-playing: when I crossdress, it is an overt way of showing people I’m playing a “character”. It raises awareness of the choices we make every minute of every day to be who we are. We are all playing roles.
While much of what Franco says has been said and done before – we’re all playing roles, fantasy vs. reality, etc. – Psycho Nacirema is an intriguing notion. Psycho is one of those films that is constantly referenced, lauded and analyzed, but rarely is it viewed as a starting point for an investigation into performance of gender roles, or equated with the murder (and rape) scandals of Hollywood’s past. The original novel by Robert Bloch was based heavily on the Ed Gein murders, yet the film makes little acknowledgment of that.
Franco claims that he’s ‘trying to get to the core of these weird recreations we call the movies.’ That’s a difficult project and probably one that Psycho Nacirema will be unable to address. But it’s a start.
James Franco’s Psycho Nacirema can be seen at the Pace Gallery in London until July 27. Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho can be seen any time.