Tag Archives: New York magazine

James Franco and the Lede of Omission

Update: Now accepting submissions to replace the majorly clunky “Mystery First Sentence.” Our current leader comes from Eric: the Lede of Omission.

Sam Anderson’s New York magazine profile of James Franco is fantastic:

The show’s most prominent piece is a big barnlike structure made of plywood, the kind of playhouse a perfect father might build for his 9-year-old son. I step inside to find a small room lined with plywood benches. It’s sweltering. On the far wall, a video is being projected: footage of a plywood house burning to the ground. One of the other visitors walks out, and suddenly there are only two of us, here in the house that contains an image of its own destruction, and the other person is James Franco.

I stand very still, like a hiker who’s just seen a bear. Franco’s publicist has recently informed me that—after all these months of e-mailing (he always responds immediately, and likes to sign off with “Peace”) and brief conversations—Franco and I are no longer allowed to talk. He’s signed an exclusivity agreement with another magazine. Under no circumstances am I to speak to him, I’m told, not even to say hello. I can see him now in my peripheral vision: He looks not like a grad student or a hipster but like an international golden boy, a corporate spokesman—unmasked and cleanly shaven, dressed in a gray Gucci suit and pointy black Gucci shoes. His hair is sculptural, bushy but managed. Surely, I think, if someone sees us together, I will be thrown out. On the opposite wall, the flames have stripped the house to its frame, reducing it to some kind of glowing black non-substance, half-wood, half-ash.

A few seconds pass.

“Hi, Sam,” James Franco says.

Franco’s career is source of constant fascination in these parts, and Anderson’s article does nothing but add to it – though, we’d like to know more, seriously,  about the logistics of it all.

But the more important point here is to launch my first personal salvo against what I will call the Mystery First Sentence Lede of Omission. In this case:

James Franco will not stop bouncing around.

Where is Franco? On a trampoline? Hopped up on drugs? Yes, what Anderson means is that “I have a found a moment where Franco is bouncing around, and the act of bouncing around is a very important metaphor here.” But every time an article starts with this faux-mystery (See: Every Esquire profile from the past six months; almost any newspaper column about an individual), I feel just a little insulted. Tell us where he is, and what he’s doing, then, later – like Anderson did, again, in the second paragraph! – make your point. Don’t tease us.

“It tasted like the Salk polio vaccine”

I’m not one for book reviews. Music reviews help me parsel through heaps of new albums because I care to keep up with them, and movie reviews (or the conglomerated stars at Rotten Tomatoes, at least) shape what I spend 12 bucks to see. But there are simply too many actual books I haven’t read, that are old, and that I get at the library – and the I read too slowly – to spend my time with new reviews.

But holy crap do I want to read William Vollmann’s Imperial after reading this paragraph from New York magazine’s Sam Anderson:

I was sitting on the train one day chipping away at William T. Vollmann’s latest slab of obsessional nonfiction when my friend Tsia, who incidentally is not an underage Thai street whore, offered to save me time with a blurby one-sentence review based entirely on the book’s cover and my synopsis of its first 50 pages. “Just write that it’s like Robert Caro’s The Power Broker,” she said, “but with the attitude of Mike Davis’s City of Quartz.” This struck me as good advice, and I was all set to take it, but as I worked my way through the book’s final 1,250 pages, I found I had to modify it, slightly, to read as follows: Imperial is like Robert Caro’s The Power Broker with the attitude of Mike Davis’s City of Quartz, if Robert Caro had been raised in an abandoned grain silo by a band of feral raccoons, and if Mike Davis were the communications director of a heavily armed libertarian survivalist cult, and if the two of them had somehow managed to stitch John McPhee’s cortex onto the brain of a Gila monster, which they then sent to the Mexican border to conduct ten years of immersive research, and also if they wrote the entire manuscript on dried banana leaves with a toucan beak dipped in hobo blood, and then the book was line-edited during a 36-hour peyote séance by the ghosts of John Steinbeck, Jack London, and Sinclair Lewis, with 200 pages of endnotes faxed over by Henry David Thoreau’s great-great-great-great grandson from a concrete bunker under a toxic pond behind a maquiladora, and if at the last minute Herman Melville threw up all over the manuscript, rendering it illegible, so it had to be re-created from memory by a community-theater actor doing his best impression of Jack Kerouac. With photographs by Dorothea Lange. (Viking has my full blessing to use that as a blurb.)

Goodness. I don’t even know if that’s a positive or negative review, but the only thing that could possibly make me want to read this book more was if the author was actually as ridiculous as his book sounds. Holy crap, he is:

A companion volume, to be published next month by powerHouse Books, contains some 200 photographs he took while working on “Imperial,” for which he also wore a spy camera while trying to infiltrate a Mexican factory, and paddled in an inflatable raft down the New River in California, a rancid trench that is probably the most polluted stream in America. The water, he writes, tasted like the Salk polio vaccine.

Oh. My. Two writers writing words have interested me in reading a writer I barely knew existed. I need to go watch some TV.