James Franco – actor, author, director, sex symbol, Oscars show host and now artist – may have disappointed the audience at a special screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho at the weekend by not appearing in drag. If you want to see Franco in a dress you’ll have to visit his multimedia installation Psycho Nacirema at the Pace Gallery in Soho.
The exhibition, curated by his friend, the Turner prize-winning artist Douglas Gordon, consists of a series of Franco’s artworks housed in a makeshift version of the Bates Motel from Hitchcock’s classic film.
These are lurid, provocative and sometimes surprisingly funny. Voyeurs can bend their knees and peer through peepholes at footage and photos of Marion Crane (played in the film by Janet Leigh) disrobing in the bathroom where Norman Bates murders her. Disconcertingly, Marion is played by a coquettish-looking Franco. The actor told The Independent that the project was a tribute to his love for the film rather than an adolescent attraction towards Leigh – saying he admired “the skill of the storytelling, the unconventional structure of the film, the now iconic sets and atmosphere and – particularly – the sequence that leads up to her murder”.
Psycho Nacirema deals with dark subject matter – morbid voyeurism, sexual assault and murder – and could have turned into a very grim experience if it were not for the unexpected humour that Franco brings to the work.
It’s not just his own tongue-in-cheek performance as a Hitchcock blonde. He also throws in rubber ducks, puns about Norman Bates’ tendency toward self-abuse, and absurdist elements: “Help” is scrawled in blood red under the rim of the lavatory.
Without the jokes, Franco guesses (probably accurately) that the show would be well-nigh impossible to stomach.
“For me, humour is sort of the glue that can bring different concepts together,” he said. “Because I am somebody who works in different spheres, there can be a lot of scepticism about what I am trying to do. I find humour makes things more palatable. Humour can bind these different areas together in a nice way so that people aren’t repelled by what they perceive as pretentiousness… If it didn’t have some humour in there, it would be a very bleak kind of show.”