It's no surprise that James Franco is remaking William Friedkin's S/M classic “Cruising” as meta-art, complete with real — not simulated — re-creations of lost sex scene footage. Of course he is. Do we expect anything less than total commitment to performance from Franco? It's only a matter of time before he plays Babs in a remake of John Waters' “Pink Flamingos,” mugging for the camera in Juggalo makeup while hate-licking an Apartment Therapist's set.
But now Shia LaBeouf wants in on the sex-on-camera action, too. After a splendid nude role in the new Sigur Ros video (if it's from Iceland, it's art), the “Transformers” star mentions offhandedly that he wouldn't mind getting down for real in Lars Von Trier's “Nymphomaniac,” which begins filming this week in Germany. According to producers, the film's most explicit scenes will be performed by body doubles as in 2009's “Antichrist,” but LaBeouf wants everyone to know that he's ready to step in if necessary. In the name of art, of course.
LaBeouf's role in “Nymphomaniac” is part of an ongoing effort to distance himself from the big-budget studio projects that made him an action star, like “Transformers” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” His latest indie film, “Lawless,” the Prohibition-era bootlegger film Nick Cave adapted from Matt Bondurant's novel “The Wettest County in the World,” premieres this week. Of the studios, he says, they “give you the money, then get on a plane and come to the set and stick a finger up your ass." On camera?
It must sting to feel left out of the nobody-porn movement by virtue of being a somebody, but LaBeouf's protests that he didn't set out to be “a porn guy” while offering to go all in on film are a bit thin. LaBeouf has demonstrated that he's no longer interested in faking it when it comes to acting (drinking moonshine for “Lawless,” dropping acid for the upcoming “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman”), but there's a huge spectrum to explore between pimping yourself thoughtlessly to the studio machine and having sex on set. LeBeouf's making a statement that doesn't need to be made in the misguided service of authenticity (though, being a guy, he'd likely be spared a lot of the grief Chloë Sevigny took for her act of authenticity in Vincent Gallo's “Brown Bunny”).
Art is artifice, something Franco understands so thoroughly he could teach a master class on the subject (check your local community college listings). Even Martin Scorsese has said that when films are demonstrably artificial, it doesn't necessarily mean they're not emotionally true. And ultimately, what could be more artificial than 10 bearded guys with bright lights and boom mics skulking around the perimeter of your tryst with Charlotte Gainsbourg? A Danish director whispering direction between takes? There's a reason it's called acting. You don't have to replace a metaphorical finger with the real thing.