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James Franco options Steve Erickson's 'Zeroville'

March 31, 2011 |  3:43 pm


James Franco has optioned Steve Erickson's novel "Zeroville," publisher Europa Editions announced Thursday. The book was among the L.A. Times top books of 2007; author Erickson teaches in the creative writing program at CalArts.

Set in Los Angeles at the end of the 1960s, "Zeroville" is a darkly funny novel about a young man, Vikar Jerome, so obsessed with film that he has tattooed Elizabeth Taylor kissing Montgomery Clift on his head. He becomes a film editor; our reviewer Christopher Sorrentino described him as "Chauncey Gardiner hunched over a Moviola." In his review, Sorrentino wrote:

The city has fulfilled Nathanael West's prophecy of fire, rapine, murderous rage; it has become a place where newly murdered film star Sharon Tate assumes mythical stature for having been among Charles Manson's victims, not the other way around. But like millions before him, Vikar, the peculiar hero of "Zeroville," has come to L.A. because of the movies....

Although "Zeroville" is at times a comic novel (I like in particular Vikar's encounter with a cinephile burglar, yet another blabbermouth with a subscription to Film Quarterly who calls "Now, Voyager" the "apotheosis of the forties studio system's so-called 'women's picture' "), it is not at heart a satirical or parodic one. Nor is it a documentary novel of the film brats ascending amid the rubble of the studio system in the 1970s. Erickson, who is also film critic for Los Angeles magazine, manages to wipe clean the presumptions typically guiding the Hollywood Novel, which suggest either that Hollywood is irredeemably corrupt or that moviemaking is a tainted beauty requiring the ministrations of a pure artistic vision to recover its virtue. He embeds in his story a deeply thoughtful look at the art of filmmaking, not the pathology of the film industry.

Franco is, of course, the Oscar-nominated Oscar host, a graduate student and published author, a former regular on "General Hospital" and a Bruce Vilanche-tussling tweeter. He also has snapped up a number of literary properties for film option.

And he's got pretty good taste.

First there's "The Broken Tower" by Paul L. Mariani, a biography of the poet Hart Crane, which Franco adapated, directed and stars in. He's told interviewers that he's at work on adapting Charles Bukowski's "Ham on Rye." Last fall he optioned "Holy Land," D.J. Waldie's memoir of growing up in Lakewood in the 1950s, and Stephen Elliott's "The Adderall Diaries," a memoir of false starts and a dark past.

In addition to the Hart Crane biopic, Franco starred in "Howl," about Allen Ginsberg and his famous poem. So he's made more than one movie about a writer. In optioning "Zeroville," he's picking up a book that is -- obliquely, anyway -- about filmmaking.


James Franco talks poetry and film

Creative writing MFA student to co-host the Oscars

Book review: "Palo Alto" by James Franco

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: James Franco at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in January. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times