“It’s mostly faded, but it’s still there,” says Franco. We just watched tattoo legend Mark Mahoney carve “BRAD” into his forearm with a switchblade, in…a video art. He’s about to show me, but Laurel Nakadate interrupts with a “teenage girl cutter scars” joke.

There were these false rumors of a psychic in attendance, so no one quite knew what to expect at Saturday’s New Museum event with Franco beyond his peddling of the “Brad Renfro Forever” engraved switchblade. He dangled it for audience a bit and then he screened Brad Renfro Forever. In the money shot, Mark Mahony carves the middle cut for the “A” in “BRAD” and Franco curbs his unyielding guffaws and just sits there, bleeding.

For a tribute, it’s theatrical, Franco-central in a transparent, almost masturbatory way. The walls around them are wallpapered with pictures of his actor friend who overdosed on heroin the year that Heath Ledger died. That year, Renfro wasn’t mentioned in the Oscars death reel. “I was really in this really bad movie Dueces Wild.” It was supposed to be the next Mean Streets. The coveted would have been the next Johnny Boy and would have been Renfro’s legacy. It wasn’t.

“It was a horrible, horrible movie. There was something so sad about that, it captured the tragedy of being an actor…People only talk about Heath.”

That is sad. As I look Franco, disheveled, red-eyed, familiarly languid, he seems more genuine about this “artist” thing than many hyped, self-congratulating grad hacks. So, he’s making art about what he knows…granted, with an editor, a way premature MoCA show, oddly canonizing praises from Jeffrey Deitch and Klaus Biesenbach and legit ally Laurel Nakadate, who joined him on stage for the Q&A to assist and call the film “beautiful.” But forget that for a minute.

Speaking of editing, there are these morbid little cuts between friends’ recollections of Renfro’s cinematic addiction and death to James Franco holding someone’s poodle puppy, giggling. It’s effectively creepy. Does he know? He must know. The Franco and Mahony’s chemistry is gold, with Mahony complementing the “small pores and elasticity” of his skin, dabbing the bleeding brand with a t-shirt that Franco intended to sell with the knife, presumably for someone to use the DNA for “Franco babies,” Nakadate jokes. It’s funny. It’s sad. It’s got tricks. You can’t help but see critique this as a short film.

But Marina Abramovic would have said it’s performance art because “Theatre is fake…The knife is not real, the blood is not real, and the emotions are not real.” Franco’s blood is real. And Franco answers yes, he wishes Mahony cut deeper, left a better scar. Before you know it, you’re left with this genuine sympathy for Renfro and his kind. Franco represent?

Wait, what just happened?

(Lead photo: ANIMALNewYork)