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Monday, December 11, 2023 | Back issues
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James Franco Sued Over Bukowski Biopic

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Actor James Franco lifted elements from Charles Bukowski's semi-autobiographical novel "Ham on Rye" to make a movie about the late author, the owner of rights to the novel claims in court.

Cyril Humphris, of London, England claims Franco, "an admitted fan of the novel," optioned the rights to the book from Humphris in 2009 to adapt it into a screenplay.

Humphris claims that after those rights ended in 2010, Franco produced and directed a movie, provisionally titled "Bukowski," that is an adaptation of the author's 1982 novel about his abusive father and tortured childhood in Depression-era Los Angeles.

According to Humphris's federal copyright complaint, Franco publicly stated that he worked with his brother Dave Franco on a screen adaptation of the novel. He claims that despite Franco's claims that he had decided to make a movie based on a Bukowski biography, his upcoming movie lifts several elements from the book.

"The film borrows the novel's themes of childhood loneliness; adolescent self-consciousness; the failures, hypocrisy, and cruelty of adults; and, in an unflinching depiction, the crude interest teenage boys take in sex," the 9-page lawsuit states. "The mood in both works is dark but humorous, through successive scenes in which the boy is attacked by his father, belittled by other adults, or humiliated in front of his peers."

Humphris says that when he confronted Franco, the star told him: "'I'm doing a little project with some of my NYU colleagues based on one of Bukowski's biographies.'" Humphris claims that his attorneys have asked to read a copy of the shooting script but Franco refuses to show the manuscript to them.

Humphris claims that this year he "became aware of a conspicuously timed effort by Mr. Franco to tell interviewers that the film is not an adaptation of the novel. During the week of March 11, 2013, Mr. Franco publicly denied that the film is based on the novel, and was quoted in the press stating that the film 'focuses on [Bukowski's] childhood,'" the complaint states.

Humphris asks the court to block release of the movie, plus $150,000 in damages.

Production company Rabbit Bandini Productions and Franco are the named defendants.

"Ham on Rye," like Bukowski's earlier novels "Post Office," "Factotum" and "Women" is told in the first person by the author's alter ego, Henry Chinaski. The alcoholic poet, novelist and short story writer died at 73 of leukemia on March 9, 1994, in San Pedro.

Humphris is represented by Alonzo Wickers with Davis Wright Tremaine.

"Owning rights to an autobiography doesn't necessarily give the owner life-story rights on the author," The Hollywood Reporter's Eriq Gardner wrote in an article about the lawsuit. "And it's possible to do a biography without infringement, as facts can't be copyrighted. But the arrangement of facts in a creative manner can be protected, and so Humphris is coming to court with an interesting claim that he is essentially entitled to Bukowski's expression of childhood and any imaginative flourishes therein."

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