Got Me a Movie: Frank Black Does Not Want to Make a Porno

Frank Black.

Frank Black.

Shortly into his phone call from Los Angeles, the Pixies’ front man Frank Black, né Charles Thompson, wanted to make something very clear to me: Despite some reports to the contrary, he does not want to make a porno.

“Essentially I was trying to convince my band to make a reunion record,” Mr. Thompson, 49, said of his new book The Good Inn, a graphic novel-cum-film treatment out last week, “and had been pitching the idea of getting involved with a film to them, as a way of breaking the ice, working our way into that studio situation without having the pressure of coming up with our big comeback manifesto.”

That was around 2010. Since then, longtime bassist Kim Deal has left the band and the reunion album, out at the end of the month, is more traditional, which is to say not a film score.

But Mr. Thompson still had his idea for a movie, a fictitious riff on the production and reception of the world’s first narrative pornographic film, also titled The Good Inn (1908), and when he brought it up to the writer Josh Frank in Austin, Tex., co-author of Fool the World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies, the two decided to collaborate on a treatment.

As is the case with most films from that era, all that remains of The Good Inn is a few frames, one of which is featured in the book. In it, the main character kisses the nipple of a bare-chested woman in an uncannily chaste way. She seems to be rolling her eyes.

From this, the book spins the story of Soldier Boy, a survivor of the 1907 explosion of the French battleship Iéna who wanders the countryside until he encounters The Good Inn, where the innkeeper’s daughter seduces him. All of this is told mostly through dialogue and lyrics, with drawings by Steven Appleby, whose work appears on the cover of the last Pixies’ studio album Trompe le Monde. Act II concerns the actors of the plot we’ve just read, a cancan dancer and a thespian named George. By Act III, the actors and characters (who have stepped through the screen Purple Rose of Cairo-style) are running surrealistically amok in 1920s Paris as Félix Fénéon and Luis Buñuel muse about the nature of doppelgangers.

“Very early on, the tone of the Pixies was informed by so-called art films,” Mr. Thompson said. “The surrealism in the lyrics, and the combination of dark tones and also nonsensical tones, absurdist tones, comedic tones, randomness—all these qualities you find in early film, especially early surrealist films, I like always liked all that.”

The idea for the film came to Mr. Thompson late at night while planning the film score reuinon album, in a hotel room in the San Fernando Valley where he had “access to probably 40 or 50 contemporary pornographic films, all officially sanctioned by the state of California” on his TV. He became interested in the idea of the first narrative pornographic film not only because the first non-narrative pornographic film would be impossible to pinpoint (“that probably happened the second after someone got their hands on a movie camera”), but also because the erotic necessity of a narrative, even an extremely basic one involving an inn and an innkeeper’s daughter, seems to have been proven by how early the concept developed, with The Good Inn.

“The narrative of pornography has always been a little flimsy,” Mr. Thompson said, “and any attempt by pornographers to elevate the art of it is always seen as a bit of a sham.” Still, he said that he saw the artistry slipping away, with pop culture functioning these days more to be purely titillating or purely intellectual. (He said he didn’t see Blue is the Warmest Color, which is kind of neither.)

“When I went to strip clubs when I was a young guy, 30 years old or whatever,” he said, “no one asked me if I wanted a lap dance. That didn’t exist in that time, but even the world of strip clubs has completely changed so that they’re bringing the experience right up to the level of coitus, or as close to coitus as they possibly can, without actual coitus.”

He and Mr. Frank have met with several producers in Hollywood and in France, which has always been a source of fascination for him. Ideally his movie will be live-action and in French. (Asked why he doesn’t live in France, Mr. Thompson sighed, “My life is too complicated. I’ve got five kids!”)

“I guess what I’m saying is, I think that in modern cinema, sexuality represented in film can be up to a certain point, but at some point it becomes a visual titillation or whatever. How long is this going to go on? At what point to do I get an erection? That’s what we’re really talking about here.”