EDITOR’S NOTE: Frances was not produced by Cannon. It was, however, released on video in Germany by Cannon Screen Entertainment.
“In her false witnessI hope you’re still with us To see if they float or drown Our favorite patient Display of patience Disease-covered Puget Sound She’ll come back as fire To burn all the liars Leave a blanket of ash on the ground”
Nirvana biographer Michael Azerrad wrote that Francis Farmer was the “patron martyr” of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, as they saw parallels between her mistreatment by the media and their own struggles with the press. Cobain told the writer of the song, “I guess that’s my way of letting the world know that bureaucracy is everywhere and it can happen to anybody and it’s a really evil thing. The story of Frances Farmer is so sad and it can happen to anybody and it almost felt at a time that it was happening to us…but it’s mainly just exposing the Frances Farmer story to people.”
In her book Will There Really Be a Morning?, Farmer said that while being keptin Western State Hospital she “was raped by orderlies, gnawed on by rats and poisoned by tainted food. I was chained in padded cells, strapped into strait-jackets and half-drowned in ice baths.”
Directed by Graeme Clifford (Gleaming the Cube, Ruby Cairo) and written by the team who wrote The Elephant Man Eric Bergren and Christopher De Vore as well as Nicholas Kazan (Patty Hearst), Frances stars Jessica Lange as Farmer, who from a young age was defiant and the world felt the need to make her behave. Harry York (Sam Shepherd) tells most of the story for her, as she moves from acting on Broadway to a career in Hollywood to being institutionalized and finally appearing on This Is Your Life. The character is not a real person and was invented by the screenwriters to prove that they came up with the story. That’s because a lot of this movie came from William Arnold’s book Shadowland, which fictionalized a lot of Farmer’s life. Arnold sued for copyright infringement, claiming the film’s screenplay stole those fake parts that he came up with. He lost.
From 1958 to 1964, Farmer hosted Francis Farmer Presents on WFBM in Indianapolis, interviewing celebrities and showing old movies. That kind of makes me happy instead of sad. She refers to herself as a faceless sinner at the end of this movie and looks forward to life slowing down. I’d like to think she found some peace.
The film closes with this in the credits: “In exchange for the use of certain facilities and per agreement with the California Department of Mental Health, the producers have agreed to the following disclaimer: Since the 1940s there have been major advances in the care and treatment of the mentally ill. The reprehensible conditions experienced by Frances Farmer are not typical of mental health treatment today.” Supposedly, medical professionals from Western State Hospital at the time Frances Farmer was there denied that she was ever lobotomized or operated on.
To achieve that effect, director of photography László Kovács shot that scene with no eyelights.
What gets to me is that the scene where Farmer is arrested in the nude only lasts three minutes but took four days to shoot due to the door not working properly, believe it or not. Supposedly, Lange began to feel as abused as Farmer by the end of the scene.