A coupling of the oldest profession and the film industry can be traced back to a seedy part of Paris in 1908. It was then that The Good Inn (La Bonne Auberge), considered to be the first pornographic film, was made. The stag film, about a soldier’s visit to an inn and subsequent seduction by its proprietress, might have all but eluded contemporary reference had it not been for Black Francis (of Pixies fame), writer Josh Frank and a cup of coffee in Austin, Texas.
While on tour, Thompson met with Frank for that cup of coffee and to discuss their current creative projects. At work on a song cycle, Francis had recently settled on The Good Inn as his subject. “I decided in the wee hours that what I would write about would be somehow related to the first official pornographic film,” says Thompson. “And it just so happened it had been made in France.”
Anyone familiar with Thompson is acquainted with his affinity for all things French, so the film’s origins were fortuitous. “I would be quite happy just living in France,” says Thompson. “Maybe it’s a naive dream but I would totally buy into it. I’d be walking down the street in the rain with a baguette under my arm and the whole nine yards. It all makes sense to me in some way.”
Sense is something the initial pitch of The Good Inn might not have made to an outside party, though. Not so for Frank, who was instantly receptive. Thompson wanted to ultimately make a film but didn’t have a precise starting point, so Frank suggested Thompson begin with what he knew best: a soundtrack. The project evolved from there.
“People have always told me—in supposedly a positive way—that I’m very ambitious,” says Frank. “But it’s always said like that. You’re very ambitious. They’re saying it as a compliment but it comes across as a curse word, you know? I got that a lot on this. So you’re taking a movie idea, you’re making it into a book with pictures, and it takes place in multiple dimensions. That’s very ambitious.”
In all fairness, Frank’s introduction to what he has deemed “the book based on a soundtrack score that had not yet been composed about the first narrative pornographic movie for a feature film that did not yet exist” likens its spirit to the unconventional work of David Lynch and Terry Gilliam. In other words, this isn’t your average topic, narrative or collaboration. Francis wanted to really explore the life arc of the performers in The Good Inn, which led to the concept of a parallel universe and doppelgangers. While the reel rolls, there’s an alternate reality where the actors within the film are progressing through a 30-year span of their lives.
“[Charles] writes these three-minute songs and he thinks in three-minute songs,” says Frank. “And part of my job was to be the guy who turns his three-minute song concepts within a story or within a theme into a part of the narrative that worked. And so the big code to crack was this whole time-jumping thing. Like, holy shit, how can I make it make sense to a reader this insane idea that there’s this hole and the hole leads into a whole other dimension, which is basically happening at the same time, except—wait for it—on the other side, the actors are actually living their lives over the course of 30 years?”
Francis defines the process a little more bluntly. “Josh is doing all the writing and I’m just being this overlord and going, ‘No, I don’t like that! Change it!’ ” says Francis, laughing.
The third panel in this triptych of soundtrack, narrative and artwork is Steven Appleby. Appleby illustrated the album cover to the Pixies’ Trompe le Monde (1991) but wasn’t chosen based on previous association with the band. It was because both Frank and Francis hold Appleby’s work in such high regard.
“The tone of Steven’s art is playful and not too serious,” says Francis. “While there’s a lot of pathos, it’s also very funny. I think Steven has really brought a light-hearted note to our story.”
Frank says that this book is Francis’ “love letter to all things that fascinate him: music, film and French.” But for Frank, The Good Inn is the “ultimate love letter to all the things that interest me about lost history and connecting them with all of the things from pop culture that I grew up loving,” he says. “So it’s very fantastic to have all of that come out of this one project.”
Gordon West is a writer and illustrator living in Brooklyn. He is admittedly addicted to horror films and is at work on his own teen novel.