In an interview with the New York Times, Casey Affleck confirmed that his documentary on Joaquin Phoenix was all “performance.” Many were wondering about that after they saw “I’m Still Here” which opened recently in Los Angeles, and the general consensus was that they couldn’t figure out if it was the real thing or if it was all a hoax. But the past two years of Joaquin growing a beard and gaining a lot of weight seemed to capture everyone’s attention, and many of us couldn’t stop thinking of him after he was on Letterman. So how does Casey himself see all us?
“It’s a terrific performance; it’s the performance of his (Joaquin Phoenix) career.”
“I never intended to trick anybody. The idea of a quote, hoax, unquote, never entered my mind.”
So what was “I’m Still Here” really all about? The way Casey explains it; he wanted audiences to experience the film’s narrative which was about the “disintegration of celebrity” and to view it without “the clutter of preconceived notions.” Casey and Joaquin both wanted this whole project to feel like it was really happening. For many people (including myself), they succeeded in making us believe it was the real deal.
I imagine there are a lot of people who are now rather pissed off about this being a mockumentary instead of a documentary. All the same, I bet those who say they knew it was a fake along are more likely covering their embarrassment, not wanting to reveal that they were so easily deceived by this charade that ended up lasting a couple of years. Then there was that article in Entertainment Weekly where Joaquin was quoted as saying that his whole breakdown and entrance in becoming a hip-hop artist was a put on and that Casey was going to film it all. But for those who saw “I’m Still Here,” that same columnist from the weekly magazine was interviewed by Casey, and he tried to convince her that none of this was a hoax. When asked to reveal her sources, she refused to do so.
Now I just saw this not actually real documentary the other week. Do I feel deceived? Well, I was along with many others (that includes those who won’t admit it) that were completely deceived, but I actually don’t feel all that angry about it. In fact, upon finding out the truth behind this feature being made clear to the world, I was really very much relieved. I so didn’t want any of what I saw in “I’m Still Here” to be true! After remembering how shocked I was to hear about his brother River’s death outside the Viper Room, it was disheartening to think that Joaquin is going down that same road, and you’d think he would know better than to do that to himself.
You know something? I find myself really admiring both Casey Affleck and especially Joaquin Phoenix for even attempting to go through with this. This is performance art of a whole other kind, and it proves once again that Joaquin is indeed one of the best actors today. Over the years, he has more than set himself apart from his famous brother and has never had to stay in his shadow thanks to great performances in “Parenthood” and “Walk The Line” among other movies. But even before all this happened, Joaquin always seemed like an odd person who never seemed comfortable being a celebrity let alone an actor. So now he is said to be returning to acting which I actually look forward to as it would be a shame to let his talent go to waste. But since this has been proven to have been a performance, I guess it’s safe to say that he never gave up acting in the first place.
As for Casey Affleck, he will return to acting as well, but the revealing truth behind “I’m Still Here” will probably change people’s perception of his work as a director. Upon its release, many reviewers slammed the movie as being technically inferior compared to others, but that was part of the plan. That whole opening sequence of a young Joaquin in Panama with his dad and on a ledge hesitantly waiting to jump into the water while his father watched? It was said to be a home movie, but Casey said the whole thing in Hawaii and cast actors unrelated to either him and that “crazy” actor, and he later put that same footage over a videocassette recording of “Paris, Texas” where he played it back and forth to degrade the image.
This whole act goes back to that William Shakespeare quote from “As You Like It” which I used to open my review of “I’m Still Here;” how all the world is a stage and all the men and women are merely players. People are going to be looking at this “documentary” differently now, and comparisons are being made between this and Sacha Baron Cohen’s work on “Borat” and “Bruno.” But the big difference there is although we all went into it knowing it really wasn’t really, and that made them easier to sit through (for some of us anyway). You never got that with Casey’s documentary because the line between what’s real and what is not becomes completely blurred, and it was like everyone involved didn’t care if you were uncomfortable. What truly mattered is that you experienced the movie more than anything else.
C’mon and admit it, you couldn’t figure out if this was staged the way “Borat” was. If you did, you either knew more than we all did or you’re just lying to yourself as well as to the rest of us.
To hell with it I say! My hat is off to both Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix for having the balls for taking it as far as they did. You may despise them for making everyone worry so much about poor Joaquin, but then again, there are so many other things we should be worrying about anyway like our economy, hanging onto our jobs, Karl Rove still having the power he has as a Republican strategist, etc. Perhaps that’s why the two of them went through with this; to show the world that being a celebrity is an isolating experience where you are focused on only you 24/7, and that there are a lot of things you really don’t need to see and probably shouldn’t. Let’s face it; we’re all a nation of voyeurs who no longer know when to step back from the scene of a crime. Everyone deserves their privacy, and if we don’t like we see, it won’t change the fact that we’re all part of the problem.
Honestly, I think Andy Kaufman would be proud of these two. I’m just glad that Joaquin’s act is all over, and that he is in fact NOT the reincarnation of lounge singer Tony Clifton. He’s going to be on David Letterman again soon, but as himself and not the bearded Unabomber wannabe he looked like before. Looks like this act is not over yet…