[Update: Watch a Clip of Casey Affleck talking about I'm Still Here]
In what could be considered the least surprising reveal of 2010, director Casey Affleck has confirmed that I'm Still Here, the documentary about Joaquin Phoenix's drug-addled fall from grace/career change to a Matisyahu-like hip hop artist, is entirely fake.
Yes, even the charming "home footage" of Phoenix as a child playing with his family at a water hole in Panama.
Celebrities are capable of some pretty bizarre behavior, so it wasn't entirely out of the realm of possibility that Phoenix had truly gone off the deep end (read our review of I'm Still Here). That said, had the footage been real, it would still be difficult to reconcile why Affleck, who is Phoenix's brother-in-law, witnessing such a blatant downhill slide, would have ever opted to call a film crew instead of a real psychiatrist.
Affleck was surprisingly candid about the ruse when he spoke with The New York Times:
"I never intended to trick anybody. The idea of a quote, hoax, unquote, never entered my mind."
Update: Now you can watch Affleck talk about the film live in this clip from Jay Leno's Tonight Show:
If that's true, Affleck must not have had much control over the way the film was marketed, considering the official plot synopsis directly promises a "tumultuous year" in Phoenix's life with "remarkable access":
"The directorial debut of Oscar-nominated actor Casey Affleck, I’M STILL HERE is a striking portrayal of a tumultuous year in the life of internationally acclaimed actor Joaquin Phoenix. With remarkable access, I’M STILL HERE follows the Oscar-nominee as he announces his retirement from a successful film career in the fall of 2008 and sets off to reinvent himself as a hip hop musician. Sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, and always riveting, the film is a portrait of an artist at a crossroads. Defying expectations, it deftly explores notions of courage and creative reinvention, as well as the ramifications of a life spent in the public eye."
Admittedly, Affleck captures a number of shocking moments on film but you can't promise a tumultuous year and remarkable access if Phoenix could have pulled the plug at any moment; especially if you're going to then come out after the fact and say, "Wow, we never meant for people to think it was a hoax."
Affleck even admitted that David Letterman, who is featured in one of the weirdest moments of the film (as well as had to deal with Phoenix's bizarre behavior in front of his own live studio audience), was not informed of Phoenix's "act."
You can check out the David Letterman footage below:
In defense of choosing to dupe everyone, Affleck channeled the power of artistic integrity:
"It's a terrific performance, it's the performance of his career... [We] wanted to create a space [where] you believe what's happening is real."
It's hard to follow the young director's train of thought, unless of course it's entirely self-serving (considering the film just arrived in theaters). If you're having trouble reconciling the ideas here, it's simple: Basically, Phoenix and Affleck wanted to trick us - but also didn't want us to be mad about it.
Ultimately there's nothing wrong with a mockumentary, or even marketing it as a documentary; however, the biggest mystery is why Affleck thought praising Phoenix's "terrific performance" is the best way to promote the film - over leaving people to wonder whether or not what they saw was real. If we all know it's not real - what happens to that "space" the filmmakers so desperately attempted to create?
I'm Still Here is currently in theaters.
Source: The New York Times