Casey Affleck – the New James Frey of Documentaries??


In a  recent New York Times interview, Cassey Affleck admitted that almost all of his new movie “I’m Still Here,” including Joaquin Phoenix’s appearance on Letterman in 2009, was a staged performance.

In the interview, Affleck calls Phoenix’s act “…. the performance of his career.”  For two years, Phoenix embodied a caricature of himself as scraggly bearded, drug-addled, incoherent,  actor pursuing delusions of a rap career. The “mockumentary”  was released last week by Magnolia Pictures to scathing reviews by a number of critics. Roger Ebert wrote that the film was “a sad and painful documentary that serves little useful purpose other than to pound another nail into the coffin.”

Affleck discloses to the newspaper that not even the opening shots, supposedly of Mr. Phoenix and his siblings swimming in a water hole in Panama, was real. Those opening shots were taken in in Hawaii with actors, then run back and forth on top of an old videocassette recording of “Paris, Texas” to degrade the images.

Like Mr. Frey, who played his readers  – most damagingly Oprah – for a fool, Mr. Affleck dupes his viewers (many of them who saw the film prior to this articles publication), adding contrived details to enhance his story. Again, a major public figure is injured in the process. This time the victim was David Letterman who was not in on the joke when Mr. Phoenix showed up on his show as a man who’d lost his marbles who happened to be an actor.  Mr. Letterman concluded: “Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight.”

Mr. Affleck, who is married to Mr. Phoenix’s sister and has been his friend for almost 20 years, claims he wanted audiences to appreciate the films message about the disintegration of celebrity authentically.

Affleck claims that as the film progresses, subtle cues were supposed to provide hints of his real intention. Scenes in which Mr. Phoenix appears to snort drugs, consort with hookers, and display violent behavior used actors and required several takes.

Whatever, their intentions, the viewer never gets a disclaimer. Nothing ever confirms or denies the truth of what you are watching.  Unlike Borat and its ilk, where the audience (if not the participants) are always in on the joke, the audience might be duped by these shenanigans. Phoenix, one of five children of a hippie family, embodied a persona that could very possibly dissolve into the bizarre. It’s all very possible.

Joaquin Phoenix is set to make another appearance on the David Letterman Show on September 22nd, 2010. What do you think – should he get the the James Frey treatment? Will you still go see the film?

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