Apparently freaked or at least alarmed by recent negative reactions to I’m Still Here, his Joaquin Phoenix meltdown documentary, Casey Affleck has dropped the pose and confessed to N.Y. Times reporter Michael Cieply that “almost every bit of” I’m Still Here is pretend, put-on theatre.
To this I say bullshit. I believe that some or much of the doc may have been staged and performed, okay, but I’m convinced that it was inspired by genuine career despair on Phoenix’s part, and that a sizable portion of it came straight from his real heart, head and gut.
What happened, I strongly suspect, is that after I’m Still Here was shown at the Toronto Film Festival Affleck and Phoenix both realized they’d over-played their hand by persuading the media that Phoenix is an even bigger egoistic fool than anyone had suspected or realized, and that the only way to save Phoenix from a life of depression and skid-row dereliction is to claim it was entirely made up. Think about it — how could Cieply claim or prove otherwise? Once you start down the rabbit hole there are no guideposts, no rules…nothing but free-form improv.
I believe Affleck is doing what he can to save his brother-in-law from ruination. Because Phoenix has no future without a complete renunciation of the whole “act.” Everyone on the planet has been convinced there is no bigger asshole around. Right now Phoenix would have trouble getting hired as an assistant at Kinko’s.
“It’s a terrific performance, it’s the performance of his career,” Affleck tells Cieply in a story that went up this afternoon.
Affleck “was speaking of Mr. Phoenix’s two-year portrayal of himself — on screen and off — as a bearded, drug-addled aspiring rap star, who, as Affleck tells it, put his professional life on the line to star in a bit of ‘gonzo filmmaking’ modeled on the reality-bending journalism of Hunter S. Thompson.
“The reviews were so angry,” said Mr. Affleck, who attributed much of the hostility to his own long silence about a film that left more than a few viewers wondering what was real — The drugs? The hookers? The childhood home-movie sequences in the beginning? — and what was not.
“Virtually none of it was real,” Cieply writes. “Not even the opening shots, supposedly of Mr. Phoenix and his siblings swimming in a water hole in Panama. That, Mr. Affleck said, was actually shot in Hawaii with actors, then run back and forth on top of an old videocassette recording of Paris, Texas to degrade the images.
“I never intended to trick anybody,” said Mr. Affleck, an intense 35-year-old who spoke over a meat-free, cheese-free vegetable sandwich on Thursday. “The idea of a quote, hoax, unquote, never entered my mind.”
Wait….”a meat-free, cheese-free vegetable sandwich“? What has that got to do with anything? To me, this sentence suggests that Cieply’s story itself is a put-on. You know what? I’m getting sick of this. I say trust no human being entirely. You know who I trust? My cats. Otherwise believe none of what you read or hear and only half of what you see.
Phoenix turned himself into a bloated, pot-bellied pig wasn’t theatre — he clearly did that.
And I was so appalled and amazed by the scene in which Phoenix’s assistant poops on his boss’s face that I’m going to deliberately defy N.Y. Times-sanctioned “reality” and continue to believe it really “happened.”