Thursday, May 05, 2011

Random Film Review: I'm Still Here

Dir: Casey Affleck | USA | 2010 | 106mins

We naively assume documentaries tell the truth but truth can be very subjective, dictated by point of view, subject matter and a host of other variables. I'm Still Here (its title perhaps a sly nudge to the film I'm Not There, concerning Bob Dylan's multiple selves) came out amongst several so-called mock docs, including Catfish* (which itself was reminiscent of 2007's My Kid Could Paint That), Exit Through the Gift Shop and The Arbor. Though not the first mockumentaries – other cinematic examples of the sub genre include F for Fake, The War Game, Zelig, This is Spinal Tap, Man Bites Dog, The Blair Witch Project and Borat (as well as TV show the Office and Orson Welles' famous 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds) – these films seemed to capture the zeitgeist, exploring themes of identity, celebrity and technology.

Though I'm Still Here, starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by his brother-in-law Casey Affleck, is now known to be a hoax, following actor Phoenix in his retirement from acting and quest to become a beardy weirdy hip-hop star, the film can be seen as an indictment of the negative power of celebritism; how, if you're rich and famous (though I'm not exactly sure how Joaquin is famous; I've only seen him in Walk the Line) you can get or do whatever you want, even if it's obviously, clearly bad for you, and no one says a thing to stop you. You can enter into a hugely downward spiral and no one intervenes. Just look at Charlie Sheen: he seems genuinely ill but gets all the airtime he wants, innumerable 'goddesses', a touring sell-out show. People either laugh, ridicule or support his crazy behaviour but no one intervenes (not even his dad!). And Michael Jackson's doctor prescribed him drugs he knew weren't good for him, because Jackson was Jackson, and paid him. And so Jackson died. And Joaquin Phoenix – okay, so it's a hoax, but many people actually thought he was losing it, laughed at him when he seemed to be in trouble and let him carry on regardless.

As noted in The Guardian, Phoenix's role was 'celeb-savvy performance art'. If so, was there actually any need for the film at all? Could Phoenix have kept his persona up for a year without being followed by camcorders for the purpose of the 'documentary' but pulled it off just from catatonic TV interviews, public sightings and really bad hip-hop gigs? As it was, the film doesn't shed that much light on the man except showing he's a dick; it's a relatively dull affair, even when pulling off movie star clich├ęs like snorting coke off a hooker's breasts. It would have made for a purer piece of performance art if the art was simply Joaquin Phoenix himself, without the film but with all the media attention.

*Look at the difference between The Social Network and Catfish. The Social Network is about the creation of Facebook and Catfish about the effects of it. It's like the difference between, say, a film about the making of a gun and a thriller.


Mel said...

Did you not see him in Signs? Classic - crop circles and aliens! And Mel Gibson! You must rent the DVD, it's surely right up your street.

Barnaby said...

I think we saw Signs together at the cinema when it came out. Great premise, dreadful film.