Casey Affleck: Phoenix's melt down constructed

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According to the New York Times, Joaquin Phoenix's meltdown - the subject of I'm Still Here (Affleck, 2010) , screened at TIFF - was staged. From Casey Affleck, who directed the film:
Mr. Affleck, who is married to Mr. Phoenix’s sister and has been his friend for almost 20 years, said he wanted audiences to experience the film’s narrative, about the disintegration of celebrity, without the clutter of preconceived notions.

So he said little in interviews. “We wanted to create a space,” he said. “You believe what’s happening is real.”

As the film progresses, Mr. Affleck explained, subtle cues were supposed to provide hints of his real intention. Camera techniques, extremely raw at the beginning, become more sophisticated as the film goes on, for instance.

“There were multiple takes, these are performances,” Mr. Affleck said of unsettling sequences in which Mr. Phoenix appears to snort drugs, consort with hookers, and hunt to the ground an assistant who has betrayed him to the press — again, mostly actors.

But the movie never quite showed its hand. “There was no wink,” Mr. Affleck said.
Scathing reviews aside, having yet to see the film and no prior interest in seeing a mockumentary about Joaquin Phoenix's supposed downward spiral, I'm now intrigued that it was a staged event for a fictional film. I'll reserve my judgment of the film's worth until I've seen it, but in theory, this sounds like a brilliant way to examine the celebrity culture in the new media age (as I'm sure Phoenix and Affleck thought it did). A potential pitfall of performance arts of this kind lies in the gap of its disconnection. To experience a film properly is to suspend disbelief in order to engage in a story of fictional characters or non-fictional characters portrayed by appropriated figures. The double layers of falsehood presented by I'm Still Here may prove too challenging for the audience to engage in. Without engagement, the film's message may become inconsequential, thus failing its ambitious aim of meta cultural commentary. Nevertheless, it could still be a fascinating exercise in staging grand-scale performance art. Has Affleck been in talk with Lady Gaga?



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