REVIEW: I’m Still Here

22 11 2010

If Joaquin Phoenix managed to have me pretty fully convinced that he was serious when he did the “Hasidic meth dealer” act for over a year, does that make him a good actor … or me a gullible onlooker?  In a way, that’s the sort of question “I’m Still Here” wants you to answer, although there was enough media coverage surrounding Joaquin Phoenix’s committed transformation that a movie just seems unnecessary.

Directed by Phoenix’s brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, the movie is a piece of performance art by Joaquin Phoenix masquerading as a documentary.  He makes some interesting observations on the nature of the star, which detract from the actor.  The reasoning is that by excising the actor and becoming a rapper (something he is incredibly ill-suited to tackle) we will realize that we love the celebrity more than we love their talent.

And, in a sense, he’s right.  As we observe his year of withdrawal, we see the media circus in full tilt, quick as ever to judge.  They mistake the performance for the personality, much as I and many others did.  The documentary flirts with this blurry line, and there are many times when it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.  This problem isn’t made any easier by Affleck’s unstable direction, but it makes for a perplexing experience that virtually requires the viewer to take on the role of a detective exploring Phoenix’s mind.

This artistic experiment Phoenix puts on for a year is never dull or boring.  The best word to describe it is bizarre, and all of his strange fetishes for strippers, drugs, and cruel pranks make him out to be either one sick actor or deranged man.  Either way, “I’m Still Here” doesn’t endear us to any side of Joaquin Phoenix.  It’s an uncomfortable watch at times as he borders on insanity, even knowing that it’s all a big hoax.

What I think Phoenix doesn’t realize is that this offbeat performance has forever enshrined him in our minds as a kooky celebrity, not an actor, in effect giving an averse reaction.  Whatever the case, I’ll certainly never see “Walk the Line” in the same way as before.  B-

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2 responses

24 11 2010
rorydean

A good read on this movie type thing. I haven’t seen the film yet so I can’t comment directly but I can say with all honesty there is a trailer for the movie that continues to draw me to this film. I knew the precursory stuff, the threat of ‘is it real or make believe’, the stuff movie people do and say when they drink too much or their careers head south or something and their head implodes. I read as little as I could for a very long time because secretly, deep down, I wanted it to be real because that would have been truly interesting and might have had something to really say about the state of celebrity, fan obsession, and the increasing cost of a movie ticket. What we were delivered was a nicely wrapped turkey baster that while looks like all the other more expensive turkey basters is still only a five dollar stick with a hole and one of those bulb-primers on top.

I love your question at the beginning because I think this is the very ‘issue’ if you will at the core of the project. We can learn a lot by taking a retroactive look back at say Warhol’s Factory Period and the very questioning of what is art, what should be art, how can or should it be defined, validated, or appreciated. In this way I’m mostly disappointed that the “film” I thought I was going to get to watch doesn’t exist. Not really. The line, as you point out, between performance art and whatever the project might have been scribbled out on a cocktail napkin at three in the morning in lipstick just never finds a middle ground and the audience is caught in the gray. Instead of being about the art its about the container the art comes in, the frame and canvas, the technique consumes the author.

cheers->

24 11 2010
Marshall

Very eloquently stated. Don’t forget about this comment if you want to write a review of this movie later, that’s some good stuff.

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