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Casey Affleck is still here (offering tortured explanations)

September 22, 2010 |  3:00 am

By now it's hard to feel resentful about the Casey Affleck-Joaquin Phoenix hoax that is "I'm Still Here." It's just easier to shake your head at the whole misguided stunt.

On Tuesday, director Affleck came out on the stage of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" to follow up on his comments last week that the entire Phoenix career switch was staged.

Leno, to his credit, asked if Affleck wanted people to think the film was real -- basically, he was asking if Affleck wanted it to cross from postmodern gag into outright deception. And Affleck essentially turned up his palms and acted as though he was surprised by the backlash.

This was a character piece, a "Being John Malkovich homage," from the start, he said. "I'm Still Here" is "not a documentary," he maintained. "It's a movie about an actor who's been doing this for his whole life, and he decides he wants to try something else."

"It doesn't seem like it would cause that much confusion, but it did. And we didn't address it. We never said, like, this isn't really Joaquin." (Well, that just might be why it caused the confusion.)

Affleck went on to say that he did -- sort of -- want people to be a little confused. "We just wanted to make a movie that would help people suspend their disbelief. They could go to the theater, they could experience it and sort wonder whether it's real or not," he said.

He seemed to want it both ways, against all rules of logic; you can't want people to be confused and then be surprised that they are. Affleck and Phoenix kind of squandered any credibility by saying that they never wanted people to think this was real the moment they included scenes in the film of them going after journos who thought it was a hoax.

Affleck also made a distinction that didn't hold much water. He maybe did want to mislead us a little, he said, but only when we were most deeply engaged with the film. "I wanted them to think it was real while they were watching it," he told Leno. "But I assumed when it was over they would understand it wasn't real." (We only wanted to give you the bad prognosis when you were in the exam room. We were going to call you right when you got home to take it all back.)

There's no point in feeling anger at all this. Keeping the is-it-real ball in play for so long was part of what got people talking (if not buying tickets). And we suppose saying it was all an act is what will get people, especially people in Hollywood, to stop asking questions. It's just hard not to be baffled by the idea that Affleck and Phoenix really believed this would end well, that people would be so dazzled by the gag or the performance that they wouldn't be thrown by the whiplash effect.

On Wednesday night, Phoenix is slated to be a guest on "The Late Show With David Letterman," his first televised appearance since his infamous Letterman outing in early 2009. Presumably, he won't be affecting the Spiraling Joaquin. Actually, the best we might hope for is for Phoenix to come out on stage, still bearded and still zoned out, carrying right on with the descent depicted in the film. That might mean the breakdown was real, and Affleck was just covering for his buddy over the last week so he could get some new film roles. Now that would be a good hoax.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Casey Affleck. Credit: Robert Caplin / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (6)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Respectfully, ish, the whole thrust of your bit demonstrates naivete. It's obvious that either you thought it was real or wanted to think it was real. Generally your bitterness seems to be that you got duped?
The "confusion" into "logic" dilemma you have is moot. Maybe the piece was not for the totally undiscerning, but that's ok, (one friend of mine watched it and said, "poor guy, why would he do this to himself?" Evidently the nuance and discernment is not for everyone, but the ambiguity of real/fake - the QUESTIONS ALONE - made the work rich and compelling. And then the outting of the truth, merely affirms the thoughtfulness, a certain genius. In an age of self-reflexivity, paris hilton (fame with no talent), reality tv, lady gaga (her meta-glamour cartoon self-depiction), Phoenix enacted a work of contemporary art. As for your hope that Joaquin will come out looking scraggly tonight, a friend of mine saw him in the East Village yesterday: shaven, fit, spanky clean.

It would be amazing if he came out on Letterman with the beard, especially since pictures of him have already been taken this week at the Venice Film Festival of him clean-shaven and with a short haircut.

Maybe he can come out on Letterman wearing a wig and false beard, and then he can pull them off right away? Now THAT would be funny.

This now falls into the "who cares" file.

I honestly don't know why the author is giving Phoenix and Affleck such a hard time.

Their concept seems transparent enough to me- use important persons and real situations to legitimize a fictional character. That's not a far out idea. Surely, Zeitchik would agree that all films are just fabrications intended to provoke. There's no great deception here. It's hard to take him seriously when he lampoons Affleck-

"'I wanted them to think it was real while they were watching it,' he told Leno. 'But I assumed when it was over they would understand it wasn't real.' (We only wanted to give you the bad prognosis when you were in the exam room. We were going to call you right when you got home to take it all back.)"

Couldn't you say the same of all drama? It's almost a truism. In fact, that's what good story-telling is: a bad prognosis, a close-call, and then it's over. Does Zeitchik want all filmmakers to disclaim their works with the caveat that what you're about to see isn't real? Perhaps the author was taken in by the ruse and now feels silly.

I'm keen on the moment where Affleck reveals what I suspected all along, "No, I never [got calls from people concerned about Joaquin]. Afterwards, when the movie came out, critics were quick to say, 'This is crazy. This is disturbing. This is sick. We should be worried about him.' But while it was happening people were happy to mock him and make fun."

I want to think that the reviewers who are most strongly opined against this film have a guilty conscience.

Ridiculous. It just sounds like sour grapes from Zeitchik. So you weren't let in on the joke from the beginning. Big deal. You miss too many birthday parties as a kid? Boo hoo.

Who really cares if it's all a hoax, it'll still probably a half decent movie. Everyone talking about it is just good publicity for it.


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