Thursday, September 23, 2010

Joaquin Phoenix is Still Here, And He's Got Something IMPORTANT to Say About How YOU Treat Celebrities (i.e., Poorly)

For awhile, almost two years, apparently, the actor Joaquin Phoenix was going around acting as if he'd gone completely bonkers, decided to trade acting for a hip-hop career, growing out his hair (you know, the way *KA-RAAAAZZZY*PEOPLE* do), and doing strange things such as falling off stage while giving a poor rap performance:


He also appeared on David Letterman's television show, giving what appeared to be a very strained and awkward interview.

Was he faking his strangeness? It turns out he was, which is a big deal in the context of this interview. But I'll get to that in a second.

Following Mr. Phoenix around with a camera was his brother-in-law, the actor Casey Affleck. The result was the recently-released "documentary" called "I'm Still Here," which apparently documented Mr. Phoenix's slide into -- well, whatever he was sliding into.

The movie hasn't made very much money.
The fiasco that is "I'm Still Here," the mock-documentary about Joaquin Phoenix's apparently fake meltdown over the last two years, has been all-encompassing. The film was a box-office flop: It has earned only $259,000 to date after months of pre-release hype. It's been eviscerated by critics and has been generally received as a smug movie-star kiss-off to a gossip-obsessed public.
Ouch! I've made movies that have made more money than that (ha! I just engaged in a bit of hoaxing there, myself).

You will note that the yahoo movies article refers to the film as a "mock-documentary" (for some reason eschewing the generally accepted portmanteau word "mockumentary") of an "apparently fake meltdown." That is because Mr. Affleck has admitted that the whole thing was just a ruse. He was fooling us, you see. Or he thought he was. How many people were actually fooled? Were you? Were any of the gossip-obsessed public?

No -- we're too savvy for that.

As recently as late May, Diddy (who appears in the film as "himself") insisted that the whole thing was real -- or if not, that he was duped.
"If he's not for real, he tricked me," Diddy said. "We went into the studio, did a record, mixed a record and everything."

We have to say, that's some compelling evidence that Phoenix's gambit is no joke. Yet the jury remains out for now.
That was back on May 26th.

Also in May, Mr. Affleck was giving wishy-washy answers to interview questions, in which he would state things like
"You'll find out what was happening in his life in that period -- what was going on before he went on, what was going on afterwards," Affleck said about the bizarre interview. That episode -- along with a couple of sub-par 2009 rap performances in Las Vegas, in which Phoenix fell off the stage and got in a fight with a fan -- was strange enough to make critics wonder if Phoenix faked his whole aloof persona, but Affleck said that's not the case.

"I understand there were all these different reactions to what happened on the Letterman show; millions of people saw on YouTube and wrote about it and talked about it all over the place but most of them were wrong," Affleck said. "[Phoenix's motive] was nothing that anybody ever guessed."
Yes, most of the people were wrong, and his motives were never guessed by anyone.

They were so complicated, you see. The motives. For the strangeness.

Also, Mr. Affleck just wanted to see if he could direct a movie all by himself, just like his big brother Ben does.
What did you hope to achieve with the movie?

I had never directed a movie. I wasn’t sure I could see the whole thing through all by myself. I wanted to know if I could actually run this marathon from beginning to end.

Beyond that there were certain ideas that interested me, but I didn’t want to make a didactic message movie. There were ideas at play, about the entertainment industry and the media. You can’t make a movie about a celebrity without it in some way being about celebrity culture.

We are obsessed with celebrity. We fixate on celebrities. We create them and then destroy them, and for some reason I don’t understand there is this unassuagable desire to do it over and over again.

Things happen to people I know who I am very close to and to people I don’t know that well. We build them up and then we just beat them down.
Think about that answer for a minute. The celebrity is asked why he made this supposedly daring performance art mockumentary film, and the first part of his answer is "I wanted to see if I could make a movie." Moreover, he wanted to explore the way celebrities are treated by, you know, the hoi polloi. The rabble who build them up, only to tear them down.

The interviewer just lets that statement go by unchallenged, but I'd like some specifics. Who are the celebrities that we are building up, only to tear down? Lindsay Lohan? Paris Hilton? Britney Spears? Those people did decent jobs of tearing themselves down, after having been built up by the megaconglomerates that run the entertainment business.

And is it "tearing someone down" to note their eccentric behavior? I'm not sure why they thought taking a two-time Academy Award nominated actor and trotting him out to hip-hop clubs and talk shows and having him engage in oddball stunts, including giving himself a deliberately bizarre appearance calculated to make him look crazy was somehow going to offer any meaningful commentary on how we, the groundlings, treat "our" celebrities.

I can't believe the way the public reacted when this celebrity acted all crazy! They're tearing him down, don't you see???

Wouldn't their point have been made more strongly if Mr. Phoenix had quit acting to start a charity for children with disabilities, and see how people react to that? (Interestingly, the Affleck-Phoenix "celebrities are treated poorly" film is being released around the same time as "The Tillman Story," a documentary about a young man who gave up a promising career as a professional NFL player to become a soldier in Afghanistan. Given Mr. Tillman's fate, it kind of puts the whole "celebrities are built up only to be torn down" argument into perspective, doesn't it?)

Mr. Affleck, please show us an example of a celebrity that "we" have built up, only to tear down again.

Otherwise, this is just an exercise in a couple of well-connected people making a vanity project that happened to get a lot of press thanks largely to one interview on David Letterman's show. And according to one of the Mr. Letterman's writers, he was in on the joke at the time:
NUVO: Tell me what it was like backstage after the Joaquin Phoenix appearance.

Scheft: First of all, that was all an act.

NUVO: Even Dave's part of it?

Scheft:: Yeah. Think Andy Kaufman without shaving. That's what he was doing. And Dave knew about it and Dave loved it because he could play along. He could do whatever he wanted with it. And he did, and it was great television. But I will take credit for the line, "I think I owe Farrah Fawcett an apology." That line was mine. I gave that to him during the break.

Dave loves that. He had a ball. He likes anything that's good television, and he knew that's good television.

I've told people that (everyone was in on the joke), and not only don't people believe me, they tell me that I'm wrong and that (Phoenix) is a schizophrenic and he needs help and he's going to end up like his brother. I said no. I saw the segment notes. It's an act. I saw Ben Affleck's brother taping the whole thing from offstage.
This would appear to contradict Mr. Letterman's assertion from his interview with Mr. Phoenix last night:

Mr. Phoenix says he was "looking for a beatdown." Or was he looking for a willing accomplice in his little vanity project? Or was he looking for an unsuspecting dupe? Mr. Letterman asks, "How do I come off? Do I come off good? Or do I come off like a jerk?"

Well, Mr. Letterman, you come off as either an accomplice to a hipster "regular people build us up only to tear us down" vanity project (and wasn't this just before Mr. Letterman was to be "torn down" by his sleeping with interns thing?), or you come across as a dupe. Which one do you think makes you look like a jerk?

Anyway, to get back to Mr. Phoenix's first interview. You need only watch the first couple of minutes to see that his appearance on Mr. Letterman's show was ostensibly to promote his latest film, "Two Lovers," with Gwyneth Paltrow and Vanessa Shaw. In other words, he was part of the celebrity machine he was supposedly criticizing -- the one in which celebrities make a film for one corporate entity, and then go promote it on a television show owned by another corporate entity.

And he didn't do a very good job of promoting "Two Lovers," either. Did he even say the name of the film? If you were the director, James Gray, would you want him to? Suppose you were Gwyneth Paltrow or Vanessa Shaw. How would you feel if your co-star decided to use the occasion of the promotion of your serious film (I haven't seen it -- is it serious?) to make your performance art statement about how celebrities are built up only to be torn down? Better yet, suppose you were one of the producers of that film.

Would you sue Mr. Phoenix for taking time out of his promotional duties to make his important commentary on the mistreatment of celebrities?

Wait -- you mean to tell me that THIS guy was faking the whole time? Get outta here!

Pic source.


shampoo said...

OMG!! This is absolutely the best article i have read about this complete ridiculousness! Great job!

I really didn't think anyone could beat Michael K's "when your relatives are about to drop a 5150 ... say 'i was acting!'"

and yes, why are people so, so surprised when stars created by huge companies get out on their own and totally screw everything up? some of those big companies, i believe, actually count on that so their old stars will not be in competition with the news stars they are currenty promoting.

Ricky Sprague said...

Thank you, shampoo. That means a lot.

I have just read somewhere that Mr. Phoenix is getting back into acting -- Clint Eastwood wants to cast him as J. Edgar Hoover's boyfriend, or something.

Why would anyone want to cast this guy in a new movie, when he just appeared in a performance art stunt movie in which he showed how much contempt he has for the very audience to whom he's trying to sell tickets?

Maybe you have to be in Hollywood to make sense of that.

shampoo said...

yes, i was wondering about that casting myself. but, then again, the premise of the movie sounds blah to me anyway. but, no, he has not endeared himself to ticket buyers nor has casey affleck.

hollywood needs to get over itself. also, anyone who thinks about this for five minutes realizes they just ripped off this idea from other people as a way to waste the movie budget doing goofy stuff they should at least have the dignity to pay for themselves.

i linked to your story on my blog (with my 2 1/2 readers), i hope that is o.k. if it's not, i'll take it down..

Ricky Sprague said...

Of course it's okay -- I appreciate the link!

(Is one of your readers pregnant?)

shampoo said...

That would be exciting. haha I was just kidding about the 1/2.

Melissa said...

"The interviewer just lets that statement go by unchallenged, but I'd like some specifics. Who are the celebrities that we are building up, only to tear down? Lindsay Lohan? Paris Hilton? Britney Spears? Those people did decent jobs of tearing themselves down, after having been built up by the megaconglomerates that run the entertainment business."