September 16, 2010
More From Casey Affleck on ‘I’m Still Here’
Once Casey Affleck started explaining his real intent in filming “I’m Still Here,” the fake documentary that seems to follow Joaquin Phoenix on a descent into celebrity hell, he just kept going — and things got more interesting.
In a series of e-mails that followed a Thursday interview, Mr. Affleck, who is both intense and articulate, said, most important, that he admires Mr. Phoenix for having spent so much time working through a performance that seemed to undercut his public standing.
“His performance is compelling, always watchable, manages to be repulsive and charming, believable in all emotions, completely committed, incredibly brave,” Mr. Affleck wrote.
It must have been “tedious” for Mr. Phoenix, he said. “How difficult to resist the cheap joke, the wink, the nudge.” But, he added: “He has the tools for this. He has the goods in spades.”
In talking Thursday about his documentary, Mr. Affleck was clear that David Letterman was not in on the game — that Mr. Phoenix was in character for a fictional film — when he appeared on the show as a mumbling, stumbling mess back in 2009. But one reader maintains that the reality was slightly different. Marc Allan sent a link to an interview he did with the Letterman writer Bill Scheft last year. In it, Mr. Scheft said, “Dave knew about it and Dave loved it because he could play along.”
Mr. Scheft said he occasionally tried to tell people that Mr. Phoenix’s weird appearance was an act. But they would tell him he was wrong, that Mr. Phoenix “is a schizophrenic and he needs help.”
Asked what he reckoned to be the cinematic precedents for “I’m Still Here,” Mr. Affleck pointed to “Sans Soleil,” “Don’t Look Back,” and “Dig!,” along with “billions of hours” of reality video on television and the Internet.
He also mentioned “Darwin’s Nightmare,” a 2004 documentary about fishing the Nile, for it’s rough look, and “pointed and aggressive” stance.
Also, he said, Dante’s “Inferno” was in inspiration, in that the Joaquin Phoenix presented in “I’m Still Here” was headed to the bottom of hell, only to pop back into the light, “which in Hollywood means to lose weight and get a job.”
Mr. Affleck said he thought the frequently hostile critics were distracted by a debate as to whether the film was real, “and the question of real or not wasn’t something I thought would exist after the film was seen in its entirety, credits and all,” he said. “It seems obvious” that it is not.
As to whether he would do it all again, Mr. Affleck said: “Definitely, all of it. Change nothing. I feel good about everything through and through.” Well, not everything. He’s got a list of a “hundred little edits.” But, by and large, he is proud of the film.
“I hope Joaquin gets nominated for all kinds of awards,” Mr. Affleck wrote. “He deserves it.”