I don't frequent theaters like I should. Throughout the entire 12 months of 2010, I experienced three movies on the big screen. They were "Avatar", "Crazy Heart" and "Best Worst Movie". So far, this year I have seen one (Rare Exports). I can make assumptions why this is. Most films I don't care to see and definitely don't think they are worth the price of a theater ticket. But there are many films that I find to be an amazing experience. I guess the excuse for me missing these have more to do with my own quirky personality traits. I prefer to not go out. I don't like being among large numbers of strangers. I forget things. It usually hits me at once to see a pile of films that I missed in the theater. That time is now.
"I'm Still Around" was among the many great, good and mediocre pictures that I brought home from the video store (Yes. I still rent movies from a local independent video store and have not succumbed to the world of Netflix. Nor will I ever). I'm not surprised at the mixed reviews and reactions it has received. But I think it's brilliant.
A film by Casey Affleck, I'm Still Around is a mockumentary that takes jabs at our many societal inadequacies. If you haven't heard of it, you must recall the controversy involved with it. At the end of 2008, Joaquin Phoenix made a stunning announcement to the press. After a huge award winning career as an actor, the bearded Joaquin mentioned that he was retiring from film to pursue a career as a hip hop artist.
We then watched him self destruct for two years in media appearances from The Late Show, TMZ and every news station in between. He became overweight and unkempt in his appearance. He grew out his hair and beard, which became a tangled mess, and dressed in sloppy rags. The few glimpses we saw of his hip hop career were a train wreck reflecting an incoherent and amateur lout.
Then, in 2010, after the release of the film I'm Still Here, Joaquin made another appearance on The Late Show, to disclose that his behaviorism was due to a role he was portraying in the film. It was all a hoax. Why do people hate the film so much? Because the film shows a dark side of our society that we are all a part of. And when people leave a movie, they don't like feeling like shit.
That being said, I don't think it is a great film. But the genius behind it lies in the originality of it's approach and not it's perfection as a whole. Far beyond Sacha Baron Cohen, Jackass or Tom Green, Joaquin played a role for the entire world that lasted two years and endured much scrutiny to prove a point. What was the point? It says many things. I'm not a film critic and have no intentions on telling you what the film was about, why it was successful or why it failed. But I came out of it with two thoughts that really stuck with me.
First, is American's delusion of reality. This is not anything new, but our bases of comparison has become so convoluted. We live in an entertainment world where the majority of television is either reality shows or shows imitating reality. We've been completely duped by filmmakers and networks to accept these shows as absolute. But they are as scripted and thought out as The Cosby Show. The ghost hunters take smoke breaks during peaking supernatural activity. Survivors out in the wild are well taken care of by craft services. Talent competitions are navigated by scouts and agencies. The president finds himself in office regardless of the popular vote. Oh wait...that last one actually is reality. It is only because this garbage is shoved down our throats around the clock, that a filmmaker could actually achieve such a grand hoax and get away with it. We don't know what's real and what's fake. That is why America sat and watched with apathetic expressions as the twin towers collapsed. It all looks the same.
Comedians Sacha Baron Cohen, Tom Green and Johnny Knoxville will develop a character unknown to the world to capture unprepared audiences in a candid camera trick. But between takes, they can take off the mask and go back to their lives. Joaquin didn't create a character. He put himself and his reputation on the line for two years. Some of us suspected tomfoolery afoot and questioned whether it was a hoax. Most of us bought it completely. But all of us where taken for the ride.
Secondly, and similarly to the first, was that we as a society applaud mediocrity. This shocks the hell out of me. We see this in the film when Joaquin has his hip hop performances. The audience is packed with Sycophants nodding their heads to the beat, snapping pictures with their phones and braying like sheep. We will applaud poor music, incoherent films and bad acting if they are created by a star. Average becomes the accepted.
Now that mediocrity becomes a subject of praise, it opens the arena for more clutter. We've brought talented stars down with interactive networks like twitter and in their place, we have risen the youtube discoveries. Little boys who smear make-up on their face and cry over celebrity drama are getting record deals. Commercials are being handed to individuals who perform parlor tricks (that in the past would only receive an applaud by friends and family during the holidays). Parents are noticing these crass opportunities and have risen up to exploit their own children on the web.
Where will it all lead?
"I'm Still Here" was produced by "They Are Going to Kill Us Productions". This brings to mind a blog I posted a couple years ago during the hype of Michael Jackson's death called KILL THE POP STAR. The theme here isn't so much that "they" (the media, the sycophants, the public) are killing the celebrities, but that we as a society must kill or abolish what we have created the celebrity to be. Let them be an inspiration and a source to aspire to be. Just let them be.