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Casey Affleck Comes Clean About “I’m Still Here”

Casey Affleck Comes Clean About “I’m Still Here” (photo)

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After months of speculation (most of it on this website, it seems), director Casey Affleck has finally fessed up about the truth (or fiction) of his “documentary” about actor Joaquin Phoenix. “It’s a terrific performance,” Affleck told The New York Times. “It’s the performance of his career.” I certainly agree; in my review of the film for, I speculated that while many scenes looked staged, some seemed too real to be fake, writing “if Phoenix is acting… he is giving one the greatest and most fearless performances of all time.”

According to Affleck now, nearly everything in the movie is staged, even the supposed home movies of Phoenix as a child in Panama (a possibility I’m pretty sure I raised during my discussion of the film with David Chen on The /Filmcast). But as recently as the Venice Film Festival earlier this month, Affleck continued to assert the film’s authenticity. At a press conference in Venice Affleck said, “I can tell you, there’s no hoax. It never entered my mind until other people commented on the movie.” Today in The Times he carefully amended that statement. “I never intended to trick anybody,” he said. “The idea of a quote, hoax, unquote, never entered my mind.” In retrospect, Affleck was clearly pulling a non-denial denial. Even though “I’m Still Here” is fiction it’s not a “hoax,” because to him the movie speaks to a larger truth about celebrity and fame.

Of course, Affleck didn’t bother correcting people’s misperceptions either. Neither did the film’s distributor, Magnolia, whose publicity materials sell the film as a documentary. Their description of “I’m Still Here on still begins “The directorial debut of Oscar-nominated actor Casey Affleck, ‘I’m Still Here’ is a striking portrayal of a tumultuous year in the life of internationally acclaimed actor Joaquin Phoenix. With remarkable access, ‘I’m Still Here’ follows the Oscar-nominee as he announces his retirement from a successful film career in the fall of 2008 and sets off to reinvent himself as a hip hop musician.” Does that explicitly say the movie is a documentary? No. Does it strongly imply it? Absolutely.

In an article I wrote last week theorizing about the potential levels of reality within “I’m Still Here,” I examined the larger implications of the film if it was indeed fictional. Looking back at that piece, I’m reminded of all the things in the movie that didn’t look staged: pretending to snort cocaine is easy, pretending to puke as much as Phoenix appears to puke is not. So while I’m not shocked by this news by any means, I’m still impressed (and slightly unsettled) by Phoenix’s dedication to this character and to his and Affleck’s ability to pull the wool over so many people’s eyes.

The question now becomes why Affleck chose to make this announcement now, while the film is still in release. I imagine the fact that Phoenix is scheduled to return to Letterman’s show on September 22 had something to do with it, since the actor would either have to come clean then or continue the deception. But my guess is “I’m Still Here”‘s tepid box office played a bigger role. The film earned $96,000 in about twenty theaters in its opening weekend, according to Box Office Mojo. That wasn’t even good enough to crack the top ten list of the highest per screen averages for the weekend. And while I was absolutely fascinated by “I’m Still Here,” I couldn’t begrudge anyone who felt like the movie wasn’t their cup of tea. If people believed it was real — and Affleck, Phoenix, and company made very little effort to dissuade them of that belief — then they were essentially paying twelve dollars for the privilege of watching someone snort their life up their nose and then flush it down the toilet. Who could blame someone for not being interested in that? Ironically, a movie designed as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of stardom and celebrity might wind up as a cautionary tale about how to market movies that blur the line between fiction and nonfiction.

Does this news make the film less interesting? I’m not sure, but it certainly makes the conversations you can have after the film less fun. In my review of “I’m Still Here,” I wrote “with his first feature as a director, Affleck has made one of the most convincing and interesting movie pranks ever (that is, if he didn’t make one of the most exploitative and morally questionable documentaries ever).” I suspect this movie will eventually be forgotten as a weird footnote on Phoenix’s career, and I wish Affleck’s supposed “subtle clues” designed to “provide hints of his real intention” were a bit less subtle. But I stand by my earlier comments. Affleck and Phoenix pulled off a hoax (sorry Casey, that’s what it is) on a remarkable scale. Despite Affleck’s comments, their achievements are still there.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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