Phoenix Takes Performance Art to New Highs


Author: Nina Paus-Weiler

In his infamous 2009 David Letterman interview, two-time Oscar-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix announced his retirement from acting in order to pursue a career as a hip-hop artist. Many people, however, have been questioning the sincerity of his new lifestyle.

The most recent cause for speculation is the film “I’m Still Here,” a documentary about a self-destructive Phoenix who is trying to make his way as a rapper. Released Sept. 16, 2010, “I’m Still Here” has affirmed some suspicions that Phoenix may have been acting the whole time. Reporter Manohla Dargis wrote in her New York Times review of the film, “[…] the programmatic nature of his antics strongly suggests that he [Phoenix] is self-consciously playing a role in a narrative, one that isn’t simply about him.” Instead of defending its authenticity, however, the people behind the film have been making ambiguous comments regarding its integrity.

Director of “I’m Still Here,” Casey Affleck, brother-in-law and friend of Phoenix, was recently interviewed by, a blog dedicated to Phoenix. When asked about Phoenix in the documentary, Affleck was reported to have said, “It’s a terrific performance, it’s the performance of his career […] we wanted to create a space where you believe what’s happening is real.”

However, earlier this month, gossip guru Perez Hilton wrote on his official website that Affleck denied the inauthentic nature of the film. “I can tell you that there is no hoax. That never even entered into my consciousness until other people began to talk about the movie,” Affleck said.

Bill Scheft, monologue writer for David Letterman, revealed in an article published by NUVO Newsweekly that Letterman knew Phoenix was acting during their interview.

Scheft said that Letterman had enjoyed playing along with a fictionalized Phoenix – although Letterman has never admitted to knowing that the interview was a joke.

If Phoenix’s behavior is indeed a hoax, it would be interesting to know his motivations for doing this. Some fans on the blog wrote that they thought he was trying to make a point – that he was making fun of popular culture.

Still, it seems a risky move to jeopardize your acting career in order to send a message. While the few accessible online clips from the film seem staged, one has to wonder why a successful actor would dedicate so much of his time to a role that he wasn’t getting paid for or being conventionally recognized for. Why go to such lengths to perpetuate a fake identity? So the question still remains: Has Phoenix been a drug-abusing, emotionally unstable rapper for the past two years, or is the whole thing just an act?

Either way, Phoenix seems to be growing tired of his life in the music business, whether it was fictional or real. He has started auditioning for acting parts again. Perez Hilton reports on his website that Sean Penn is considering Phoenix for the part of Thomas Wolfe in his latest movie “Genius.” He is also officially going to be in the movie “Big Shoe,” directed by Steven Shainberg.

Phoenix is scheduled to return to the David Letterman show tonight, in order to promote his documentary “I’m Still Here.” Many hope that Phoenix will use this as an opportunity to come clean about pretending to be someone else for the past two years. The documentary is becoming highly anticipated due to Phoenix’s bizarre interaction with the talk show host in 2009. One can only hope that the truth will be revealed to the public soon.

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