You may remember when, in February of 2009, Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, Two Lovers) stumbled awkwardly onto David Letterman's couch and proceeded to babble incoherently for an intensely awkward ten minute interview. (Video below) The respected actor, twice-nominated for an Academy Award, appeared disheveled, possibly on drugs, with a scraggly beard and dark sunglasses hiding his presumably glazed eyes. He mumbled uncomfortably, claimed he was leaving acting to pursue a hip-hop career, and grew antagonistic when Letterman suggested he might be kidding. The Late Show host tried to make the best of it, closing the cringe-worthy interview with "Joaquin, I'm sorry you couldn't be here tonight..." drawing forced, uncomfortable laughs from the audience.
But it's starting to look like the joke was on us. Magnolia Pictures has just acquired the rights to I'm Still Here: The Lost Year of Joaquin Phoenix, a mockumentary documentary from Phoenix's brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, who is making his directorial debut. The movie is ostensibly a portrait of the actor at a crossroads in his career, as he leaves acting to reinvent himself as an absurdly bearded hip-hop artist.
Those who speculated after Phoenix's appearance on Letterman that the actor must have been "up to something" can now presumably give themselves a pat on the back: it's increasingly looking as though the actor's bizarre behavior was all part of a Borat-esque, performance-art type stunt. Still, it's not entirely clear to what extent Phoenix's 'transition' was real - perhaps the actor really did have some kind of meltdown - and Casey Affleck and Magnolia Pictures are trying to keep it a mystery.
However, a source who recently worked with Phoenix told Entertainment Weekly that the actor had privately admitted "It’s a put-on. I’m going to pretend to have a meltdown and change careers, and Casey is going to film it." Another source confirmed that "It’s an art project for him. He’s going full out. He probably has told his reps that he’s quit acting. Joaquin is very smart. This is very conscious. He has a huge degree of control."
But Magnolia president Eamonn Bowles is defending the film. "It is going to get a lot of attention, but it is not some cheap stunt where they said, ‘Let’s do some wild stuff and film it.’ It is extreme behavior but really good filmmaking as well. Frankly, some of the behavior is very extreme. But it is in the context of the insanity of being in Joaquin’s life for that period of time. It is a unique piece of work that is going to surprise people in different ways."
The studio's press release was equally enigmatic: "Magnolia Pictures announced today that it has acquired world rights to Oscar-nominee Casey Affleck’s directorial debut, I’M STILL HERE, 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. Sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, and always riveting, the film is a portrait of an artist at a crossroads. Defying expectations, it deftly explores notions of courage and creative reinvention, as well as the ramifications of a life spent in the public eye."
But a number of other studios were far less receptive. Deadline reports that "Some [distributers] walked away turned off or confused. They weren't sure if this was an Andy Kaufman-like hoax, or a great actor's meltdown." However, Magnolia Pictures is giving the documentary a platform release on September 10th, with plans to go wide on the 17th, despite scenes involving Phoenix snorting coke off a prostitute's breast, full-frontal male nudity, and someone defecating on the actor while he sleeps.
This could potentially be the strangest career-reboot and/or performance-art stunt in cinema history. Until we see the film, there's no way to know whether Affleck's documentary (and Phoenix's 'performance') will amount to some kind of brilliant commentary on celebrity culture or a mind-bogglingly weird flop. Then again, some critics will likely call this 'art,' so it can always be claimed that the public just 'didn't get it.' Hoax or no, I, for one, am excited to find out what Affleck and Phoenix's have up their sleeves.
Sources: EW, Collider, Deadline
Last week, The Baltimore Sun ran a story about Twitter and its effects on box-office, both positive and negative. On Sunday, the Risky Business blog posted a comment about how Twitter had for the first time positively affected a film’s debut (Inglourious Basterds), and today, AdAge takes a look at the Twitter buzz surrounding the five top-grossing movies of the summer.
A chart shows the number of Twitter posts per day for Transformers, The Hangover, Star Trek, Ice Age 3 and Harry Potter 6. Potter received the most attention but the Twitter peaks correlate with where each movie stands in regard to gross, notes AdAge.
Box-office watchers say recent dramatic swings (see Bruno, G.I. Joe) may be caused by Twitter and other social networking sites that can blast instant raves -- or pans -- to hundreds of people before the lights come up.
Studios trying to gauge the impact of tweets, and how they affect the longevity of a movie, are suddenly faced with the need for a new data stream and an algorithm with which to decipher the info.
Was the 39% box office drop of Bruno from Friday to Saturday a case of disappointed moviegoers tweeting? Or did a limited fan base for Bruno exhaust itself on that first day?
"I think Twitter can't be stopped," Stephen Bruno, the Weinstein Co.'s senior director of marketing, told the Sun last week.
"Now you have to see it as an addition to the campaign of any movie," he said. "People want real-time news and suddenly a studio can give it to them in a first-person way. The blogs have to go to our feeds for the latest trailers and reports."
Eamonn Bowles, president of Magnolia, told the paper that studios are worrying about a time when "people will be twittering during the opening credits -- and leaving when they don't like them." But he also warns, "the next step [for the Twitter Effect] is for studio marketing to manipulate it."
The Weinstein Co. did a good job of doing just that by packing the Basterds premiere with folks with big Twitter followings. Sarah Silverman, for example, tweeted: "just made me smile forever" and Tony Hawk added: "another Tarantino classic."
Movietickets.com recently ran a poll in which 88% of respondents said Twitter had no effect on them. Joel Cohen, the company's executive vice president and general manager, told the Sun that "we may be putting too much weight onto the Twitter Effect. But you can see Twitter's benefits as a communications tool that spreads the word about a film, and the negatives have yet to be proven."
Cohen theorized that Twitter may have a larger influence on the success of smaller films than it does on major studio releases.
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The organizers of Michael Moore's Michigan film festival have ignored pleas from the distributors of Jesus Camp to withdraw the upcoming movie from the event, over fears the film would be tainted by Moore's anti-conservative views.
The Oscar-winning filmmaker is well-known for his negative views on President George W. Bush and his government thanks to mega-hit documentaries Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11.
Moore is screening Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's documentary Jesus Camp--about a summer camp for born-again Christian children--at his annual Traverse City Michigan Film Festival today and tomorrow.
However, distributors Magnolia Films, who acquired the North American rights to the movie last week, believe Moore's association with the movie would hurt audience figures among conservative audiences.
Magnolia Films president Eamonn Bowles says, "The reality of the world we live in today is that if Michael Moore endorses it, tens of millions will automatically reject it."
Jesus Camp producers gave the festival's organizers permission to screen the film weeks before their deal with Magnolia and a festival spokesman has confirmed the screenings will still take place.
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