A few weeks ago, the website The Chive hoaxed the internet with a gimmick involving a girl quitting her job via a series of pictures . The story would receive millions of hits over the course of the day, spawning hundreds – if not thousands – of blog reactions and garnering over 500,000 facebook likes. It would, however, prove to be false, and as it was revealed that it was nothing more than a cheap stunt, people simply grumbled and walked away, no longer interested. Why was it a top news story one day and nothing but a bitter pill the next? Because in this age of non-stop, readily-available reality entertainment – both in televised form and that of the distilled wonder of the internet – an axiom has arisen that more often than not, it is only funny if it is true.
We have reached a point in our society where a joke that requires the audience to believe that it is a true story, when in fact it is not, isn’t really a very good one. If the gag is a photo on peopleofwalmart.com of a small child left abandoned in a grocery cart in a parking lot, we don’t want to hear later that she was put there by her brother so he could take a picture to submit of peopleofwalmart.com. The same goes with horror. If a story is only scary when we think that it is an entirely true account, then it isn’t a very scary story.
Many in Hollywood are starting to get this. Recent “documentary” style films like the popular The Last Exorcism and this weekend’s very funny release The Virginity Hit aren’t even trying to disguise their scripted origins; in truth they are wearing them on their sleeves. The filmmakers are taking the film around the country and discussing the fact that they aren’t real. They are simply low budget. And both work very well without you needing to believe that all this *really* happened. Compare and contrast that to last year’s The Fourth Kind, which spent the whole movie hoaxing the audience, delivering some authentic chills, only to be blasted by critics and audiences for consistently trying to pretend that it is real.
Which brings us to the reason I’m writing this. I’m Still Here, the upcoming “documentary” about Joaquin Phoenix and his lost year traveling abroad as a drugged out rapper (wannabe) is making its rounds before a limited release. The film, first postulated about by bloggers long before it was announced as even existing, has long been thought to be a hoax. Both Phoenix and the film’s director (Phoenix brother-in-law) Casey Affleck, swear up and down that the film is real – that Phoenix really lost his mind and wandered around with his brother-in-law filming his every drugged out misstep. In order to be interesting, this film HAS to be real. I mean, if we’re to watch Phoenix play a drugged out celebrity (again), wouldn’t it be nice if it were scripted and had a dramatic ending?
But nobody believes that it is real. So much so, the dynamic duo needs to keep repeating over and over again how real it is. And that makes me wonder which is worse, a celebrity who decides to take a year’s vacation and turn it into a hoax to see how people react to his antics? Or a celebrity who quits acting, honestly tries to become a rapper and then spends a year drugged out, followed around by a camera crew to document how awesome he is? Are either of these stories worth telling? At this point does the very fact that we have to question its authenticity at all remove any and all power that the film might have possessed in a more innocent age?
I am of the opinion that neither of these options is actually viable. It can’t be funny if we don’t believe it, and it’s not really funny or believable that someone would not only let them be filmed in this state, but then march around promoting said film. The entire thing just smacks of a bad idea and I can’t think a film coming out this season that I have less interest in seeing or hearing about. We have become a jaded society, beginning to question how much of what we see is scripted and how much is real. I can’t imagine sitting down and asking myself that for two hours straight. And I think projects like this are dancing on the edge of being a thing of the past. Truth and fiction seem to be moving further away from one another; it doesn’t seem to matter that Hollywood wants them to move closer.