“I’m still here”: travel in a (fake) documentary

The documentary cinema is by definition the most faithful portrait of reality. However, the fiction is inherent to the filmic image and cannot exist without her. So, what is the line between true and false?

We can say that is a very thin line, where there is also the genre of the mockumentaries. But what is the mockumentary? The fake documentary or mockumentary (salad word formed by the words “to make” and documentary), is a film and television genre in which fictitious and fantasy events are presented as real through the artifice of the documentary language. The purpose of the use of the mockumentary may be to add dramatic intensity and facilitate the involvement of the viewer. Alternatively, it can be to make people think on the relationship between truth and fiction in contemporary communication. In some cases it may be just purely humorous.

I’m Still here “shows” a year and a half of Joaquin Phoenix’s life, in the beginning of which the shady Hollywood star announced that he was retiring from the world of film to start a new career as a hip-hop singer. What follows was already (American) history before the movie came out: Phoenix disappears from the big and small screen only to reappear from time to time on a stage as a rapper. When it comes time to devote to the promotion of the melodrama Two lovers, shot before the “retreat”, he went to the David Letterman Show with sunglasses, unshaven and his cigarette in his mouth, answering questions with a faint voice and a blatant indifference.

At that time, no one knows for sure if it was all a joke of questionable taste or if he did seriously. But his breakthrough did not go unnoticed, so much so that during the night of the Oscars 2009 Ben Stiller came up with a long beard, cigarette and sunglasses, and he made it a brilliant parody. Newspapers and TV gave updates on Phoenix’s psychophysical state for a long period.

Now, that it was all fake was not difficult to understand. But in this case the nature of the facts does not change the substance. Phoenix has really compromised his public image for over twelve months and for the same period has really given up on making films, letting himself go physically and taking an unfriendly attitude. When towards the end of the film he vomits, he vomits for real. When he is snorting cocaine, he is sniffing for real. When he goes on television and looks like a human wreck in front of ten million people, the face and name are the one of him. And all this has lasted at least 15 months, not an evening or just a week.

All of this is a demonstration of how in mockumentary the difference between reality and fiction is really thin. We could say that art imitates reality. Or that reality imitates art.


Written by Nardos Maffia


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