“Filmmakers are liars.” So said Werner Herzog at the New York premiere of his 3-D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 2011. He explained that film is a constructed thing, made up in its framing, lighting, editing, acting and the arc of the story. No matter how Cinema Verite any film might claim to be, it will always be what it is: fabricated and artificial.
Joaquin Phoenix’s film, I’m Still Here, attempts to address this issue directly. As he explained on The David Letterman Show, the film looked to “explore the relationship between the media and the consumers and the celebrities themselves. We wanted something that would feel really authentic.” Indeed, the film makes a mockery of the Hollywood machine, the audience, even himself.
The thing is that film – as is writing – is just a synecdoche, a small part of something else. In other words, even though a narrative might strive to be more than it really is, with the characters staring back, time codes in the left hand corner, it remains just a story, a splinter, a rejoinder, a sigh, a whimper.
As Dee says in My Bad Side: “I mean, I know there is only death, just that. I know it is just about waking up and getting out of bed until I don’t. And then it isn’t. I know that dreams are chemical. I know I am stuck in this life. And I know that is it. I hate it or say that I hate it to myself, but it isn’t that bad a thing.