n+1: Phoenixes

Shortly after 1 AM on October 31, 1993, a dispatcher for the LAPD received a 911 call from a pay phone outside the Viper Room, a West Hollywood nightclub owned and operated by the actor Johnny Depp. On the other end of the line, a young man’s voice was trembling. The caller was in a panic. 

“It’s my brother,” the caller pleaded, “he’s having seizures at Sunset and Larrabee. Please come here.”

“OK, calm down a little bit. What’s the address?”

The caller was gasping. “You must get here, PLEASE. You must get here.”

“OK, take it easy. OK?”

“I’m thinking he’s had Valium or something. I don’t know.” The caller’s voice became urgent, seeming to register how little time remained. “You must get over here, PLEASE! BECAUSE HE’S DYING.”

The caller began to cry. 

“Slow down, OK?”

He became hostile. “OK, what? WHAT? WHAT? Just get the ambulance over here.”

“OK. We have help on the way.”

“I know.” The caller did not explain. “I thank you guys.” His tone slid into eerie tranquility.

“Where’s your brother right now?”

“He’s lying on the cement.”

“Is he breathing?”

“I don’t know.”

Shortly after the medics arrived, the brother died. He was 23 years old. The caller, whose conversation with the dispatcher would soon be transcribed in newspapers and broadcast on radio stations all over the world, was 19.

The reason I keep making movies is I hate the last thing I did. I’m trying to rectify my wrongs. 

—Joaquin Phoenix

On September 12, 2010, a previously unknown production company called They Are Going to Kill Us Productions released I’m Still Here: The Lost Years of Joaquin Phoenix, an unusual, unpopular, unapologetic masterpiece directed by Casey Affleck. 

I’m Still Here documents the personal collapse of a character named Joaquin Phoenix, an A-list martyr who tumbles from the heights of industry success to abject, drug-addled paranoia. The film begins with Phoenix’s surprising announcement that he’s giving up his lucrative film career in a bid to become a hip-hop star. The next hundred minutes trace the consequences of this decision through reality-style footage of Phoenix burrowing in car seats, harassing assistants, and stalking around his dreary Los Angeles estate. 

Over the course of the film, which condenses the events of an entire year, Phoenix sprouts a Jim Morrison beard, snorts cocaine, fattens his physique, victimizes his entourage, rambles incoherently, raps abominably, stumbles, vomits, gets shit on, cavorts with prostitutes (though without having sex), and subjects himself to recurring episodes of humiliation at the hands of other highly successful males, most notably the producer, rapper, and fashion impresario Sean Combs. The sequence of clips doesn’t add up to a plot as much as to a diagnosis: Phoenix’s performance is a masterful depiction of manic depression.

CONTINUA n+1: Phoenixes.


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