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Deja ewwww: Remembering Joaquin Phoenix’s rap debut

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Are you not entertained? Joaquin Phoenix a la Unabomber
Photo: Matt Sayles / AP

At least once in your lifetime, you will see something you cannot un-see, no matter how hard you try. For some people, it might be a literal train wreck. For me, it was Joaquin Phoenix.

It happened late on a Friday night in January 2009. The Oscar-nominated actor had recently announced his retirement from acting and reinvention as a rapper, which, I suppose ironically, was being documented on film by his best friend and brother-in-law, Casey Affleck. Sporting a Unabomber-like beard, the slovenly actor had come to Lavo inside the Palazzo with his posse to make his rap debut. I was unlucky enough to witness the tragedy, which included three nearly incomprehensible songs, clear confusion from the audience and a literal misstep that caused Phoenix to slip and rip a hole in his pants while attempting to leave the stage.

Clips of the performance immediately went viral with the obvious explanation pitched: It's a joke. It has to be a joke — some method-acting project or This Is Spinal Tap for a new generation. Right? Right?

I've been waiting more than 18 months to find out, and finally, the finished flick has arrived. I'm Still Here screened at the Venice Film Festival on Monday and opens in limited release Friday, with wider release set for September 17. Unfortunately, early reports say the question of whether it's mock or doc is still left largely unanswered, though apparently the film does offer ample helpings of full-frontal nudity, drugs and defecation.

It sounds like an existential trip, a messy progression beyond predecessors like Garth Brooks' Chris Gaines and Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat. I should reserve judgment until I see the film, but if it winds up being 108 minutes of train wreckage ... God help our eyes.

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