Joaquin Phoenix makes a return appearance to "Late Show with David Letterman" on Wednesday, September 22, and two days later hits the Charles in the controversial documentary "I'm Still Here," which chronicles his attempt to switch from acting to rap. In addition, just to remind audiences what the fuss is about, "Late Show" will replay, this Thursday, his notoriously cryptic February 11, 2009 appearance, which first set viewers wondering whether he was abysmally burned-out on acting or staging an intricate hoax.
Reviewers in other cities have already been debating whether "I'm Still Here" (which I've not seen) is an honest chronicle of a performer sick of America's star-making machine or a mockumentary akin to "Borat." Should we care about "I'm Still Here?" I do only if it helps get the actor's angst out of his system. His talent is formidable. In a relatively brief career, he's given us several indelible performances -- and I don't mean his attention-getting turn as one of Hollywood's most ignoble Romans in "Gladiator."
As the intelligent, sympathetic priest overseeing Geoffrey Rush's institutionalized Marquis de Sade in Philip Kaufman's "Quills," he was at once sensitive, harrowing and manly, like a latter-day Jimmy Stewart emerging in the most improbable circumstances. In James Gray's "Two Lovers," as a fellow on a painful rebound from a broken engagement, he suggested a tumult of feeling. With surprising dashes of humor, he conveyed how this lost man felt when he was an exuberant guy, especially when he did a rap based on his character's name in a car on the way to a club, and popped a few moves on the dance floor.
And in "Walk the Line," Phoenix portrayed how Johnny Cash squeezed all the conflicted feelings out of his gut and into his songs until he wound up crushed and empty, desperate for renewal. Edmund Wilson wrote a book about the roots of art in psychic trauma called "The Wound and the Bow." Phoenix gave us "The Wound and the Geetar." in "Walk the Line," his Johnny Cash ultimately demonstrated that art can be more powerful after an artist heals his wounds. Let's hope Phoenix proves that again in his real lifeCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times