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Rio's Attic: Celebrating the Life and Times of a Dearly Missed River Phoenix
American EnglishEn Français

My Own Private Idaho

First published in 2005

(Paperback, 64 Pages)
Not strictly speaking a book, at least not one that can be purchased from a regular bookstore, this sixty-four-page booklet comes with the Criterion Collection DVD release of My Own Private Idaho. The book is an enchanting piece of work, right down to the unusual scent that the book gives off due to it's quality printing and high production values. In fact the photographs and general presentation of the book as a whole is quite simply stunning.

The first chapter "Private Places" sees magazine editor Amy Taubin reminiscing about the film.

It's night in the desert. Mike (River Phoenix), a teenaged hustler given to bouts of narcolepsy, and Scott (Keanu Reeves), a slumming preppy prince, are huddled around a campfire. "I just want to kiss you, man," says Mike softly. The words and the barely audible sound of his voice, caught between hope and despair, speak to anyone - forget about gender or sexual orientation - ever ripped apart by unrequited love. For all the flannel and Gor-Tex, the scene is a startlingly naked expression of lovelorn longing. Credit both Gus Van Sant, the director, and Phoenix, his perfect actor, with the heartbreak that floods MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO.

The second chapter is intriguing as international best-seller author and film producer JT LeRoy watches My Own Private Idaho with director Gus Van Sant.

[A motorcycle skids to a stop inside a squat and Mike stylishly jumps off, without falling on his ass. I practiced jumping off a moving motorcycle like River does in this film. I cracked my tailbone and my wrist doing it.]

Gus. We pushed the motorcycle.

JT. What? You mean it wasn't really... Fuck, no wonder I couldn't do it.

Gus. It's the magic of film.

JT. It's the stupidity of trying to make a film real. Like those kids jumpin' off roofs to fly like Superman.

Chapter Three, "Shakespeare in Black Leather" is a reprinting of an American Film article printed from 1991.

Draped semi-nude over a rough-hewn cross, his hairless body drenched in golden light and his loincloth, bulging with the help of foam rubber padding, River Phoenix is posing for the cover of a magazine. No, this isn't an unexpected career change for the Oscar-nominated actor. The formerly winsome star is filming a not-so-winsome fantasy sequence in which he appears as a gay porno-magazine cover come to life. Welcome to the set of My Own Private Idaho.

Reprinted as Chapter Four, "My Director and I" is an article first published in the March 1991 issue of Interview magazine and then re-published in book form as part of the book Film Cuts, which has already previously been discussed in Phoenix Bookshelf.

The fifth and final chapter is a reprint of another 1991 Interview magazine article in which journalists Gini Sikes and Paige Powell talk to River and Keanu Reeves about their experiences making the movie.

River. Seriously, we know what it's like to be on the bottom so we're not going to abuse it. We're going to be very thankful for it and gracious about the luck that we have in our positions. We're very lucky young men. We do what we want, we get to be creative and make money.

Keanu. Right on, brother, right on.

Gini. So what else are you guys doing now?

River. I want to buy a 16mm camera. I'm not committed to the idea of being a filmmaker, but I'd like to try some shorts. I really like documentaries. And I want to drive through the mountains where I used to live when I was doing this TV series [Seven Brides for Seven Brothers] when I was twelve. I'm going with my girlfriend.

Keanu. Ever moment is precious. I'm trying to travel. I want to go to Paris. It's probably just a pipe dream. I'd like to read some books. Take some voice lessons.

Gini. To do more Shakespeare, perhaps?

Keanu. Um, who knows? I really would like to do Shakespeare with River. I think we'd have a hoot. We could do A Midsummer Night's Dream or Romeo and Juliet.

River. I'll be Juliet.

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