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My Own Private Idaho &
by Gus Van Sant.
Published in 1994 but written shortly before River's death, this book offers a unique and rare insight into not only the making of both these movies, but also of the director himself.
The first fifty pages of the book are given over to journalist Graham Fuller who interviewed Gus Van Sant in April 1993. Here, Van Sant talks about his entire career and the influences that affected not only these two movies but also all of his other works.
Van Sant talks at length about Mala Noche, Drugstore Cowboy and the first movie he made as a director, the failed Alice In Hollywood. "That just crushed me", says the director. "But maybe it was good that the first one wasn't successful - I probably learned from that."
Van Sant's heroes are invariably obsessives and seekers doomed to fail. They are gay men stoically suffering the torments of unrequited love, junkies, male hustlers, and, in Cowgirls, a woman hitch-hiker - they are riff-raff, society's detritus, who are ennobled not by any indulgent affection for lowlife on the behalf of Van Sant, but by the simple fact that he refuses to moralize about them, to condemn or condone them. What Van Sant actually does do is demythologize their rebel status by making us spend quality time with them.
A number of sections of the Cowgirls script are now pretty much unrecognizable as a result of the extensive reworking the movie went through after its preview at the 1993 Toronto Film Festival. The author of the original novel "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues", Tom Robbins adds narration throughout the finished film. In the original script, this is absent from everywhere but the close of the film. Also, in the original script, but cut from the end of the finished movie, we find Sissy is pregnant. The script's last scene is thus: "VIEW INSIDE THE BELLY of Sissy's unborn baby. It is half-Japanese, one thirty-second Siwash and all thumbs...."
Then the book moves on to My Own Private Idaho where we find most of the script to be more or less intact if somewhat shuffled around. For example, the living/breathing magazine rack is now to be found as the opening scene of the movie. Also in the script are scenes that were either never filmed or were cut from the final movie. One such scene is set in Las Vegas, where River's character, Mike, is mugged by three young men. Losing the battle and badly injured, Mike falls to the ground in a narcoleptic fit to the amazement of the attackers. Scott, the character played by Keanu Reeves, then bursts onto the scene, protecting Mike and fighting off the attackers. "What do you want from us?" he shouts. "We haven't got anything!"
This book is also illustrated with various behind-the-scenes photos of both movies including some never before seen shots of River on location whilst filming My Own Private Idaho.
Printed in this volume are the screenplays of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and My OwnPrivate Idaho, untouched and in their original form before filming began. We chose to publish them this way as opposed to printing a transcript of the finished movie so that one could better see the process of change that a project goes through before it reaches the audience. During shooting, the actors, cinematographers, and I would freely change things, adding lines or shots, deleting them, and ad libbing lines or action.
One particular scene, the famous one around the campfire in My Own Private Idaho, was reworked by River Phoenix a great deal. River found this scene a pivotal point for his character and encouraged me to allow him to change his dialogue so he could express things that were not in the screenplay. I think you will find an interesting difference from the way the character of 'Mike' was written, and the direction in which River finally took him.
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