Block Telesales Calls NOW
Receive no more
Producer John Griffin first contacted Rio's Attic in May 2000 with news that he had just managed to persuade the studio executives at A&E to authorize the production of a new television documentary about River as part of their long-running Biography series. Research into the program was now beginning and, unusual for those in his industry, John came across as remarkably genuine and trustworthy. In fact, his desire to produce what he promised would be a caring documentary and one that would be made with the highest standards of integrity sounded almost too good to be true. From those early plans, it was nearly two years before the documentary finally aired. With that much unrushed research apparently taking place, here was another sign that this documentary may just possibly turn out to be something special.
Two of River's Stand By Me co-stars were involved directly with the production of this project. Wil Wheaton narrates the documentary and Corey Feldman both introduces the show and takes part in it too. Surprisingly, Wheaton's narration is cold and with little or no sign of either warmth or conviction, even bordering on patronizing at times, but in contrast, Corey Feldman emanates a remarkable confidence showing as he does a deep admiration for River, and in a touching moment of public soul-searching, questions the injustice that, given his own history concerning narcotics abuse, how it is that he's still around, but River isn't. He appears visibly moved by the show's conclusion, and makes a point of explaining just how much it has meant to him to take part in and host this program.
The show itself begins by taking the audience back to 1970, and Oregon-based farm owner Roy Nance, who is always willing to give interviews it seems, shows the remains of the house where River was born. In fact, the show spends a surprising amount of time investigating River's early years, much of which, in our own experience, is found to be based on hearsay and conjecture and it's very difficult to separate fact from myth. The show's researchers successfully manage to track down Fr. Stephen Wood though, the Caracas priest who befriended the Phoenix family when they were in great financial difficulties in that country. He was the priest responsible for the family's safe return to Florida and it was most pleasing to see this story confirmed. In fact, this is the first surprise of many.
The show's researchers also manage to get hold of several rare clips such as River along with Aleka's Attic at the 1989 Rock Against Fur concert, as well as footage from one of River's earliest television jobs - presenting outside broadcast reports for the children's show Fantasy in 1983. This is great to see, but the rest of River's television career is subsequently skipped over and brushed aside far too quickly.
Other rarely seen items include footage of River and Flea jamming together with their guitars during the filming of My Own Private Idaho, and a PETA spokesperson who shows an interesting and amusing set of out-takes from when River filmed his public service announcement for the organization.
Others who worked with River that are interviewed for this documentary include Stand By Me director Rob Reiner, A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon director William Richert, Running on Empty screenwriter, Naomi Foner, My Own Private Idaho co-star Udo Kier and The Thing Called Love director, Peter Bogdanovich.
Brazillian singer Milton Nascimento is also interviewed and sings his song, Carta a um Jovem Ator. Echoing the same observations that many others have made over the years, he recalls how he was taken aback by the strength of River's spirit, how River was always very serious, how he wanted to study everything and how he wanted to "take care of the world."
He remembers River agonizing over the decision and how, during a session at the recording studio, River said, "I can either keep practicing for the next three months or I could fly to L.A. and come back with a million dollars. What do you think I should do?" Hardly surprisingly, River signed up to appear in Dark Blood, and soon left. He was never to return.
"To take a moment in time, and try to explain the whole existence of a person using one moment in time is extremely narrow minded, and it's not accurate."- Sasa Raphael
It may very well be that this is the last television documentary that will be made about River. Regardless though, it's still a pretty safe assessment to say that never again will a documentary soar to the heights that this one does right at that moment.