What's also beautiful is the Criterion Collection's treatment of the film's DVD debut. The director-approved transfer successfully conveys the warmth of the film's palette of oranges and browns, and preserves the whimsical atmospherics of the yodeling country music soundtrack. Many members of the original crew contribute their fond memories to the documentary features, which include a conversation between Phoenix's sister Rain and producer Laurie Parker. There are also two lengthy audio-only conversations--one between Van Sant and Velvet Goldmine director Todd Hayes, and another between author J.T. Leroy and filmmaker Jonathan Caouette about their experiences on the street. The deleted scenes mostly suggest alternate endings that Van Sant wisely left on the cutting room floor. A superb example of a beloved film on DVD. --Ryan Boudinot
Stills from My Own Private Idaho
Keanu and River
Gus Van Sant
Immersed in that heady sensation of nostalgia and curiosity, I looked forward to a mature re-viewing of this art house masterpiece: of filtering Van Zant's intentions through an adult lens. Accordingly, I found that which impressed me most as a child seemed less important to my current mindset, and vice versa - no longer was I wholly enraptured by the wide-shots of empty highways and the plethora of bizarre chance encounters (elements so common to life on the road): having Kerouac'ed my way across the world, I must admit to preferring my own experiences to *Idaho's* hodge-podge questing. Consequently, the depiction of street-life squalor, early 90's-era Portland style, resonated far deeper this time around: a bell-toll for the doomed.
River Phoenix shines in perhaps his defining role as Mike, a homeless narcoleptic endlessly conking out in moments of stress, shivering and twitching in ecstatic remembrance of mommy dearest and sharecropper-esque glory (decrepit farmhouses and dust-bowl potato-sprawl): several scenes, including his breakdown at the fire and romper-stomp at the funeral, shine with a quicksilver talent so brilliant that it easily transcends the drug-addled ghost Phoenix was already beginning to become. As for Keanu Reeves... well, I've always been of the opinion that he is the most underrated of H-wood's golden A-list, a man with deep presence and charisma, hampered by a stoic demeanor and tonal limitations. I must admit I found it rather disconcerting to see Neo preening on the cover of a porno-rag: still, Reeve's subtle reactions to Fat Bob and Mike's outspoken coat-tail riding; his recitation of Shakespeare, Henry V style, with a cowboy twang thrown in at the pivotal tension-trigger; and finally his ascension from rebellious naïf to "master of the universe"-Reeves gives an outstanding performance, among his very best (though this may come across as an oxymoron to some - so be it).
Moreover, the very tools that romanticize *Idaho's* ne'er-do-well protagonists -- Celtic rhythms, lurid colors, Ye Olde English capering - also flip-side emphasize the constant-trauma and grimy exploitation of the LCD rent-boy's raw existence, with suffering only alleviated via spurts of snorting, drinking, mischief and, perchance, a miraculous stranger's unexpected generosity. As Fat Bob and Mike's illusions of wealth-an eternal party utterly devoid of street-life cost-unravel, the subsequent denouement is immeasurably augmented by the early 'warmth' of the film, and the steady chill that seeps through the cracks, numbing body and mind, overwhelm its progression until abrupt collapse upon the desolate highway of the ending.
A few noteworthy scenes: When Fat Bob coldly warns Mike about "Living on yer [arse]," the horrific undercurrent ramifications cut the usual tongue-wag riffing like a knife. Likewise, near the movie's conclusion, when Mike slumps into his ump-teenth narcoleptic fit on a filthy concrete street, the camera pans to Scott newly-settled in his seat of mobile power, enforcing the inevitable destiny of these lost souls, harlots high and low: one elevated to the highest reaches of society, the other forever abandoned to the cold stone and cold hands of the Outskirts.
*My Own Private Idaho:* a paean for the lost and lonely, the gutterpunk romantic in us all. Five stars.
Also, I would like to say that I adore River Phonix completely. I'm sure that if he were still here with us, he would be ten times more amazing than he was during his short life.