Twenty one years after Gus Van Sant’s original masterpiece My Private Idaho was released; James Franco, an avid fan of River Phoenix has re-contextualised unseen footage and outtakes from the original film to revitalise and distinctively form a new film which holds just as much merit and meaning as the original.
I found myself favouring James Franco’s new format. The scenes he placed together followed an old linear I admire; strongly remising a Paul Morrissey format. River Phoenix’s character seemed incredibly natural and fascinating; through unseen conversations, mannerisms and simple activities such as picking up grocery from the supermarket. There were so many scenes I enjoyed which truly formed and gave a deeper insight to his character; from a serious discussion with a friend over what their favourite numbers had been throughout the years to a scene where he is incredibly indecisive on what food to order from the hotel room service.
My favourite part was a dinner scene in which River Phoenix’s character ate spaghetti with his friend and his friends newly acquired love interest. You truly experience how talented Phoenix is and his imbuement of the character is rightly made for him. You can feel his displaced awkwardness and tension amidst his strange mannerisms around the developing couple.
Whilst watching the film I wondered whether someone who hadn’t seen the original film could still appreciate the new re-edit or if you had to have seen the original to understand and value the new version.
It is hard to believe you can make a film out of outtakes and still have something of substantiate quality to watch, but it clearly has been done, but only because River Phoenix has a rare presence that truly mesmerises and intrigues an audience. The soundtrack orchestrated by R.E.M was such a powerful and natural collaboration, playing in the backdrop of a gritty but strangely beautiful Portland. As I am already a fan of R.E.M it was just a bonus on top of a great film.