?My Own Private Idaho? was ahead of it?s time, an unusual masterpiece with Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix. Nothing like it has come out since. Get to know the movie a little better.
Many members of the cast (including River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, Flea, and Michael Parker) moved into director Gus Van Sant?s large old house in Portland, Oregon during filming. They apparently caused such a disturbance (staying up late, getting drunk, partying, and playing music) and overtook the house to such an extent, that Van Sant eventually had to move out of his own house and stay with a friend, in order to get some sleep.
The scene with all the boys on the cover of the porno magazines coming to life and interacting, was not done with any computers. At the time of production, CGI was still a very expensive tool. The individual pieces were filmed with the actors standing behind large pieces of plexi-glass, with the mock-magazine cover on front. Later, optical effects, similar to those used in matte painting, were used to composite them together on the ?magazine rack?.
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Filmmaker and Critic Todd Haynes told Gus Van Sant, in an interview for the Criterion Collection, that the campfire scene was critical to the film?s success. ?Before the scene, it?s almost like the kids are all victims of homosexuality. There?s the scene where they all sit around telling their stories of being raped and abused. It?s not until River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves sit around the camp fire, that you see one of the hustlers being gay in an all natural environment, with no money changing hands.?
River Phoenix wrote the campfire scene in private, on little scraps of paper. Gus Van Santwas under the impression that he had been writing song lyrics, and was surprised when River told him he?d re-written the scene. Van Sant liked what River presented, but didn?t know if Keanu Reeves would be up for it. River assured him that he?d already privately talked to Keanu about it, and he was fine with everything. Gus Van Sant says he?s he had to give complete faith to River, since he was completely left out of the loop on the whole scene.
Gus Van Sant gave copies of John Rechy?s novel ?City Of Night? to River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves to help get them into the mindset of street hustlers. Keanu found the book very useful, and went on to read five other Rechy novels. River reportedly stopped reading after the first paragraph. ?He had his own background to draw on,? Gus Van Sant later said. ?I think River had an entire youth spent traveling with his family, no connections to society, no roots, no permanence. He crafted that character himself.?
River Phoenix was often compared to the late James Dean. The comparisons reportedly began during Stand by Me (1986) and continued throughout his life. Gus Van Sant says, ?many times during production I heard someone say to River, ?hey, that was great. You?re like the next James Dean?, and every time River very politely thanked them, before stating that he?d never seen a James Dean movie. He didn?t grow up with movies and television like most people. He grew up on the road with his family. I believe he died without ever having seen a James Dean movie. The haircut he wore in our film probably didn?t do anything to quiet the comparisons.?
River Phoenix was absent from the New York City premiere of the film. He disliked flying, and traveled mostly everywhere by car or train. Attempting to drive from his hometown in Florida to New York City, he didn?t leave himself enough time, and was still making the journey as the premiere took place without him.
In the first caf scene, the song that can be heard playing in the background is ?Too Many Colors? by River Phoenix?s band, Aleka?s Attic.
River Phoenix was very impressed with Gus Van Sant?s openness to improvisation and interpretation, something many of his previous directors were hesitant to allow.
The image of the falling barn was something Gus Van Sant used to paint for years. He said it represented leaving home and knowing you?ll never be able to return.
When Scott and Mike first appear in Portland, they sit beneath a statue of an elk with an American Indian riding atop it. The statue is real, and still exists in Portland. However, the rider was added by Gus Van Sant. It was really a production assistant, covered in grease paint, and sitting perfectly still atop the elk statue.
Mike and Scott were based on, and named for, two real street hustlers that Gus Van Santmet while writing the script. One of them appears in the caf scene.
For its initial American video release, this gay themed movie was packaged as a straight film, with both of its stars Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix in clinches with women on the video jacket.