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10th Anniversary - 26 November 2016




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Established November 2006  | has no affiliation with the Phoenix Family

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James Franco says he's been obsessed with “My Own Private Idaho” since he was a teenager, which led to “My Own Private River,” a remix of Gus Van Sant’s “My Own Private Idaho" that puts a greater emphasis on River Phoenix’s performance and inserts a number of the actor's alternate takes and deleted scenes.


“I never wanted this to be seen as in competition with [‘My Own Private Idaho’] or in any way trying to outdo that film,” said Franco at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which screened the film to a packed house of Francophiles and River Phoenix fans at the Walter Reade Theater Sunday night. “I was able to let the camera sit with River a lot longer in this film because ‘My Own Private Idaho’ had been made. This one can be supported by the prior film.”


Here’s a recap of some of Franco’s anecdotes from the Q&A session with Gavin Smith of Film Comment after the screening.


Origins of the film: While promoting “Milk,” Van Sant gave Franco a tour of the locations in “My Own Private Idaho.” Afterward, they spent two days watching the reels from Van Sant’s original shoot. “That to me was like, ‘I have a treasure chest that’s been sitting in storage for almost 20 years,’” said Franco. “To be able to see all of the raw material and takes of what I consider [River’s] best performance was incredible.” Van Sant stated how he might have edited things differently today, and the idea was sparked to recut the film.


On his first edit: “To me, it was like, 20 years later, my favorite American film, my favorite American filmmaker, my favorite actors, every minute should be seen,” said Franco. “There was 25 hours worth of dailies and I made a 12-hour cut.” However, River’s brother Joaquin was uncomfortable with the idea of screening the 12-hour cut, so Franco’s film has only been released in its current 105-minute version.


River’s last scene: Franco revealed that River made for a difficult time shooting the last shot for the film. “River won’t say [his line.] He’s goofing off, doing silly Italian accents, making funny faces and then by take seven, he’s drawing all over the slate,” said Franco. “At first glance it seems like River’s being a brat. Gus told me later he was on the walkie getting really pissed. But finally he said it and that’s a wrap. And they brought out a cake and River went [mimes dropping his face into a cake]. Gus’ interpretation was that River didn’t want filming to end. That was the last take of the best performance of his life. And then he was gone two years later.”


On home video possibilities: Franco said that while he would like more viewers to see “My Own Private River,” a more commercial on-demand or home video release isn't likely at this time. “There is the original movie and not only do I not want to compete with the original movie, but New Line also does not want us to compete with their money,” said Franco.


On the soundtrack: “My Own Private River” features a couple of reworked songs from R.E.M.’s recent album. “After I had the cut, I went to [Michael Stipe] and asked him to do music for it. He never scored a film before,” said Franco. “I went to him because I knew that he and River had been close friends. I wanted as much connection to who River was at that time and I wanted to involve as many people as I could that had known River or were a part of River’s life.”


On his use of close-ups: “In the films that I’ve directed, I use a ton of close-ups,” said Franco. “But when I use a ton of close-ups, I sit on the close-ups. I guess as a filmmaker I figured out that I kind of have an aversion to dialogue. I don’t like a ton of dialogue. […] So by getting in close to the actor and sitting with them, I feel like you allow the audience to be close with them and to understand the character without the character having to talk about how he’s feeling.”







BEVERLY HILLS, CA.- "Unfinished" features two films, Endless Idaho and My Own Private River, which are collaborations between Van Sant and Franco. After casting Franco in the award-winning film Milk (2008), Van Sant showed him the dailies and other footage that he had shot many years before for My Own Private Idaho (1991), which starred River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves as street hustlers in Portland, Oregon. Much of this material did not make it into the final cut, and so Franco decided to fashion it into two new films, riffing off the original title.


For Endless Idaho, Franco edited outtakes, deleted scenes, alternate takes, and behind-the-scenes footage from My Own Private Idaho into a 12-hour film. Endless Idaho provides an unprecedented look into the workaday process of making a movie, from location scouting to repeated takes. Like many of the films of Andy Warhol, a major influence on Van Sant's own auteur style, it is a provocative, often riveting blend of documentary and fiction. Interviews with actual hustlers who played secondary characters in My Own Private Idaho are intercut with shots of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves improvising and refining their performances under the direction of Van Sant and his crew. The music for Endless Idaho was composed by Luke Paquin and Tim O'Keefe. By contrast, My Own Private River consists largely of shots of Phoenix 's character, Mike, woven into a compelling portrait. Franco describes being mesmerized by Phoenix 's "uninhibited acting" in this unreleased footage, and his edit captures the gifted actor at his most emotionally expressive and physically dynamic. The score is by Michael Stipe, who is an art school drop-out.


The films are accompanied by eight works on paper by Van Sant, which translate his acute directorial sensitivity with regard to human nuance and gesture in film into the immediacy of watercolor. With the same subtle powers of observation that distinguish his filmmaking, he has created portraits of young men who recall characters in My Own Private Idaho -- defiant, circumspect, and devil-may-care insouciants. Working from photographic images found on the internet, Van Sant has created vivid impressions of his incidental icons, employing brushwork that alternates broad, limpid strokes with an assiduous attention to detail and a varied palette of both washed out tones and dense, electric hues.


Gus Van Sant was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1952. He obtained a BA from the Rhode Island School of Design where he studied painting and cinema. Best known for his work as an award-winning director, he has also exhibited his art at galleries and public institutions including Jamison-Thomas Gallery, Portland, PDX Gallery, Portland, and The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon.


James Franco was born in Palo Alto, California in 1978. He obtained a BA from the University of California, Los Angeles and an MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University. He is currently enrolled in the Digital Media Department at the Rhode Island School of Design. An acclaimed actor, Franco is also actively engaged in performance art, painting, video, and installation art. He has exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Clocktower Gallery, New York, and Peres Projects, Berlin.







Eighteen years after his death, unseen footage of the My Own Private Idaho star has been crafted into a compelling new film.


On the night James Franco hosted the Oscars, the show featured a segment in which veteran Oscars host Bob Hope was digitally brought back to life to compere one more time. It typified an Academy Awards show this year that rather failed to reconcile its desire to appeal to younger audiences with its need to remain reverential to its legacy.


Getting much less attention not far from the Kodak theatre, in Beverly Hills, was a gallery exhibition called Unfinished, where just two days prior to Oscar night Franco had presided over the rebirth of another fallen star. Working with director Gus van Sant, Franco launched a powerful installation of video art, cutting a 100-minute film full of unseen footage of River Phoenix from the dailies of Van Sant's modern day classic My Own Private Idaho.


Showing alongside a series of watercolours by Van Sant designed to recall the colourful cast of hip and troubled teenagers that populated the 1991 release, which also starred Keanu Reeves, Franco's film is by far the more interesting work. Through thick, ragged curtains, which hang from the gallery's high ceilings, the film's viewing space is dotted with threadbare sofas, folding chairs and an instant coffee dispenser.


It's decidedly more support group than cinema, but as Franco's piece, set to a score by REM's Michael Stipe, plays on a loop on the wall, there's something rather comforting about the oddly therapeutic setting.


River Phoenix died of an overdose just two years after making Idaho, leaving behind a powerful legacy of performance which included Stand By Me, The Mosquito Coast and an Oscar-nominated turn in Running on Empty. But as the drug-taking, narcoleptic street hustler Mike Waters in My Own Private Idaho, Phoenix delivered the gutsiest performance of his career and was rewarded with an Independent Spirit award for best male lead.


Franco calls his film My Own Private River and presents it as his study of the performance of one of the most talented young actors of the 80s and 90s. Van Sant shot hours of footage of his actors doing little more than living out their characters' lives, and this forms the backbone of Franco's re-edit. There's a basic structure, as we follow Mike Waters around Portland, Oregon, shopping at a grocery store, scoring drugs and having sex with clients, but there's no real narrative on offer.


The footage is set to its raw soundtrack, so what dialogue there is tends to be muffled or entirely inaudible, and it's punctuated with meditative scenes in which very little happens at all. The piece isn't about an actor translating a script, but rather an actor displaying natural instinct and real nuance for his craft, and it's made all the more powerful by the knowledge of what happened next in his life.


Nearly 20 years after his death, it's strange to see so much "new" material of Phoenix. The gallery advises that of course it's not necessary to watch all of Franco's film in one sitting and that it's possible to dip in and out, yet it's testament to Phoenix's mastery of his craft that the film proves compelling enough to keep watching. So clear is Phoenix's intent that, even without a script or story, his character's nature is immediately evident.


Franco's multi-stringed bow runs the gamut of creativity from directing to writing, poetry and performance art. His latest endeavour, which runs at the Gagosian gallery in Beverly Hills until 9 April, suggests that acting will always be his primary interest. It's a fascinating meditation on the craft – an actor's view of acting – through the performance of one who still had so much to offer when tragedy struck.


His Oscars producers might have needed digital help to bring Bob Hope back to the stage, but Franco clearly knows just where to look to explore the enduring legacy of cinema without resorting to such cheap trickery.



MY OWN PRIVATE RIVER - JAMES FRANCO does not take credit for the above video - Credit goes to mopidotcom via YouTube