Yeah, yeah, I saw Mason’s post from the other week. The fact is, my fellow queers and queer wannabes (yeah, I’ve noticed the occasional comment from a girl, and don’t doubt there are a few delusional “breeders” getting off on visiting here), times are tough, in just about every way imaginable for all of us. So I figure, why not lose ourselves in entertainment? Isn’t that why we’re here anyway? The movie industry’s doing all right these days (porn industry too, I believe, but there are *gasp* things beyond porn) so let’s focus on some must-see gay movies every self respecting queer should be familiar with.
First up: 1991’s My Own Private Idaho. Why is it a gay essential? It’s written and directed by openly gay Gus Van Sant who’s also directed one of the most recent queer icon movies: Milk. (He also did Good Will Hunting, but as homotastic as Matt Damon and Ben Affleck can be together, it’s not a gay film. At least not that way.)
It stars River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves as street kids turning tricks; one of them to survive, the other just to piss off his daddy. Plus, it’s got cult actor and Warhol buddy, Udo Kier with a memorable and wholly bizarre cameo as one of the boys’ Johns. (Though if you want to see a truly freaky role of his, check out – among many choices - Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein. Necrophilia, over the top 70s gore, bizarre fetishes, and a totally fucking hot 26 year old Joe Dallesandro, spending a good chunk of the movie unabashedly, full frontally, bareassed naked.)
My Own Private Idaho is funny and touching and will, at times, beg the question: Is it wrong to be turned on by someone who’s dead? Especially by such a loss as River Phoenix when you see in this movie just how good he could be. And it’s wholly quirky. It takes Van Sant’s hyper-realistic scenes with real life street kids bullshitting in a coffee shop, and stirs in some bizarre surrealism like when the photos on dirty magazine covers come alive and start talking to each other. And it’s based loosely on Henry IV, Part I. If you don't know it, tough shit, you'll get an idea when you see the movie.
Keanu Reeves is Scott, the movie’s version of Prince Hal, hell bent on upsetting his rich and powerful father. River Phoenix is Mike, Hal’s sidekick, the closest analogue of which is Poins. But that doesn’t really matter, because the story revolves around Mike and the Shakespeare is just a part of Mike’s search for his mother. A search that takes he and best friend Scott from Oregon, to Idaho and then over to Italy. Though, yes, during the Henry IV parallels the dialogue is done in Shakespearean iambic pentameter. Which is kind of odd, but it works because the whole movie about a narcoleptic hustler is odd. Oh yeah, River Phoenix’s character has narcolepsy. And it can be as funny as it sounds. Tragic too.
The movie’s from Mike’s eyes and he’s frequently out cold. So when he’s out, we’re out. The viewer’s left as disconnected and confused as he is. Which is beautiful because the movie revolves around his disconnection and a loneliness so deep that all he wants is find someone to love him. And like any good gay kid, that ends up translating into falling in love with his best friend. Keanu Reeves shows that he’s capable of acting beyond his usual “Whoah” as Mike's often tender, but much too straight, caretaker. Of course he still pales next to River Phoenix’s touching performance. The fireside scene where Mike shyly admits his feelings is one of the most beautiful scenes ever filmed.
It mixes comedy, tragedy and poignancy all at once, and you aren’t gay if you haven’t seen My Own Private Idaho. Seriously. You know who you are. Give me your fucking card: you're out. It’s only Van Sant’s third film, and it’s one of River’s most nuanced performances. (Reeves’ too, but it’s not like we set the bar that high for him.) Check it out. You’ll see why everyone always has to work “tragedy” into every sentence that mentions River Phoenix.
And no, not in a sentence like: “The walking tragedy that is River Phoenix’s brother.”