19 March 2009

Gay Essentials: My Own Private Idaho


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.”


  1. I saw this film when I was in my late teens - in a way I wish I'd seen it earlier... would have saved me years of feeling alone! I also love that scene by the fire... I think that was the culmination of Phoenix's career.

    Great post... a reminder for me to check out this film again. Fifteen years later, I have no doubt I'll discover new things in it.

  2. Yes, that was a very good movie. However, River Phoenix regretted having made it.

    [Q:] You know how everyone was suspecting you and Keanu of being gay. Was it true?

    "Keanu and I were like close brothers. We did love each other, but not in that way. We both wanted to buck the System. We wanted to get away from the "image" that they tried to give us, the "labels" that they tried to hang on us. We made the mistake of making that movie, My Own Private Idaho. It was very degrading, degenerate. That was the movie I'm the most sorry for, because of the effect it had—not only on my life, as that movie was my downfall—but it also affected others' lives, as we were telling them that it's okay to be gay.

    "Well, it's not okay!—It's filthy! And that movie was my biggest mistake, for which I'm very sorry! Keanu and I made a decision that we wouldn't speak up against gays, which in itself is saying that it's okay. And I'm sorry for that. But, no, we are not [gays]. We were just very close friends, and I love him very much."

  3. River Phoenix never said that. Apparently that is an excerpt from an interview made by the Children of God in... 1999!

    Yes, River Phoenix died in 1993.

  4. Anonymous, you are such a tired ass punk. That "interview" has been called into question. The least you could do is mention that, but you are probably a Family International member who dreams of being sodomized by River's ghost.

  5. Excuse me James, but that "interview" has been much more than "called into question" -- the Wikipedia article says this about it:

    In May 1999, The Family International (as the Children of God cult is now known) published a so-called "prophecy interview" with River Phoenix from beyond the grave in an internal magazine for Family teens. Following are excerpts of the "interview" session."

    Frankly I don't know why Wikipedia even allows this "interview" on its River Phoenix page. And Anonymous who posted it is nothing but a troll.

  6. Yeah...not sure how I feel about interviews from beyond the grave... Actually, I am sure. Idiots.

    Don't detract from the movie.

  7. Love the site. Keep it up.
    Can you change the background to be white and the foreground to be black? It hurts my eyes when I read it... :( lol it doesn't really matter anyways I was just sorta straining my eyes when going thru some of ur older posts.

    You also look REALLY hot in those blue jockstraps with the matching socks.

    I know this really has nothing to do with this particular blog entry, but ... yeah I'm not the brightest bulb.

    O and warcraft is destroying my life right now llol. im in high school and its hard to maintain a 90+ avg when your playing wc3 when u should be studying. (im afraid to even touch WOW)

    how dyou manage to stop playing?

  8. Sorry for not checking out the authenticity of that article. Yes, it appears to be false.

    River also said he had a homo encounter just to check it out, since he and Keanu had made a pact to do this movie.

    Phoenix and his family were somewhat troubled. Would you disagree with that?

  9. Hey, sorry for the erroneous post, but it was not intended as a troll. I just didn't check out the context. If Mason wishes to remove it, he may feel free.

    The rest of you may wish to untwist your panties.

    In fact, I found an article where someone said River tried out a bit of homosex to get ready for his role. I wouldn't doubt it. He was pretty much hetero, but also a Method actor.

  10. Mason, have you completely abandoned your fan site? Are you too busy with your commercial site to even bother to post here? More than 10 days without a post is going to lose you a lot of fans.



  12. Anonymous,

    My panties are not in a twist, but you come here posting some bs about an interview from the grave and you should expect to be called out. Especially when it took 30 seconds to find out the thing was made up.

    As for Phoenix and homosex, I'm not sure why it matters. We care too much about the sex lives of famous folk. Unless they are giving me the booty, I really don't care.