James Franco, the artist, has always said one of his favourite films, maybe even his favourite film, is Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho. Now the artist has collaborated on an art presentation about My Own Private Idaho with Gus Van Sant to be featured at the Toronto International Film Festival next month. River Phoenix’s performance in the film is one of the central themes:

“At the work’s core are two new films, projected sequentially, in a darkened, generic space. The first film,
My Own Private River, is a feature-length chronological reassemblage of excised scenes and alternate takes from the original shoot, radically foregrounding Phoenix. The second film, Idaho, comes from one of three scripts Van Sant used to create the original film, its Super-8 texture meant to be a “ghost” of his original conception. Van Sant contributes ghosts of his own, large-format photographs of actual Portland street hustlers who appeared in, and provided inspiration and source material for, the film. Presented at TIFF Bell Lightbox Atrium, 350 King Street West. September 8 to 18.”

I would be lying to you if I told you I’ll be busting my ass trying to get to this because I’m some kind of cinephile. I will bust my ass trying to get there because I love River. River Phoenix was one of my very first crush-hards. And even though I was a lot less engaged in the crush at the time of his death, I remember that Halloween, in university, when the news broke that he had died, it was a watershed moment in what’s become a lifelong pop culture obsession. You mean youth isn’t forever? Young and beautiful doesn’t last forever? When you’re coming out of your teens, and full of the arrogance of your early 20s, live hard die young James Dean still had a certain glamour. Then River happened and it all seemed so... wasteful. But that attachment, the attraction you feel, especially when the potency of it is fuelled by teen oblivion, it stays with you somehow. I am confident that even when I’m 60, I’ll still be able to connect to those achy emotions I had for River through the late 80s and early 90s. In particular, where My Private Idaho is concerned, to that desperate desire to understand more about him, since the way he played Mike seemed so uncomfortably real.

So when you tell me that not only is there more River, but more River in Idaho, I can’t deny that it’s a voyeur’s motivation that will draw me to the installation. Of course I want to see if there’s more insight to that footage. Of course I want to know if there may have been signs. And that, combined with a what can’t be uncommon urge to re-engage an old self that sometimes seems to be slipping away, is too much to resist. Even if it means supporting James Franco, the artist.

PS. I used to spend a lot of time just... gazing... at Idaho promo shots of River and Keanu Reeves. Look at the one of Keanu leaning into River holding a cigarette. It’s too f-cking much.

Click here for more on the Future Projections Lineup at TIFF.