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Review - My Own Private Idaho (DVD-2005)
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My Own Private Idaho (DVD-2005)

Criterion Collection

Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski

My Own Private Idaho has just been released on video by the Criterion Company in a Director-Approved DVD special-edition set.

The celebrated cult film from 1991 was directed by Gus Van Sant, who also directed the earlier Drugstore Cowboy and the later Good Will Hunting. Telling the story of two street hustlers on a road quest which takes them from grungy streets and the open highways of the Pacific Northwest to a trip overseas in search of an elusive place called home, My Own Private Idaho stars River Phoenix as a young narcoleptic who falls asleep whenever he is under stress. In such an unconscious state, he is dependent on the kindness of strangers and his friend, played by Keanu Reeves.

Controversial since it premiered, the film has enjoyed wide praise, even if another aspect of its production, subplots which incorporate Shakespearean elements of Richard IV contributes an uneven quality. Still, there is no denying that My Own Private Idaho is a haunting, poignant and poetic tale of alienated adolescents. This film has also had an especially immense appeal to young audiences.

Director Van Sant is known for his independent and innovative style of filmmaking. The acquisition of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves puts the film into another class. In particular, River Phoenix is superb. His performance gets better on each viewing and elevates even Van Sant’s original vision. The film and sound transfer on the DVD is exquisite. It has never looked or sounded better. The beautiful packaging includes a 59 page full color booklet featuring informative essays and interviews.

The supplemental disc includes deleted scenes, outtakes, a somewhat dry making-of documentary and substantial audio interviews. Of particular interest is an audio interview with Gus Van Sant which provides much more insight and information than the usual director’s commentary played against a film. In fact, it is so successful that perhaps this format itself, or one similar, should replace director commentaries on DVDs. Suffice it to be said that the supplements are up to Criterion’s usual high standards.

While Variety thought My Own Private Idaho was overreachingly ambitious, it conceded that it was more interesting than more conservative successes. Donald Lyon has called My Own Private Idaho the best American film of the 1990’s, daring anything else to top it. Whether or not you agree, there is no doubt that this is a provocative, unusual work of art and another superlative release from the famed Criterion Company.

2005 Dennis Kwiatkowski/ Celluloid Dreams

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