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