My Own Private Idaho (1991)

R | 104 mins | Drama | 29 September 1991

Director:

Gus Van Sant

Writer:

Gus Van Sant

Producer:

Laurie Parker

Cinematographers:

Eric Alan Edwards, John Campbell

Editor:

Curtiss Clayton

Production Designer:

David Brisbin

Production Company:

Idaho Productions
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HISTORY

According to an article in the 10 Aug 1991 Vancouver Sun, writer-director Gus Van Sant received several offers to direct big-budget Hollywood films after the success of Drugstore Cowboy (1989, see entry), which was named best picture of the year by the National Society of Film Critics. However, after reading dozens of scripts, Van Sant decided to make another independent feature project in his hometown of Portland, OR. My Own Private Idaho was announced as Van Sant’s next project in the 24 Feb 1990 Screen International, which named Avenue Entertainment as the production company, and stated that principal photography would begin in Aug 1990 in Idaho and Italy. No further mention of Avenue Entertainment was found in contemporary sources, and filming was delayed until Nov 1990. Idaho does not appear to be one of the final filming locations.
       As stated in a 13 Oct 1991 LAT article, Van Sant’s screenplay does not adhere to a linear structure, jumping between reality, dream sequences, fantasy, and surrealism. In one scene, the cover models on several gay pornographic magazine covers come to life and have a conversation. A portion of the film contains dialogue from William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, with Keanu Reeves’s character, “Scott Favor,” modeled after “Prince Hal,” and “Bob” representing “Falstaff.” The section is said to be partly an homage to Orson Welles’s 1965 film, Chimes at Midnight, also based on Shakespeare’s work. Van Sant stated the Shakespearean passages were not meant to disrupt the story, but to emphasize its timelessness.
       The 24 Feb 1990 Screen International listed Daniel Day-Lewis as a cast ... More Less

According to an article in the 10 Aug 1991 Vancouver Sun, writer-director Gus Van Sant received several offers to direct big-budget Hollywood films after the success of Drugstore Cowboy (1989, see entry), which was named best picture of the year by the National Society of Film Critics. However, after reading dozens of scripts, Van Sant decided to make another independent feature project in his hometown of Portland, OR. My Own Private Idaho was announced as Van Sant’s next project in the 24 Feb 1990 Screen International, which named Avenue Entertainment as the production company, and stated that principal photography would begin in Aug 1990 in Idaho and Italy. No further mention of Avenue Entertainment was found in contemporary sources, and filming was delayed until Nov 1990. Idaho does not appear to be one of the final filming locations.
       As stated in a 13 Oct 1991 LAT article, Van Sant’s screenplay does not adhere to a linear structure, jumping between reality, dream sequences, fantasy, and surrealism. In one scene, the cover models on several gay pornographic magazine covers come to life and have a conversation. A portion of the film contains dialogue from William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, with Keanu Reeves’s character, “Scott Favor,” modeled after “Prince Hal,” and “Bob” representing “Falstaff.” The section is said to be partly an homage to Orson Welles’s 1965 film, Chimes at Midnight, also based on Shakespeare’s work. Van Sant stated the Shakespearean passages were not meant to disrupt the story, but to emphasize its timelessness.
       The 24 Feb 1990 Screen International listed Daniel Day-Lewis as a cast member, but Day-Lewis does not appear in the final film. A 4 Nov 1990 LAT item announced the casting of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves as the leads. Phoenix and Reeves had previously worked together on Lawrence Kasdan’s film, I Love You to Death (1990, see entry). Also listed were Lionel Stander, Grace Zabriskie, James Russo, Rodney Harvey, Flea, and Udo Kier. All but Lionel Stander remained in the cast. A 6 Mar 1991 DV news item reported Stander was suing Idaho Productions Inc. for slander and repudiation of his contract. The actor alleged producer Laurie Parker wrongly accused him of failing to disclose health problems, including hearing loss and “an inability to bend,” before his audition. Stander was seeking $75,000 and unspecified punitive damages for a broken contract. The outcome of the lawsuit has not been determined as of the writing of this Note.
       River Phoenix reportedly prepared for his role by studying the performance of German actor Bruno Schleinstein, or “Bruno S.,” in Werner Herzog’s 1977 film, Stroszek. In scenes involving narcoleptic episodes, Phoenix attempted to sleep until the moment before filming began, so that he was performing in a “half-asleep state.”
       The budget was listed as $2.5 million in the 13 Oct 1991 LAT and 10 Aug 1991 Vancouver Sun. However, an item in the 2 Dec 1991 Var later reported production costs of $3.5 million.
       Principal photography began 1 Nov 1990, according to the 13 Nov 1990 HR production chart. Filming took place in Portland; Seattle, WA; and Rome, Italy.
       The film debuted with a 27 Sep 1991 screening at the New York Film Festival. The Los Angeles, CA, premiere followed on 11 Oct 1991 at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) theater in Beverly Hills, CA. The event raised money for Los Angeles Center for Living’s Project Angel Food and the Los Angeles Film Forum. Neither Keanu Reeves nor River Phoenix were in attendance. A 10 Oct 1991 HR item stated Phoenix had intended to be there, but had miscalculated the driving time between his home in Florida and Los Angeles, and arrived a day late.
       Critical reception was largely positive. Although the 18 Oct 1991 LAT described Van Sant’s latest effort as “weaker on plot” than Drugstore Cowboy, it praised the film’s unexpected moments of humor and tenderness. The 27 Sep 1991 NYT review stated Van Sant had made a “big bold leap” with the picture, joining Jim Jarmusch and the Coen brothers as a leading American independent filmmaker. As stated in the 13 Oct 1991 LAT, My Own Private Idaho won best picture awards at the Toronto Film Festival and Deauville American Film Festival, and River Phoenix won best actor at the Venice Film Festival and an Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead. The film also won Independent Spirit Awards for Best Screenplay and Best Film Music.
       The 2 Dec 1991 Var listed My Own Private Idaho as a successful “indie,” with total costs , including production, prints and advertising, of $4.5-$5 million, and revenues of $12.5 million.
       A 23 Feb 2011 HR news item reported that Gus Van Sant granted actor James Franco access to raw and unused footage of My Own Private Idaho, as well as footage of River Phoenix “shot years before,” which Franco used to make Endless Idaho, a twelve-hour film containing deleted scenes, outtakes, and behind-the scenes footage, and My Own Private River, which focused on Phoenix’s character, “Mike Waters,” and contained an original score composed by Michael Stipe of the band R.E.M. The films were shown, alongside eight watercolor paintings by Van Sant, at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills.
       The film concludes with a title card reading: “have a nice day.”
       End credits include the following statements: “dedicated to Scott Melloo Nall, Jr.”; “the filmmakers wish to express their gratitude to Donna Bascom and Cam Galano”; “special thanks to: Mindy Affrime; Dawn Ahrens; Fabrizio Albertoni; Fred, Pat and Bert Benson; Jane Berliner; James L. Brooks; Iris Burton; Nan Bush; Silvano Cappelli; Antonia Coffman; Rich Conaty; Melanie Cook; Walt Curtis; Richard Gelfand; Steve Gerse; Matt Groening; Elizabeth Hartley; Elton John; Michael Kern; Dr. Stephen Kimberly, M.D.; Solomon J. LeFlore; Hilary Lipman; Laura Lodato; James Louis; Keeston Lowery; Marjie Lundell; Madonna; Cathy Main; Bill McCormick; Richard Miyashiro; Thom Mount; Micki Myshrall; Janis Nelson; Pat and Sandy Nogle; Buckley Norris; Patricia O’Brien; Maggie O’Bryan; Lorraine Olivas; Susie Parker; Arlyn Phoenix; Rain Phoenix; Jeff & John Plew; Paige Powell; Prudence Ragsdale; Sonoko Sakal; Betty L. Smith; Denise Sproul; Erwin Stoff; Harry Swerdlow; Hughie Tanner; Claudio Tinari; Bobbi Thompson; Doug Thompson; Gus Van Sant, Sr.; Nick Wechsler; Kurt Widmer; Harry Zimmerman; Bob Zurcher; Bay Area Travel; Braumas Autonoleggio; Bridgeport Brewery; Budget Rent A Car; Cajun Cafe; The City Nightclub; Garbonzos; Hotel Sant’ Anselmo; Calvin Klein; Eastman Kodak; Mallory Motor Hotel; Mark Spencer Hotel; Nike, Inc.; Oregon Film Commission; Outside In; Portland Chamber of Commerce; Suspension Eyewear; The American Film Institute; and the people of Portland, Oregon; happy birthday, Lorenzo”; and, “and thanks to the B-52’s.” More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
25 Apr 1990
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
6 Mar 1991.
---
Daily Variety
4 Sep 1991
p. 2, 21.
Daily Variety
10 Sep 1991.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Nov 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Sep 1991
p. 5, 22.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Oct 1991.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Feb 2011.
---
Los Angeles Times
4 Nov 1990
Calendar, p. 40.
Los Angeles Times
13 Oct 1991
Calendar, p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
16 Oct 1991
Section E, p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
18 Oct 1991
p. 1.
New York Times
27 Sep 1991
p. 5.
Screen International
24 Feb 1990.
---
Vancouver Sun
10 Aug 1991
Section D, p. 1.
Variety
9 Sep 1991
pp. 64-65
Variety
2 Dec 1991.
---
Village Voice
31 Dec 1991.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A film by Gus Van Sant
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Prod mgr, Italian unit
Asst dir, Italian unit
Asst dir, Italian unit
PRODUCERS
Co-exec prod
Line prod
1st asst cam
WRITERS
Addl dial by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Best boy elec
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Generator op/grip
Stills photog
Addl stills
Addl stills
Spec photog
1st asst cam, Italian unit
Gaffer, Italian unit
Key grip, Italian unit
Best boy, Italian unit
Elec, Italian unit
Elec, Italian unit
Stills photog, Italian unit
Cam equip provided by, Italian unit
Cam systems provided by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dept asst
Storyboard artist
FILM EDITORS
Asst film ed
Apprentice film ed
Ed intern
Post prod asst
Negative cutter
Post prod services provided by
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Leadman
Set dresser/swing
Swing gang
Swing gang
Lead scenic artist
Asst scenic
Painter
Wall covering specialist
Const coord
Const foreman
Prop master, Italian unit
COSTUMES
Ward supv
MUSIC
Mus eng
Mus eng
Mus arranged and compositions
Addl arrangments
Addl arrangments
Mus assistance
Yodeler/accordion
Vibraphone
French horn
Whistler
Violin
Viola
Dulcimer, synthesizer
Hurdy gurdy, tar
Banjo
Recorders
Pedal steel guitarist
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Mixing asst
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Sd mixer (Seattle)
Sd mixer (Seattle)
Boom op (Seattle)
Sd mixer, Italian unit
Boom op, Italian unit
Supv sd ed
Sd ed asst
Sd ed asst
Foley walker
Foley walker
ADR/foley rec eng
Sd intern
Dial cont
Walla group
Walla group
Walla group
Walla group
Walla group
Walla group
Walla group
Walla group
Walla group
Stereo consultant
VISUAL EFFECTS
Visual eff coord
Visual eff crew
Visual eff crew
Visual eff crew
Visual eff crew
Visual eff crew
Visual eff crew
Mechanical eff
Mechanical eff
Mechanical eff
Titles
Titles and opticals by
MAKEUP
Key makeup and hair
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Casting assoc
Richard Waters' paintings
Loc mgr
Asst loc mgr
Seattle loc
Unit pub
Release pub
Research consultant
Prod accountant
Prod coord
Prod coord
Prod office mgr
Extras casting
Extras casting
Extras casting
Seattle extras casting
Asst to prod
Asst to prod
Asst to dir
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Set security
Craft services
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Driver
Driver
Prod catering
Prod catering
Driver/cook
Asst caterer
Animal handler
General admin, Italian unit
Prod coord, Italian unit
Prod asst, Italian unit
Driver, Italian unit
Catering, Italian unit
Loc equip provided by
Legal services provided by
Legal services provided by
Legal services provided by
Legal services provided by
Insurance provided by
Completion bond provided by
International sales
International sales
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by, Italian unit
Col timer
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Henry IV written by William Shakespeare (London, 16th Century).
SONGS
“Cattle Call,” words and music by Tex Owens, performed by Eddy Arnold, courtesy of Forster Music Publishing and the RCA Records label of BMG Music
“America The Beautiful,” music composed by Samuel A. Ward, performed by Bill Stafford
“Deep Night,” words and music by Charlie Henderson, performed by Rudy Vallee, courtesy of Warner/Chappell Music Inc. and the RCA Records label of BMG Music, “Bachu Ber,” traditional Dauphinoise melody, performed by Jean Poulot and Jamie Haggerty
+
SONGS
“Cattle Call,” words and music by Tex Owens, performed by Eddy Arnold, courtesy of Forster Music Publishing and the RCA Records label of BMG Music
“America The Beautiful,” music composed by Samuel A. Ward, performed by Bill Stafford
“Deep Night,” words and music by Charlie Henderson, performed by Rudy Vallee, courtesy of Warner/Chappell Music Inc. and the RCA Records label of BMG Music, “Bachu Ber,” traditional Dauphinoise melody, performed by Jean Poulot and Jamie Haggerty
“Too Many Colors,” words and music by Aleka’s Attic, performed by Aleka’s Attic, courtesy of Island Records, Inc.
“Mr. Klein,” music composed by Tom Dokoupil, lyrics by Udo Kier, performed by Udo Kier and Tom Dokoupil, courtesy of Whitehouse Music
“Ovoniam Ipse,” music composed by Thomas Stoltzer, performed by Bruce Van Buskirk
“Home On The Range,” music composed by Daniel E. Kelley, lyrics by Dr. Brewster M. Higley, performed by Bill Stafford
“Nun Freut Euch,” music composed by Gaspar Othmayer, performed by Bruce Van Buskirk
“Cherish,” words and music by Madonna, performed by Madonna, courtesy of Sire Records, by arrangement with Warner Special Products and Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
“When The Saints Go Marchin’ In,” music composed by J. M. Black, performed by Elliot Sweetland, Richard Letcher, and Vernon Dunn
“Blue Eyes,” music composed by Elton John, lyrics by Gary Osborne, performed by Elton John, courtesy of Geffen Records and Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
“The Funerals,” music composed by Anthony Holborne, performed by Lori Presthus, Hollis Taylor, and Kim Burton
“The Old Main Drag,” words and music by Shane MacGowan, performed by The Pogues, courtesy of Stiff Music Ltd. and Warner Music U.K. Ltd. by arrangement with Warner Special Products
“Der Adler,” music composed by Tom Dokoupil, lyrics by Udo Kier, performed by Udo Kier and Tom Dokoupil, courtesy of Whitehouse Studios
“Getting Into The Outside,” words and music by Conrad “Bud” Montgomery, performed by Conrad “Bud” Montgomery.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
29 September 1991
Premiere Information:
New York Film Festival screening: 27 September 1991
New York opening: 29 September 1991
Los Angeles opening: 19 October 1991
Production Date:
began 1 November 1990
Physical Properties:
Sound
Recorded in Ultra-Stereo®
Color
Duration(in mins):
104
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
31212
SYNOPSIS

On a desolate stretch of highway in Idaho, narcoleptic Mike Waters fights to stay awake. He talks to himself about having seen this stretch of road before, which he compares to a face. Suddenly, Mike’s knees buckle, and he collapses in the middle of the road. While sleeping, he dreams of his mother petting his head and telling him, “I know you’re sorry.” Mike goes to Seattle, Washington, where he turns “tricks” as a male prostitute. One day, a “john” named Walt performs oral sex on him. Mike takes the cash Walt tosses on his belly and begs for ten more dollars. At night, he goes home with a regular client who makes him dress in a “Dutch Boy” costume and scrub his apartment clean. Later, a middle-aged woman named Alena summons him to her car. Mike comments that women hardly ever pick him up, especially rich, pretty ones. In the living room of Alena’s mansion, Mike recognizes fellow hustlers, Scott Favor and Gary. When he and Alena embrace, he imagines his mother and collapses on the floor. Alena panics. As Scott and Gary drag him outside, Scott explains that Mike suffers from narcolepsy, brought on by stress. Scott leaves Mike asleep on the lawn. He glances around and recalls his upbringing in a similar neighborhood, bemoaning the pressure he felt to be heartless and competitive like his father, Jack Favor, who is now mayor of Portland, Oregon. Scott is due to inherit a lot of money when his father dies. In the meantime, he disgraces the family name by turning tricks and posing nude for magazines. In the morning, a man named Hans offers Mike a ... +


On a desolate stretch of highway in Idaho, narcoleptic Mike Waters fights to stay awake. He talks to himself about having seen this stretch of road before, which he compares to a face. Suddenly, Mike’s knees buckle, and he collapses in the middle of the road. While sleeping, he dreams of his mother petting his head and telling him, “I know you’re sorry.” Mike goes to Seattle, Washington, where he turns “tricks” as a male prostitute. One day, a “john” named Walt performs oral sex on him. Mike takes the cash Walt tosses on his belly and begs for ten more dollars. At night, he goes home with a regular client who makes him dress in a “Dutch Boy” costume and scrub his apartment clean. Later, a middle-aged woman named Alena summons him to her car. Mike comments that women hardly ever pick him up, especially rich, pretty ones. In the living room of Alena’s mansion, Mike recognizes fellow hustlers, Scott Favor and Gary. When he and Alena embrace, he imagines his mother and collapses on the floor. Alena panics. As Scott and Gary drag him outside, Scott explains that Mike suffers from narcolepsy, brought on by stress. Scott leaves Mike asleep on the lawn. He glances around and recalls his upbringing in a similar neighborhood, bemoaning the pressure he felt to be heartless and competitive like his father, Jack Favor, who is now mayor of Portland, Oregon. Scott is due to inherit a lot of money when his father dies. In the meantime, he disgraces the family name by turning tricks and posing nude for magazines. In the morning, a man named Hans offers Mike a ride into town. Suspecting Hans to be a pervert, Mike rebuffs him, but when Mike collapses, Hans pulls him inside his car. Mike wakes up in Portland. Scott explains that Hans was about to drop Mike off in Seattle, but Scott persuaded him to drive them both to Portland. Mike fears Scott sold his body while he was asleep, but Scott insists the ride was free. They meet up with Gary, who has come to Portland with a client. At a Chinese restaurant, Mike mentions that Bob Pigeon, Scott’s mentor, might be in town. Mike asks about Scott’s relationship with the older man, and Scott claims Bob was in love with him. He viewed Bob as a teacher, but says he loves him more than both his parents. The next morning, Mike wakes up on the roof of a building, where several other prostitutes are squatting. From the roof, Gary spots Bob walking down the street with his friend Budd, and everyone runs to meet them at the derelict Governor Hotel. Scott looks for Bob, who has already fallen asleep in one of the rooms. He finds Mike stealing Bob’s cocaine. When he wakes up, Bob rants about his missing drugs and announces the hotel is full of thieves. Gary presents Bob with an idea to steal money from a group of concert promoters who walk home late at night with cash. Mike does not want to be a part of the scheme, but Scott pulls him aside and suggests they play a prank on Bob during the robbery. That night, Bob leads a group in holding up the concert promoters. They are intercepted by Scott and Mike, disguised in hooded cloaks, and run away scared. The next day, Scott taunts Bob by asking where the stolen money is. Bob admits he no longer has it and tells an exaggerated story of how he and his cohorts were ambushed by as many as eleven men. Scott reveals he and Mike stole the money, but Bob does not retaliate because he would never “kill the heir apparent,” referring to the money and influence Scott will inherit. Police arrive in search of Bob. As everyone scatters, Scott and Mike pretend to have sex in one of the rooms. A policeman delivers the message that Scott’s father wants to see him. Later, Mayor Jack Favor reprimands Scott for disappointing him. Scott throws himself at his father’s feet and defends his honor. He looks disturbed when his father convulses and clutches his chest. Soon, Mike says he wants to visit his brother in Idaho. He and Scott ride to Idaho on a stolen motorcycle. At night, they make a campfire. Mike confesses his love for Scott, who insists he only sleeps with men for money. He regards Mike as his best friend, however, and invites him to sleep in his arms. The next day, they visit Mike’s brother, Richard, in his mobile home. Scott goes to the bathroom and overhears Richard yelling at Mike. When he emerges from the bathroom, Mike has collapsed into sleep. He awakens, and Richard talks about their mother, Sharon, who lost custody of her sons when Mike was very young. Mike is disturbed as Richard describes how she slept around and used a loaded gun as a cooking utensil. He claims she used the gun to kill Mike’s father at a drive-in. Mike argues that is impossible because Richard is his real father. Richard comments that Mike knows too much. He shares the most recent postcard he received from Sharon, sent from the hotel where she works in Snake River. Mike and Scott go to the hotel, but a manager informs them that Sharon left for Rome, Italy, a year ago. In the lobby, they run into Hans, who brings them back to his room for a kinky ménage à trois. The next day, having sold Hans their stolen motorcycle, Mike and Scott buy airplane tickets to Rome. There, they earn some money by turning tricks before taking a taxi to the forwarding address the hotel manager gave them. They arrive at a country house, where Mike searches for his mother, to no avail. Meanwhile, Scott becomes smitten with Carmella, a young Italian girl who lives in the house. She explains that Sharon was there to teach her English, but has since left. When Mike realizes Sharon is gone, he sobs in Scott’s arms, and tries to recall the color of his childhood home. Calming down, he announces he is ready to leave. Instead of going, Scott finds Carmella and has sex with her. Consumed with jealousy, Mike witnesses as Scott and Carmella fall in love over the next two days. Finally, Scott gives Mike cash and parts ways with him, suggesting they might meet again later. Back in Portland, Mike returns to the streets, and becomes increasingly unhinged. One night, he huddles against a building with Bob and Budd. A limousine appears and a well-dressed Scott emerges with Carmella. Scott ignores his old friends and walks into a restaurant, where people greet him with reverence and lament the recent passing of his father. Bob follows him inside, but Scott declares he has changed and warns Bob to stay away. That night, Bob dies. His friends blame Scott for breaking his heart. Bob’s funeral takes place at the same time and cemetery as Jack Favor’s. Bob’s friends and Mike raise a ruckus loud enough for Scott to hear, but Scott ignores them. Back in Idaho, Mike stares at another desolate stretch of highway and imagines it goes on forever. He collapses. A truck pulls over, and two men run out. They steal Mike’s bag and shoes and drive away. A second car pulls over, and the driver pulls Mike inside the car. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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