50 Years of the New York Film Festival

NYFF ‘91: My Own Private Idaho

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NYFF ‘91: My Own Private Idaho
Gus Van Sant, 1991
USA | Format: 35mm | 35mm minutes

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Five-time NYFF alum Gus Van Sant made his third festival appearance (following the short films Discipline of DE and Junior) with this landmark work of American independent cinema. Van Sant combined two screenplays he was working on--one a modern version of Shakespeare’s Henry IV—with an original short story to create the dreamlike tale of two wayward hustlers who drift through the coffee houses and wide open spaces of the Pacific Northwest, the Italian countryside and back again. Narcoleptic Mike (River Phoenix, at his most iconic) is looking for motherly love in all the wrong places, while rich kid Scott (Keanu Reeves) waits for his 21st birthday and the sizable inheritance that will come with it. Separately and together, they entertain a host of eccentric male and female clients, as street urchins (led by the Falstaff-like Bob Pigeon, memorably played by filmmaker William Richert) spout lines from the Bard and barns fall mysteriously from the sky. Indeed, we’re most certainly not in Kansas anymore.

“Lyrical, darkly comic, this startling movie is ultimately a moving examination of the notion of family.”—NYFF29 program note

“The ostensible subject at hand is Seattle street hustlers, but what results is a magical mystery tour of deadpan élan, Shakespearean pastiche and post-teen ardor for living below the radar... As a comically weary, narcoleptic nowhere guy constantly awakening in strange places, Phoenix was his generation's great short-lived cultural axiom, wary and spontaneous and so submerged in his movie life there's no sense he even knew we were watching.” —Michael Atkinson, The Village Voice

“With My Own Private Idaho, his third feature, Gus Van Sant. makes a big bold leap to join Jim Jarmusch and the Coen brothers in the front ranks of America's most innovative independent film makers.” —Vincent Canby, The New York Times

Series: 50 Years of the New York Film Festival

Venue: Walter Reade Theater

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