James Franco's Memories of Idaho ***
The ever-elusive artist/actor/filmmaker/author/lit student/musical dilettante has unveiled his latest art project at the TIFF Bell Lightbox: Memories of Idaho, a meditation on Gus Van Sant’s seminal 1991 My Own Private Idaho in multiple parts. In one of two films screening in the darkened space, Franco reassembles cut scenes from Idaho in a chronological fashion, making River Phoenix the focus of this experimental edit. A striking moment finds Keanu Reeves’ Scott, now with a lady friend in tow, deserting Phoenix’s lovelorn and homeless Mike. Watching the unreleased footage unspool, it’s a rare glimpse at Phoenix’s total commitment to a part that struck a chord with filmgoers around the world. As for Keanu, you’re reminded of his pre-breakout (that's pre-Point Break, pre-Speed) niche as eye candy purveyor.
Van Sant also contributes to the project, as large-format photographs he took of actual Portland street hustlers are exposed, shedding light on some of the source material that allowed for Idaho take shape in its pre-prod stages. At an exclusive gathering at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Sunday to discuss the project, Franco admitted to renting a VHS copy of Idaho at his neighbourhood video store over and over again, testifying to the impact the film as a whole – and River Phoenix’s character in particular – had on him as a teenager. "There was just something about the movie… the aesthetic, the themes, the idea of a makeshift family, River's incredible performance ... and even the clothes," he told the audience.
Franco is most certainly an enigma. At times, it may feel like he is having a good laugh at the expense of everyone, going from a cover shoot - in drag - for Candy (the first transsexual fashion magazine) to starring opposite Julia Roberts in one of the tackiest self-help narratives of the decade, to writing captivating short stories about disaffected youth that quote Proust matter-of-factly. You just never know what to expect. Memories of Idaho fits right into that idiosyncratic trajectory. Franco’s reassembled film collages are definitely worth a look, even more so for fans of Van Sant's indie drama. Conceptually, Memories of Idaho's dingy-looking space is sparsely decorated: dark, heavy-looking curtains seal off the area, a makeshift ladder rests against a wall, a mop and bucket hang around another corner and the feel is a tad claustrophobic, allegedly to “recall an AA meeting.”
Until Sunday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox | 350 King Street West | tiff.net