by Kevin Taylor & r & & r & My Own Private Idaho & r & So what's all this I hear about gay cowboys in the West? All the angst and one-handed pundit pounding would make you think that Brokeback Mountain is some sort of breakthrough.
Fifteen years ago, Keanu Reeves, wearing a black Stetson and little else, posed on the cover of a gay porn magazine with the lurid teaser "Homo on the Range." Take that, Ang Lee.
It's one of the small funny/sad scenes that make Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho one of the most beautiful films of an unlikely and disturbing topic -- young street kids who turn to hustling for survival.
It opens with the late River Phoenix twitching in narcoleptic sleep on a desolate rural two-lane while, in the soundtrack, Eddy Arnold yodels a cattle song and the clouds roll past like poems thanks to time-lapse photography.
There is so much to like about this film, reissued on DVD as a two-disc set by Criterion Collections. One disc carries the remastered movie; the other is filled with interviews and wide-ranging conversations, a "making of" featurette and deleted scenes. Unlike most DVD extras, these carry weight.
Yet how many movies with major studio financing begin with the lead character getting oral sex from a sad-sack middle-aged man in a seedy motel room? How many cast real street kids and have them speak in Shakespearean cadence to Fat Bob, the Falstaff of their private world hidden under the freeways and in abandoned hotels?
Van Sant was fearless, funny and dreamy when he made My Own Private Idaho, released in 1991. Performances by the late River Phoenix and Reeves are riveting. Phoenix is twitchy, fragile and conveys a sense of ineffable loneliness as the narcoleptic kid from rural Idaho who is simultaneously fleeing a messed-up family and searching for a lost mother. He winds up in the curbside meat displays in Seattle and Portland, where the wealthy go cruising for street boys. As Scott, the slumming son of Portland's mayor, Reeves is both cynical and compassionate. And despite our propensity to link Reeves with his airhead character -- he does it all without a trace of Bill or Ted.