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Mystic River

September 22, 2011 | by

Think of all the takes of all the shots of all the movies ever made. Think of all the scenes and angles and alternate readings and alternate lines that were recorded on film—and then discarded in the cutting room. There are endless reels that have been perused and discarded by editors, never to be seen again. Many filmmakers would consider the discarded material worthless, but I, as an actor who has spent fifteen years in front of the camera, consider all of it valuable. They are the essence of my art. Usually each shot is taken four to ten times and, in the final edit of the film, only one of these takes, or portions of a few of these takes, will be used. At best, only one tenth of my total output is ever seen by the public. The other shots are filed away or destroyed. Sometimes these takes are inferior. But sometimes—as when they feature an actor like River Phoenix in a film like My Own Private Idaho, the best of his generation giving his best performance—every scrap is gold.

Gus Van Sant made My Own Private Idaho in 1990 and released it in 1991. All the dailies were on film, nothing digitized; when I heard that Gus had held on to the editor’s film rolls, I told him that I would do anything to see them. We spent two days in Portland watching as much as we could. While we were watching, we discussed how Gus’s movies have changed in the intervening decades. His films now are much more spare in story and dialogue; they involve longer takes and fewer cuts. We were naturally led to wonder what Idaho would be like if he made the film now, and Gus offered to let me make my own cut.  It was overwhelming to be able to cut the raw material of my favorite film, a film that had moved me, that had helped shape me as a teenager. The only way I could justify cutting such material was to do what Gus and I had discussed: I cut it as if Gus had made it today.

35 COMMENTS

18 Comments

  1. Tyler Bigney | September 22, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    One of my favorite movies, as well.

  2. Hugo Baron | September 22, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Brilliant.

  3. Robert Stuart | September 22, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    I could watch these Franco cuts for hours.

  4. Joe Carlson | September 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    I give up: why is this article entitled, “Mystic River?” What am I missing here?

  5. Joe | September 22, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    “Mystic River” as in River Phoenix, who I suppose you can say plays a very mystical, enigmatic lead role in the film…

  6. Corey Estlund | September 22, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    I understand that this article is supposed to get one to think about all of the unused footage, but it is telling us about the footage in a way that “My Own Private River” shows how Franco used the shots to reinterpret my favorite Van Sant film. (as someone who has seen the film at PS1, however, I suppose that it is an advantage.) Is this article speaking to how the director works to get the final cut? A focus on how the clips were edited together, why certain shots were used over others, and an expansion upon these beginnings could prove very interesting.

  7. Katrine Abatti | September 22, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    That was really cool,James. What a good work. And I can imagine how it was for you to see all the footage and get the chance to work with and make this film about your favorite movie. Nothing but an honor.

  8. Jose Gainza | September 23, 2011 at 8:05 am

    I am going to revisit my own memories of My Own Private River, and watch the later Van Sant films. It’s fascinating that Van Sant would have done a version 20 years later much different then the original. Though the original was a personal classic, I don’t think it would suffer from a big production remake. I wonder.

  9. Jose Gainza | September 23, 2011 at 8:48 am

    I saw My Own Private River in Toronto a couple weeks ago. For those of you who have not seen My Own Private River, or who have and would like to be reminded again of it … I did write a quasi-fictional re-creation of my own meditation on the Franco film. It’s called A River Runs Through Me. Click on my name above this message to find it. A thanks to Franco and Van Sant for bringing it to my hometown. Ciao.

  10. Buff Cobb | September 23, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Very interesting! I will have to look up more of Mr. Franco’s work!

  11. corey garlic | September 23, 2011 at 11:40 am

    This film perfectly captures the alienation of experience many of us have felt.

  12. Daisy | September 23, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    River Phoenix had the most fascinating sense of onscreen grace. When I think of actors who knew how to use their nose room, I think of Charlie Chaplin as a classic example; this ability to move fluidly within unseen boundaries, almost like a mime (I’m not kidding), like balancing and dancing on a finite space, an invisible edge. Chaplin had this “third eye” ability to pre-conceive how a movement would be captured, like how a painter sees a painting before it’s made, just knowing, innately, where to put the next brushstroke.

    Franco, a talented actor in his own right, has even compared Phoenix to Chaplin in other interviews. He knows what he’s talking about. “My Own Private River” is an excellent opportunity to see raw, unpolished talent in action. River had it in spades.

  13. Daniel | September 24, 2011 at 10:34 am

    I love ‘My Own Private Idaho.’ I love Gus Van Sant. I love River Phoenix. I love James Franco and I love this post!

  14. Mina Bourque | September 25, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    I hope there will be some way in the near future for all of us to see it. Please, please, please, Mr. Franco!

  15. Zuzu | September 26, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    James and Gus just presented this yesterday at the Hollywood Theater in Portland, Oregon. It’s a truly remarkable project, and I think Franco definitely did justice to Gus’s original. The pair of them together is simply a great juxtaposition of two naturally creative impulses, and the film itself acts as a perfect common thread. River Phoenix himself might actually be the perfect common thread; his freedom as an actor, that innate fearlessness and purity of action, is the sort of stuff that makes movies into cinematic trophies.

    I love the work of both these talented men, and it’s wonderful to re-watch a classic from such a unique perspective. It doesn’t change the original at all; it only enhances its magic.

  16. Christelle Phoenix. | September 27, 2011 at 11:59 am

    I am still always in awe River and his big talent!
    I love him!

  17. lilcrow78 | December 9, 2011 at 11:31 am

    James is right in saying River gave his best performance in Idaho. I too would do anything to see any new footage of River. Especially on this film. As a an actor albeit not a famous one. I understand how incredible it is to see lost footage. It is usable. BUT I am very disappointed this only took place in California. River helped shape my being as a person.I am just a broke hippie so guess I don’t deserve to see it because I don’t live in Cali- love ya Franco man.. but Help a sista out make the footage public.

  18. Juice | December 20, 2011 at 4:05 am

    This is awesome. More, more! Great way to resuscitate R’s brilliance and evidence the instantiation of the artist in his work, even beyond the grave.

17 Pingbacks

  1. […] we’re talking about, there is some peeing, too. Watch the clip after the jump, and then read Franco’s piece at the Paris […]

  2. […] Franco wants you to "think of all the takes of all the shots of all the movies ever […]

  3. […] Franco wants you to "think of all the takes of all the shots of all the movies ever […]

  4. […] Franco wants you to "think of all the takes of all the shots of all the movies ever […]

  5. […] Franco wants you to “think of all the takes of all the shots of all the movies ever […]

  6. […] September 23, 2011 by Professional Journalist Dorothy Brookes James Franco wants you to “think of all the takes of all the shots of all the movies ever […]

  7. […] Franco wants you to “think of all the takes of all the shots of all the movies ever […]

  8. […] Franco wants you to “think of all the takes of all the shots of all the movies ever […]

  9. […] Franco is too legit to quit, now that he’s been published in The Paris Review. Watch the video about River Phoenix, cut from Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, then read […]

  10. […] Sant’s My Private Idaho and then re-cut the film “as if Gus had made it today.” [Paris Review] ● Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez posed for a picture with six infants and fancied themselves […]

  11. […] Sant’s My Private Idaho and then re-cut the film “as if Gus had made it today.” [Paris Review] ● Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez posed for a picture with six infants and fancied themselves […]

  12. […] Sant’s My Private Idaho and then re-cut the film “as if Gus had made it today.” [Paris Review] ● Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez posed for a picture with six infants and fancied themselves […]

  13. […] Sant’s My Private Idaho and then re-cut the film “as if Gus had made it today.” [Paris Review] ● Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez posed for a picture with six infants and fancied themselves […]

  14. […] Franco, who was at Portland’s Hollywood Theatre with Van Sant to present two screenings of  “My Own Private River,” a feature-length alternate edit of “Idaho” culled from a massive 25 hours of footage originally […]

  15. […] 1991-nostalgin ligger i tiden. Cameron Crowe gör en dokumentär om Pearl Jam och James Franco har plockat upp På drift mot Idaho-scener från Gus Van Sants klippgolv och gjort en hyllning till River Phoenix. […]

  16. […] Franco wants you to “think of all the takes of all the shots of all the movies ever […]

  17. […] been writing reviews [Review 1] [Review 2] in The Paris Review […]

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