My Own Private Idaho (Shock) (1991)

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Released 17-Sep-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Audio
Trailer-The End Of Violence; Cookie's Fortune
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1991
Running Time 99:40 (Case: 103)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Gus Van Sant

Shock Entertainment
Starring River Phoenix
Keanu Reeves
Case Alpha-Transparent
RPI $29.95 Music Bill Stafford

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Screen, not known whether Pan & Scan or Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes, watch out for the simpsons episode on the TV!
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    My Own Private Idaho was hyped up as a "mainstream" gay movie starring River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves (I'm sure the mere mention of those two names may set some hearts - male and female - pounding!) but there is nothing mainstream about it, and homosexuality is really not the main focus of the film. Indeed, we are not even sure if the characters are homosexual by choice, and if they weren't, the film would not lose any of its meaning.

    Mike Waters (River Phoenix) is a young man suffering from narcolepsy, which means that he will involuntarily and frequently fall into a coma-like deep sleep at any time - especially when he's feeling stressed. He has never known his father, and his mother abandoned him when he was young, so he's not a very secure or well-adjusted individual. He is living on the edge of destitution, and survives by working as a male prostitute, mainly servicing middle-aged men.

    Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves) is a fellow denizen of the underworld that Mike inhabits. However, his background could not be more different. Scott is the son of the mayor of Portland, Oregon, and has had a privileged upbringing. One senses that he chooses to live his life in this way as an act of rebellion against his father rather than by necessity. In any case, he is due to receive his inheritance and become a very wealthy young man when he turns 21 - a week away.

    Against all odds, Mike and Scott become close friends. Scott decides to help Mike in his quest to find his mother, which takes them on a wild "road trip" from Seattle to Portland to Idaho to Rome and back to Portland. (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) By the middle of the movie, we learn that Mike has fallen in love with Scott, but Scott has no intentions of sticking with his friends once he receives his inheritance - he plans to abandon his wanton lifestyle and become a respectable member of society at the very moment when his family least expects him to.

    Will Mike ever find his mother or learn who his real father is? (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Will Scott return Mike's love? What will happen when Scott receives his inheritance?

    I found this a powerful and somewhat disturbing film, but surprisingly one that is pretty funny as well. Some of the minor characters are truly delightful - the Fagan-like "Bob" (William Richert) whose lines of dialogue are quotes from Shakespeare's King Henry IV, and of course the unforgettable "Hans" (Udo Kier) - the German car parts salesman with an unquenchable desire for young boys, and Mike in particular.

    The sex scenes are truly hysterical and represent the high points of the film - mainly because you actually don't get to see anything. Director and screenwriter Gus van Sant presents us with suggestive "stills" which leave everything to our lurid imaginations (and thus make them far more provocative than simply showing the graphic details would have achieved). It's the situations and the perversity that is humorous - the man with the obsession for cleanliness, the rich society lady who requires three young men to satisfy her, and of course Hans' "cabaret act."

    The Shakespearean dialogue between Bob and Scott puts a touch of surrealism into the film due to the archaic and somewhat formal language. Of course, the film also has other moments of surrealism to ensure its place as a cult film - images of salmons leaping as they swim upstream remind us of Mike's quest to find his mother and the image of a house crashing down during Mike's orgasm is quite funny.

    I think this is one film you will either hate or love and is worth watching simply to decide which camp you belong in.

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Transfer Quality


    The back cover of the DVD package states that this is a "4:3 Full Screen" transfer but I have my doubts. The 1.33:1 framing is rather tight around the sides and if the tops and bottoms are meant to be masked off then we would cut off the tops and bottoms of faces in a lot of close-ups (but perhaps this is intentional).

    Quite surprisingly, a large proportion of the scenes in Italy are shown letterboxed to 1.66:1 - most noticeably around 73:45-73:49, 73:54-74:44, 74:57-75:39, 75:59-77:36 and 77:47-79:22 - so perhaps the transfer is in full frame after all. Either that, or very badly edited.

    The transfer looks like it has been sourced from a telecine transfer to an old composite video analogue video tape, since videotape artefacts abound - most noticeably in terms of significant overmodulation present in film captions and titles, dot crawl, chroma noise and colour bleeding.

    In addition, there is significant edge enhancement present in the transfer. There is also pixelization and loss of horizontal resolution, but I am not sure whether this is due to MPEG compression or inherent in the analogue video source.

    The film source used has occasional reel change markings and there is a significant amount of telecine wobble present. Surprisingly, grain is not really an issue, but perhaps it is because of the lack of horizontal resolution.

    I found the colours to be well saturated but unfortunately they look rather yellowish. This could be due to either the condition of the film source or the analogue video transfer.

    There are no subtitle tracks on this single sided single layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is only one audio track on the disc: English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s).

    Given that this would have been mastered off an analogue tape transfer which in turn is sourced from an optical soundtrack on the film print, the sound quality isn't too bad.

    Dialogue and background music sounds reasonably full-bodied, although certain lines of the dialogue were hard to understand (but I suspect this is a problem inherent in the soundtrack rather than a fault of the transfer).

    Although the surround encoding flag has not been set, I suspect the audio track is surround encoded as the film soundtrack is encoded in "Ultra Stereo" (a cheap alternative to Dolby Stereo). However, I did not detect significant activity in the rear channels.

    The original music score by Bill Stafford features extensive use of slide guitars which oddly gives it an "Americana" feel that suits the film - in many ways this film is a commentary on contemporary American society. The film also features interesting use of music from a variety of sources. Even the title of the film comes from a B-52 song.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Extras on this disc are limited to two trailers.


    The menu is full frame but includes background audio.

Trailers - The End Of Violence (2:17); Cookie's Fortune (1:32)

    These are two full frame trailers (both of which look rather grainy) - they are mastered as separate chapters on a single DVD title and if you select Cookie's Fortune you get to see The End Of Violence tacked on the end as well.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This disc is not region-coded. This title does not appear to be currently released in Region 1.


    My Own Private Idaho is worth seeing just to see River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves together but beware - this is an "art house" film that you will either love or hate. The video transfer is fairly disappointing and based on an analogue video source, but the audio transfer is okay although well short of reference quality. Extras are limited to two trailers.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Tuesday, May 21, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW11HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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