gus van sant, james franco and michael stipe collaborate on new version of “my own private idaho”

gus van sant and james franco are presenting a new version of the classic film “my own private idaho”, starring river phoenix. james asked michael to provide music for the film piece; michael and jacknife lee remixed and re-imagined new songs off of the upcoming r.e.m. album “collapse into now”, and integrated this into the film piece. it debuts friday and saturday at gagosian gallery in los angeles.


question and answer with michael stipe about the film project

how did this all come about? what was your involvement exactly?

well james and i have known each other for a few years; he called me with this project and we met to discuss it, and i was so excited when he told me what he and gus had in mind. on so many levels it felt really right. james is great and is doing amazing work, and is really pushing, among other things, the idea of a polymathic artistic process, which feels very 21st century to me. i met gus through river, i believe, in the early 90’s, and i was a fan of his film “drugstore cowboy”; and i remember how excited river was about “idaho”, and how it felt like it was pushing so many things forward. river was a real lover of progressive thought, and to be able to challenge people’s expectations was important to him. so for me, working on the music for this project was kind of a posthumous valentine to my friend river; a way to say thank you for the courage to portray such a beautiful queer character in “my own private idaho”. to be able to collaborate with james and gus on this project made it, for me, all the more powerful and personal.

what is the music you wrote?

actually i remixed several songs from the upcoming r.e.m. record and put them into the film. in the spirit of the film piece, it’s a re-imagining of songs that are already complete.

which songs?

the songs i used are “blue”, “überlin”, and “discoverer”. i flew out to malibu and holed up with jacknife lee in the studio. we started pulling the tracks apart, and putting them back together as more of a background to a visual, as support for a story that’s being seen in a completely recontextualized way. the music creates a sonic landscape that feels more interior to the character. i re-sang them, and we did a kind of cowboy dub mix of parts of these tracks, changing some lyrics and adding a new melody here and there. it all felt really right to do it this way, to kind of re-examine these elements to a song; and again, i just wanted to honor my friend river. his dedication to that character, and to acting, really shine here. who better than james and gus to spotlight that?


See the press release from Gagosian Gallery below:

Gagosian Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition by Gus Van Sant and James Franco.

“Unfinished” features two films, Endless Idaho and My Own Private River, which are collaborations between Van Sant and Franco. After casting Franco in the award-winning film Milk (2008), Van Sant showed him the dailies and other footage that he had shot many years before for My Own Private Idaho (1991), which starred River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves as street hustlers in Portland, Oregon. Much of this material did not make it into the final cut, and so Franco decided to fashion it into two new films, riffing off the original title.

For Endless Idaho, Franco edited outtakes, deleted scenes, alternate takes, and behind-the-scenes footage from My Own Private Idaho into a 12-hour film. Endless Idaho provides an unprecedented look into the workaday process of making a movie, from location scouting to repeated takes. Like many of the films of Andy Warhol, a major influence on Van Sant’s own auteur style, it is a provocative, often riveting blend of documentary and fiction. Interviews with actual hustlers who played secondary characters in My Own Private Idaho are intercut with shots of River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves improvising and refining their performances under the direction of Van Sant and his crew. The music for Endless Idaho was composed by Luke Paquin and by contrast, My Own Private River consists largely of shots of Phoenix ‘s character, Mike, woven into a compelling portrait. Franco describes being mesmerized by Phoenix ‘s “uninhibited acting” in this unreleased footage, and his edit captures the gifted actor at his most emotionally expressive and physically dynamic. The score is by Michael Stipe, who is an art school drop-out.

The films are accompanied by eight works on paper by Van Sant, which translate his acute directorial sensitivity with regard to human nuance and gesture in film into the immediacy of watercolor. With the same subtle powers of observation that distinguish his filmmaking, he has created portraits of young men who recall characters in My Own Private Idaho — defiant, circumspect, and devil-may-care insouciants. Working from photographic images found on the internet, Van Sant has created vivid impressions of his incidental icons, employing brushwork that alternates broad, limpid strokes with an assiduous attention to detail and a varied palette of both washed out tones and dense, electric hues.

Gus Van Sant was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1952. He obtained a BA from the Rhode Island School of Design where he studied painting and cinema. Best known for his work as an award-winning director, he has also exhibited his art at galleries and public institutions including Jamison-Thomas Gallery, Portland, PDX Gallery, Portland, and The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon.

James Franco was born in Palo Alto, California in 1978. He obtained a BA from the University of California, Los Angeles and an MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University. He is currently enrolled in the Digital Media Department at the Rhode Island School of Design. An acclaimed actor, Franco is also actively engaged in performance art, painting, video, and installation art. He has exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Clocktower Gallery, New York, and Peres Projects, Berlin.

Press Enquiries


Contact: Dan Tanzilli

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T. +212.627.1455 ext. 226


For all other information please contact the gallery at losangeles@gagosian.com or at +310.271.9400.