Friday, March 10, 2017

River Phoenix Interview 1988 (age 17)

After catching the pseudo-deep (but acclaimed at the time) "Running on Empty" (1988) a few weeks ago on late-night TCM, I hated the movie's smarmy fakeness ("we radicals may have maimed someone and we may uproot our kids every 6 months, but aren't we warm and friendly on birthdays") but was struck by Phoenix's performance. 

Phoenix died, age 23, at Hollywood's Viper Room on Halloween in 1993 an hour after a "friend" (allegedly John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) gave him a bad speedball in the club's bathroom. No moral to that story, right? Phoenix was doing drugs. Accidents happen. (Though I believe in accountability, whether in the mainstream or in the underground: Frusciante and/or his dealer should not have been prosecuted by The Law, but they should have been taken out by their own culture. But... said "culture" was so disgustingly passive and "nonjudgmental.")

The movie I remembered most of River Phoenix's was "Dogfight" (1991) with Lili Taylor, which I paid to see at the theater. "My Own Private Idaho" (1991) seems to have made the biggest impression in the alternative world. (I saw it at the theater when it came out, but it didn't resonate personally at all.) "Stand By Me" (1986), of course, made the biggest impression on mainstream culture; I also saw this at the theater but, again, thought the over-fishing for emotion was smarmy.

After seeing "Running on Empty" and wondering why I was so struck by Phoenix's performance, I bought a used bio online: "In Search of River Phoenix" (2004) by Barry Lawrence. One thing he pointed out, which I'd been aware of via brief Internet searches, was the fact that Phoenix's parents had been involved in "The Family of God" when he was growing up; the group was a cult espousing sexual relations not only between children, but between children and adults. River Phoenix later said that he'd had sex from the ages of 4 through 10, then deliberately decided to refrain from sex until he was 14 (when he sought his parents' permission before having sex with an 18-year-old girl).

In the below 1988 video, Phoenix (at 17) is asked by the interviewer about his relations with his parents. RE their dynamic he says: "We replace the guilt that most give each other when they're upset with real, honest feelings."

I wonder: WAS River Phoenix actually able to talk to his parents about his anger and guilt at the life that they'd brought him up in? WAS he able to express "real, honest feelings" or did he instead do drugs? (An addendum: His able-bodied parents had a hard time finding work in real life. Once River Phoenix got work in movies, he was the primary bread-winner for the whole family. His parents claimed that once he earned enough to free the family from society, that was when they'd all withdraw to live a life among nature, and when River wouldn't have to work any more. Scumbags.)

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