River Phoenix in Dark Blood (1993). Image Source: Box Office Benful.
There is something odd about the fact that River Phoenix returns to us now, waiting for the end of the world. This post on Samantha Mathis at Are You There God? It's Me, Generation X, reminded me that the last film starring River Phoenix, Dark Blood (1993), has been finished by its director, George Sluizer. The film was incomplete when Phoenix died on Hallowe'en 1993, outside Johnny Depp's Hollywood club, The Viper Room (see my post on Phoenix's death here). Sluizer is seeking wide release of the film after a few private screenings of his director's cut a couple of weeks ago. He filled in missing parts of the film with voiceovers. The Guardian reviews the 'finished' piece as "fragmentary, uneven and odd" but still compelling:
Phoenix's family has reportedly refused to support the film.Imagine Polanski's Knife in the Water relocated to the Utah Desert and you'll come close to its essence. Jonathan Pryce and Judy Davis play Buffy and Harry, a Hollywood couple who have driven out into the desert (filmed with a grandeur reminiscent of old John Ford films by Ed Lachman) for a dirty weekend. Their Bentley breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Just before they die of thirst, they're rescued by Boy (River Phoenix), a loner who behaves like Huck Finn as played by Klaus Kinski. He is still in mourning for the death of his wife, whose cancer was caused by radiation poisoning from nuclear testing.
Boy is convinced the world is about to end. He also has a strong attraction toward Buffy and wants her to join him in his underground bunker. Unlike the pampered Hollywood star played by Pryce, he is in touch with nature. Living off rats and snakes, communing with his mongrel dog, he has a primal quality. Phoenix brings a wild physical energy to his role – in truth, his character verges on the preposterous but Phoenix tackles it with such commitment that he just about keeps absurdity at bay.
Pryce and Judy Davis are likewise impressive as a bickering couple utterly bewildered by the idiot savant who has kidnapped them. Davis, who reportedly didn't get on with Sluizer at all, combines prickliness, flirtatiousness and vulnerability to good effect. She shows her character's desire for Boy as well as her growing disgust at his behaviour. Pryce is the Brit abroad, growing ever more pompous as Boy keeps him in captivity and eventually discovering a capacity for violence.
Dark Blood (1993, released 2012), trailer. Video Source: Youtube.
This film, set in a nuclear test zone, waits for death - after death. It is hard to imagine what sort of emotional turmoil and pitfalls people experience in such a state, but Phoenix, with his trademark sensitivity, must surely have conveyed them. If our own experience is anything to go by, expecting the end of the world on time delay involves denial, confusion, and an inability to read reality as it really is. I am curious to see whether Phoenix made his reclusive character here confuse reality with unreality.
A few Dark Blood clips suggest that Phoenix was developing a more mature, harsher quality to his on-screen personas. If he had lived, would he have remained the angst-ridden Golden Boy poster child for Generation X?
It is hard to explain how Phoenix impressed his contemporaries. There were worlds of difference between the private person who was an actor, and the celebrity who strangely nailed a generation's diverse and scattered initial self-reflections. Phoenix brought the two worlds together in haunted introspection that had (and still have) a glowing glamour on screen. You can still see Phoenix's impact on his contemporaries: Rufus Wainwright does a tribute song to Phoenix here; Bill Walko does a Titans-Stand By Me mash-up there.
See all my posts on Horror themes.
See all my posts on Ghosts.
See all my posts on Nuclear themes.
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