The documentary consisted of a montage of scenes from River's last day, re-enacted by actors,
intertwined with interviews from real people who had known him.
I was surprised that they had so many people who knew him actually
talking in the doc. Until lately, his surroundings shied away from any question about
- George Sluizer, the director of "Dark Blood", the movie that he was shooting when he
died and that never got finished.
- The photography director on the same film - who told again the "incident" that the
camera kept rolling after River's ultimate scene while the lights were off, so two days
after his death while watching the rushes, they saw him only lit by the candles like in
a church, standing there for a few seconds. And were quite spooked by it.
- William Richert, director of "A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon", who also become a
- Matt Ebert, labelled as "a close friend" (...), with whom he
did research on street male prostitutes for "Idaho". Apparently, he gave for the
documentary some videos he'd recorded of the time, and boy was that creepy...
- Dirk Drake, former tutor from his arrival in Gainesville at 17.
- Dickie Rude, who I had never heard of until that, but they say his wife was River's
personal assistant at the time, and that they attended the "welcome party" at the Nikko hotel
with him, Rain, Joaquin and Samantha. They also say in the doc that one of those three called the
couple when River collapsed on the pavement of the Viper Room.
- And the detective who worked on the case and one of the medics who tried to resurrect
him and drove him to hospital.
The re-enactment of scenes with actors was... odd, and added to the fabricated factor.
But in a way it helped keeping the distanciation that "this is infotainment, it's
Hollywood, we're just here to tell a juicy tale with drama effects, don't take it too
Especially as the actor playing River wears the hippie blonde-ish long-hair that River is
often associated with, especially for his "wild days".
As I remembered, at this time River's hair was cut very short and dyed in black or
dark brown for the movie Dark Blood. 5 min before the end of the documentary, I had
confirmation of it when they showed a picture of River with George Sluizer on set.
Some might consider it a detail. I think it says something about the level
of accuracy you can expect from the rest of the documentary. In a balance between
researched facts and dramatic effects, the latter seems to have won.
On the other hand, they also had a lot of real videos, some previously unseen :
They also seem to have picked only the worst pictures of him for still shots. The ones
on which he looked stoned or ill, or early ones where he smiled on cue. To support the
claims of "intensity" that made his acting so noticeable, it was not
very convicing. Did Nancy Ellison (who made his most beautiful portraits) refuse to let
them use her photos?
- some filmed on the sets of "Running on Empty" and "Jimmy Reardon".
- some filmed during some research done for "My Own Private Idaho" and on set.
- a video from an Aleka's Attic gig (I know there is one doing the rounds but I can't
recall if it's the same).
- Rehashed snippets from Oscar night etc.
- And near the end, one of him with his dogs, pretty sweet, from a PETA ad.
They threw in a theory (supported by the detective) about what happened that night.
River had been "clean" for two months while shooting "Dark Blood", except the last day
from George Sluizer's comment on his comatose behavior on set then. All of that has been
reported before in other places.
He also stayed clean all night long because he was supposed to jam with Flea on the VR
But (according to them) he threw all caution through the window after Flea told him
that he couldn't actually play (too many musicians that night). And had a speedball to
drown his frustration / disappointment.
The coroner reported that he had 8x the dose of cocaine considered as lethal in his
blood, so for him "Either he didn't know it was pure and he ingested the same amount he
was used to, or he took way too much of it". Thank you for pointing the obvious. All
these years at the medecine university have paid off...
Matt Ebert's theory (not contradicting this one) is that since River had been clean for
a few months, his tolerance level had been "reset" to nearly nothing. While someone who
takes drugs every day gets a built-in tolerance that keeps increasing.
They showed a the video taken at Gus Van Sant's house while shooting "Idaho",
of Flea and River jamming together, Flea demonstrating some riffs, River trying
to play along.
I will forgive a tiny bit to Ebert for the grossness of sharing personal documents
like his videos of River, because I had never really seen River
playing guitar, so that one was cool.
On the down side, they ran the complete call of Joaquin to the 911.
Half of the documentaries done on River include this recording.
Which may be one reason why there aren't more close friends of River contributing to them. I won't blame them for it.
In conclusion, it's an odd piece, worth watching for the previously unseen material,
but unsettling in places, and to take with a grain of salt. Or a whole saltcellar.