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Other documentary review : The Last 24

Too Young to Die : the shooting star (Broadview TV documentary)

"Too Young to Die" is a documentary series produced by German company Broadview TV, focusing celebrities who died in their prime. After an acclaimed first season covering the lives of Kurt Cobain, Heath Ledger, John Belushi and Sharon Tate, they dedicated an episode to River. Other celebrities featured in Season 2 are Natalie Wood and Wladimir Wyssozki.


This new documentary by German production company Broadview TV attempts to portray River's life rather than focus on his death circumstances.

In chronological order, it alternates interviews from friends and co-workers with voice-over narration of River's life, while filming on location in Gainesville (Florida) where he lived with his family from 1987 when he wasn't shooting films, and Los Angeles (California). Many rare pictures and videos illustrate the story.

As often, the difficulty in making a documentary about River Phoenix lies in finding people to talk about him. His family and most of his friends still refuse to do it - understandably, considering how medias stirred the knife in the wound after his death, and how River was legitimately distrustful of them.

Along with Udo Kier (co-star in My Own Private Idaho) and William Richert, who already contributed to former documentaries, this one invites Mickey Cottrel, actor on My Own Private Idaho, and Barry Lawrence, who wrote a biography about River (and a well know name amongst fans).

William Richert

Dan Mathews, PETA's vice-president. Dan Mathews points out that River Phoenix was one of the first declared vegan celebrity, at a time where most people thought a Vegan was someone from the planet Vega. According to him, many members found out about PETA or were inspired to join the cause or turn vegetarian after River.

The documentary shows parts of River's video commercial for PETA Kid's Campaign, as well as an excerpt from his band's appearance at the Rock Against Fur concert in New York, on February 1989.

Aleka's Attic in 1989 at Rock Against Fur

In addition to depict his cinematographic career, it devotes a lot of time to River's musical aspirations. For the first time, Josh Greenbaum, who was part of Aleka's Attic (River's band) from the start, and Sasa "Hasid Ra" Raphael, who worked with him on what should have been River's first album, "Never Odd or Even", agreed to talk on camera about River.

Josh Greenbaum
Josh Greenbaum
Sasa Raphael
Sasa Raphael
William Richert, his director for "A night in the life of Jimmy Reardon", also talks about the song he wrote for the movie, which Josh Greenbaum describes as "one of River's best songs" and "more commercial than anything else they wrote". Richert also explains how River dragged him along in My Own Private Idaho to play the part of Bob Pidgeon.

The other contributor interviewed is Chris Snyder, River's agent at Iris Burton's talent agency. He hadn't spoken about him for a long time, but after Iris Burton's death in 2008, he published his memoirs of his time as an agent (under the title "Hunting with Barracudas: My Life with the Legendary Iris Burton"). Chris mentions how exigent River was about scripts. He also reveals how Iris Burton rejected Gus Van Sant's script for Idaho twice, and how, after finally viewing the result, she still didn't get what she had seen. None of them could have guessed that this strange cinematographic object would become something of a cult movie.

Chris Snyder
Interestingly enough, the Red Hot Chili Peppers aren't mentioned, even though their song Transcending (dedicated to River in the credits of the album One Hot Minute) can be heard playing in the background a couple of times, and bass player Flea can be seen in an excerpt of My Own Private Idaho.

All in all, this is a dignified documentary, staying away from controversies. Fans will enjoy it, and people who don't know much about River will get a better idea of why he still appeals to young viewers today, and why he stood out at the time. Nobody is mono dimensional, and River certainly wasn't.

Shown in France and Germany on Arte in the Summer of the 90es theme programmation, it highlighted that River was one of the celebrities of that decade to incarnate a change in Hollywood (and western) male standards. More compassionate, involved in the defense of animal rights as well as for human rights, trying to educate people about environmental issues.

Funny set of GIFs on Tumblr where River demonstrates how he manages to not be recognized when he goes out in Gainesville.

You can view or buy the documentary here on Vimeo - VOD (Added October 31, 2014)

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