News & Notes: ArtsWatch goes so Hollywood

Reese Witherspoon hits the trail in "Wild," a new take on "My Own Private Idaho"

Sometimes ArtsWatch just has to go Hollywood, because Hollywood just seeks us out.

By this time, we’re all caught up on Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild,” right? Her account of her conquest of herself as she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail was a major best-seller (more than 1 MILLION sold), and the film rights were secured by Reese Witherspoon, who not only bought them, but is filming the movie right now in Southern Oregon, playing Strayed herself.

Well, we have a photo of Witherspoon on the trail, which she posted on her Twitter account (@RWitherspoon).

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Crest Trail.

And you know, it’s pretty convincing!

At the same time, the New York Times published a big story about women who have been inspired by Strayed…to hike the trail themselves. One of the observers in the piece even called it the Wild Effect. It’s possible we are only at the beginning of the WILD PHENOMENA.

“One of these is Linda Blaney, 53, a self-described “very burned out” blackjack dealer at the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore resort. She picked up “Wild” and felt an almost immediate connection to the author.

“She had relationship issues, and I was in the same boat,” Ms. Blaney said in a recent phone interview. “I couldn’t stay married, have been married and divorced three times. And she talks about her mother … and we have similarities in that area.”

Last spring, after months of preparation, she took time off from work to tackle the trail’s southernmost stretch, solo.

“I needed to find something in me,” Ms. Blaney said of her three-week trek. “I just started right at the Mexican border, at Campo. And I walked 266 miles. I won’t lie: I wanted to walk 274. But my blisters at the end were horrible.”

Hey, just like Strayed’s were! Not to mention those toenails (yuck!). Reese is going a different route:

Reese Witherspoon receives her fake feet in "Wild."

Reese Witherspoon receives her fake feet in “Wild.”

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Keanu Reaves and River Phoenix in "My Own Private Idaho."

Keanu Reaves and River Phoenix in “My Own Private Idaho.”

Gavin Edwards has written a book about River Phoenix, “Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind,” and Grantland has published an excerpt that has immediate local interest.

It’s a section about the filming of Gus Van Sant’s “My Own Private Idaho,” mostly in Portland in 1991, when Portland was considerably grunge-ier that Seattle. The film that was Phoenix’s most iconic in retrospect (though he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for “Running on Empty). In “My Own Private Idaho,” Phoenix played the narcoleptic, drug-addled, street hustler Mike Waters. And according to Edwards’ book, he sank deeply into the role, pushing himself to exhaustion and experimenting with gay sex and drugs. The connection between the drug use and the film has been a point of some contention since Phoenix’s death in 1993 at 23. (He had high concentrations of heroin and cocaine in his blood, according to toxicology reports at the time.) No one from the film has talked about drug use on the set much. Here’s how Edwards writes about it:

“To immerse himself further in the role, River started experimenting with hard drugs. He was friendly with Matt Ebert, a former street kid who acted as a production assistant on both Dogfight and My Own Private Idaho. Before they did heroin together for the first time, River assured Ebert that he had done it before. “I remember thinking, ‘He’s lying,'” Ebert said. According to Ebert, there was “rampant heroin use” going on among the cast and crew of Idaho. “He would come up to visit me, and we would do drugs together,” Ebert said of River. “Let me tell you, it did not take him long to go from, you know, a casual user to having an intense drug problem.””

Van Sant converted the experience into a strange novel, “Pink,” telling former Oregonian film critic Tim Appelo that Phoenix’s death was an “accident.” But then continued; “And then you have to come back to, well, are accidents really accidents, which maybe they aren’t. I mean, I’m not sure how much inevitability there is to certain events.”

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In the Age of the Internet, maybe we should be teaching our children in completely different way, not by substituting an online teacher for a real one, but by giving students the tools to figure out things for themselves.

That’s the lesson of this Wired story that has stuck with me since I read it a few days ago.

“Juárez Correa felt a chill. He’d never encountered a student with so much innate ability. He squatted next to her and asked why she hadn’t expressed much interest in math in the past, since she was clearly good at it.

“Because no one made it this interesting,” she said.”

The arts are perfect for this sort of project-based teaching approach.

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