The Same River Twice is not
the film that I'd like it to be, nor, I think, the film that it could
have or should have been. The premise is excellent, without a doubt.
In 1978, an aspiring filmmaker named Rob Moss went on a month-long
river trip with a group of friends, all of them full of youthful
enthusiasm and a willingness to defy the norms of society (for
instance, they spend most of the time in the nude). Twenty years
later, Moss revisited the lives and homes of his friends, revealing
just how radically they had changed, and how much they had accepted
the default "middle-class lifestyle."
The possibilities inherent in that
comparison are abundant. How did they change so much? Did they intend
for things to turn out as they did? Do they have regrets about the
choices they made? Do they still have the same ideals as their
live-in-the-moment past selves, or did their desires and vision of
the world change as the years passed? Could the experience be
recaptured, or experienced again by a new set of young adults, or has
the moment for that kind of counter-culture experience truly passed?
They're intriguing questions, to be
sure. Unfortunately, The Same River Twice doesn't make any
effort to bring up any interesting questions, much less look for
interesting answers. The film is made up of cuts between the footage
of the original river trip, showing the participants discussing their
plans, riding the rapids, climbing rocks, and just in general hanging
out, and footage of the present-day people in their homes, playing
with their children, talking, and looking at the original tape.
There's no overall narration giving Moss' thoughts on the subject,
but neither is there much insight from the interview subjects. A few
of them offer some superficial comments on the differences between
then and now, but there's nothing that the viewer couldn't put
together independently. Moss clearly didn't spend any time drawing
out his friends into any more thoughtful responses.
What it all may come down to is
whether or not you're an enthusiast of "fly on the wall"
documentaries, in which the filmmaker simply wanders around with a
camera capturing (presumably) interesting material and lets the
audience make of it what they will. I don't care for this style, as
I think it's a bit of a cop-out, allowing the filmmaker to take an
easy "out" from discovering meaning, connections, or
insights in the material. The Same River Twice may in fact
speak profoundly to some viewers, if it happens to hit the right
notes or call up the right associations. But if that happens, it's
largely fortuitous; the film certainly doesn't invite us to go any
deeper into the material.
The one interesting observation that
I took away from the film's 1978 footage was that nudity really is
only dramatic or shocking when it's treated that way. The first time
we see the various participants in the
river trip standing around their camp stark naked, nonchalantly
chatting about their plans for the afternoon, it's admittedly a bit
striking. But they're clearly not paying any attention to it, and
soon enough it's easy to say "What's the big deal?" It's a
perspective that I wish more people could grasp, so that the sight of
a single breast wouldn't be national news or sufficient cause to rate
a movie R. This train of thought isn't really all that relevant to
where The Same River Twice appears to be headed, but it's no
big surprise that if a film doesn't provide a direction for viewers,
they'll probably head off on a tangent (or turn off the program
The Same River Twice appears
in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The home-video footage from
1978 is, of course, rather worn and grainy, as we'd expect it to be.
The 1998 footage is reasonably clear and bright, with decent-looking
colors. It's watchable.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is
adequate, with the participants' voices generally coming across in a
clear and natural-sounding manner. Parts of it have a flatter or more
muffled quality, but overall it's acceptable.
Several interesting-looking extras
are included, but unfortunately they don't amount to much. The audio
commentary track by director Rob Moss is a bit of a disappointment;
there's lots of empty air time, and the
comments he does make don't offer all that much insight into the
An 18-minute question-and-answer
session with Moss has more substance to it. Text biographies of the
filmmaker and crew are included, as well as a trailer for the film.
If the topic sounds fascinating to
you, it might be worth checking out The Same River Twice as a
rental, but overall I found it a disappointing handling of what
sounds like a very interesting idea. Rent it.