Thought Catalog

The Work of Gregg Araki: Teenagers, Aliens and Shoegaze

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If you aren’t gay, a film buff or really into tracking the career of Rose McGowan, chances are you’ve never heard of film director Gregg Araki. In certain circles though, he’s like a God. He’s the man responsible for the 90s cult classics The Doom Generation, Nowhere, and Totally Fucked Up, which together created the Teen Apocalypse Trilogy—a trifecta of teen alienation, hazy sexuality and aggression. Araki portrayed youth in a bleak, but often comical way. In his world, hallucinations were normal, boys kissing boys was no big deal and parents were busy not being parents. To the casual reader, it might seem like I’m describing some lame Less Than Zero rip-off, but Araki’s films couldn’t have been further from than that. Unlike Ellis, Araki was in on his own joke. His work always blurs reality and fantasy with a knowing wink. Check out this hilarious clip from Nowhere for reference.

As he was coming out of the 90s, Araki started to shy away from the avant-garde and began to make features that reflected a growing maturity and focus. His next films, Splendor and Mysterious Skin, may’ve been different in tone, but they both contained a sense of realism that had yet to be seen from the director. Splendor was like a screwball comedy with an Araki twist and Mysterious Skin is perhaps his most well-known and richly complex film to date. It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a molestation survivor/ gay teen hustler who comes to grips with his traumatic past with the help from another molestation victim. Mysterious Skin served as a major turning point because not only did it  give Gordon-Levitt major credibility as an actor, but it also put Araki on the edges of the mainstream map. And even though it revisited some typical Araki topics—homosexuality, youth, meaningless sex—it did so with a newfound sense of subtlety. He even replaced his typical punk soundtrack with a dreamy shoegaze score to complement the quiet melancholy tone. In the end, it showed us what a bizarro quirky director could make while exercising a little restraint.

Kaboom—his latest film, which opened this past Friday—heralds a return to his theme of teen apocalyptic nightmares. It’s about an 18-year old bisexual college freshman named Smith (Thomas Dekker) who starts experiencing end of the world hallucinations while nursing a crush on his hot surfer roommate and sleeping with a British girl named London (Juno Temple). There’s plenty of gratuitous male nudity, drug use and forays into fantasy to satisfy any old school Araki fan, but it is also perhaps the most modern and funniest movie he’s ever made. The grungey 90s that hung over his films like a dark cloud is replaced by Lady Gaga gay jokes, texting and computers. With Kaboom, Araki has taken his “then” into the “now” seamlessly.

It’s unclear whether or not Gregg Araki will ever become a household name, but as long as he continues to make subversive films about uncomfortable topics, I’m sure his status as a cult director won’t ever be challenged. And thank God for that because the last thing we need is another director who makes films featuring dogs, misogyny masquerading as humor, or vampires. TC mark

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    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1415031788 Sharif Youssef

      Mysterious Skin was completely AWFUL. Araki jumped the shark with that one. I love how you equate it with a growing sense of maturity. I equate it with the end of his sense of wimsy and the death of queer cinema.

      • Gucci Mane

        If he remained making the same films as Nowhere and The Doom Generation he would have remained as a joke. Mysterious Skin answered the questions we were all asking, is this an accident? Does this guy know what he's doing? Can he make a film without cult, novelty and gimmick?

        I loved Mysterious Skin, however even if you do not you SHOULD recognise its importance in the directors catalogue. It cemented him as a director to be studied, not watched within subculture cliques.

        • Gucci Mane

          ignore errors, have been drinking

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1415031788 Sharif Youssef

          Oh, he made a serious film about SERIOUS BUSINESS so that he could be taken seriously? Was MS, like, his Oscar-worthy holocaust masterpiece film? Anyway, isn't Kaboom attempting to be Nowhere? He lost it. He jumped the shark. He pandered to the people who wanted to see the dark side of sex positivity and he lost his knack.

        • No

          “He pandered to the people who wanted to see the dark side of sex positivity”

          If you think child molestation has anything to do with sex positivity, it's no wonder you didn't get Mysterious Skin.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1415031788 Sharif Youssef

          Yeah, I don't get molestation. It's supposed to be bad, right?

    • http://newhandsweepstakes.com/2011/01/20/american-idol-is-awesome/ Brian McElmurry

      Cool articles! I think you forgot to mention the stoners who would be aware of his “Teen Apocalypse Trilogy.” I remember seeing them on cable and liking them. I couldn't recall his name though. Somewhat Larry Clark-ish, but more surreal.

    • jules

      yesssss. kaboom is so great. saw him speak at ifc over the weekend after the film, he's fantastic.

    • http://twitter.com/KelleyHoffman Kelley Hoffman

      gregg araki = totes crucial to me and my high school bisexual boyfriend

    • ?!

      “He even replaced his typical punk soundtrack with a dreamy shoegaze score to complement the quiet melancholy tone.”

      The Teenage Apocalypse movies are filled with shoegaze tracks–Ride, Slowdive, Jesus and Mary Chain, early Red House Painters, Pale Saints, Lush, Verve. All in those movies.

    • bringTheFIRExx

      Mysterious Skin isn't about incest? That was his baseball coach….

      • Ryan O'Connell

        OMG YR RIGHT SOWWWY. Guess I have incest on the brain…

    • pfft

      his films suck, and so do you.

      • fuckbrooklyn

        SHUT THE FUCK UP, KABOO! IS IRREPROACHABLE

    • http://profiles.google.com/theendisoverdue Cullen Bailey

      I think anyone who likes Gregg afaggy should have their intestines ripped out just like in his gay ass movies fuck queer filmmaking

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