So for those of you who may have heard, I’m in a bit of a mess today. But thankfully I’m not dead. This means that i managed to complete that stupid marathon yesterday in (almost) one piece. But i have paid a heavy price for such folly. Knees are shot. muscles torn, and a general feeling of “is that it?” has descended upon me. But rest assured i WILL NOT be doing that shit again.
So thinking about today’s post, i was reminded a few days ago of a couple of friends who had made some positive comments about the films from the director that we’re going to highlight this week. And the general response was that his movies were unflinching and raw, but still contained a kindness that didn’t resort to mawkish sentimentality. So who is the subject of tonight’s SUNDAY CULT FILM CORNER?? well ladies and gentlemen, i give you a double bill from acclaimed direct GREGG ARAKI.
Seen as a leading light of the New Queer Cinema movement of the 1980s and ’90s, Araki’s films explore themes of confused sexuality, disaffected youth and obsessive love against a background of hallucinatory imagery, extreme violence and disaffected nihilism. His films can be sometimes uncomfortable viewing (his films have scenes of murder, rape, and overt drug use, while his subject matters include child abuse, being with HIV, and the end of the world), and yet despite having a punk rock sneer in his aesthetic, there’s an undercurrent of empathy and kindness in his work that’s more prevalent in his later movies. A true indie stalwart, his best work is often a mix of low-budget art house and sleazy B-movie. Although best known for THE DOOM GENERATION (his ’90s road movie paean to Nine Inch Nails), tonight I’m going to highlight two films from the opposite ends of his film making.
First up in tonight’s double bill is NOWHERE. Directed in 1997, it was the last in his ”Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy” (of which TOTALLY FUCKED UP and THE DOOM GENERATION were the first two of the series). Starring Araki regular James Duval (as well as an ensemble cast that includes Heather Graham, Ryan Phillippe, Mena Suvari, Kathleen Robertson, and Denise Richards), it tells the of the trials and tribulations of a promiscuous teen couple and their circle of friends and acquaintances. Dark tries to deal with his emotional issues with his girlfriend, while also having feelings for a gay classmate, while his girlfriend Mel also has a lesbian lover. The film segues into the lives of the couple and their friends as the film’s world descends into a drug and sex fuelled surrealist nightmare of epic proportions.
NOWHERE is a supremely trashy movie in the best possible way. All of the characters display the highest level of “whatever” style cool detachment and disaffection, of playing at being older and more cynical than their teen years, yet all the while trying to hide and escape from their own fears and anxieties. Indeed, the film seems to have a real sense of emptiness that mirrors the lives of the protagonists and their pop cultures that they ape. ‘Nowhere’ is also a total fucked up head trip of a film. Playing more like a surreal dream than a movie with “plot” and “narrative”, the visuals and colour-scope of the film literally bleed into your visual cortex. It’s definitely the perfect film to watch while zonked out of your skull, while going “whatever”.
The second film in our double film is MYSTERIOUS SKIN. Directed in 2004, it stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet as two teenagers who were both sexually abused by their baseball coach while they were younger. The film goes on to explore the effect the abuse has on their lives. One of the teenagers (played by Gordon-Levitt) remembers the whole incident as a rite of passage and becomes a sexually compulsive male prostitute who moves to New York to seek his fortune. Meanwhile the other teen (played by Corbet), represses the whole incident, building up a tale that he is a victim of alien abduction to explain his constant nosebleeds and bed wetting. While searching for an explanation for his unexplained dreams, he comes to believe that another boy may have been abducted with him and he goes in search for Gordon-Levitt, bringing the two together in a crushing realisation and uncovering of painful truths.
While MYSTERIOUS SKIN is considered as Araki’s most “conventional” film in his canon, it’s still a harrowing and difficult film to watch, mostly for its frank (yet not graphic) depiction of child abuse and scenes of sex, violence and rape. Despite the hard watch on-screen, there’s a real tenderness shown by Akari towards the two main characters. Both have clearly been damaged by the incident and are trying to deal with their traumas the best way they can. The highly emotional and heart-rending climax to the film just leaves you wiped and wanting to sit in a darkened room for half and hour. This is down mostly to the quality of acting across the board, especially that of Gordon-Levitt as the cocky nihilistic young man who is described by his friend Wendy as ”a bottomless black hole.”
As an extra aside, one of the main features of both films (and of Araki’s films in general) is the use of music in the soundtrack to his movies. His love and use of shoegaze music in particular provide an element of atmosphere and dreamlike dislocation to his movies. Mysterious skin for example contains the likes of Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, and Sigur Rós in the soundtrack, adding an extra emotional layer, especially in the closing credits. I heartily recommend getting the soundtrack to the movie if you’ve never heard of these bands before.
And that’s it for this week. Now if you’ll excuse me. I’m off to sit in my dark room for a while and moan the pain away…