Thursday, January 12, 2006

"There Just Is No Place For Us In This World"

The first line of Gregg Araki's The Doom Generation is "fuck." Our more than trenchant teenage protagonist has lost her skull lighter. This is only, of course, after the soundtrack has informed us that "God is dead and no one cares." "Welcome to Hell" reads a sign backed with actual flames inside (what we can only surmise from the music) a hardcore club. And this is the first ten seconds. That The Doom Generation never relents from this onslaught of brash imagery is its greatest strength, yet this trait would be nothing without Araki's signature mix of appreciation and parody. It is not entirely without adoration (or sensitivity) that Araki alienates his teens.

As the second part of "Teen Apocalypse Trilogy," The Doom Generation is perhaps his most commercial venture - relying on its brazen packaging to ensure video store distribution (which is how I first encountered it in the mid nineties with a little yellow stickie on the box that said "You Must Be Eighteen Years or Older to Rent this Film!" I was not, so of course I did, frequently). It only helped that this was toted as "A Heterosexual Film by Gregg Araki." Araki's prior ventures were the forlorn homo pics The Living End ("an Irresponsible Movie by Gregg Araki") and Totally F***ed Up ("Another Homo Movie by Gregg Araki"). However, apart from its claims, The Doom Generation is anything but heterosexual. Araki uses the premise of a heterosexual film to allow a more surpressed element of desire to invade the film. The all consuming quest for love that generally rules Araki's (more romantic) teenage characters is further complicated by the fact that, though the greatest chemistry and the greatest potential for honesty arises from the unrequited attraction between the two male leads, their previously stated heterosexuality prevents them from acting upon their obvious impulses. These impulses seem an impossibility as the characters (or perhaps just the James Duvall character) are either too fucked up or stupid to realize its presence. Their numbness or complacency keeps them from actualizing that which they most desire.

To call the film misunderstood is an understatement. It seems that because the film's protagonists appear numb and complacent, viewers perpetually read the film as such, when it functions more as a document of generational temperament. Araki, ever part of the (counter?)culture he represents, recognizes its faults, but does not preach against it so harshly as to completely alienate his figures. (This is an approach that probably best worked in his as-of-yet unreleased film Three Bewildered People in the Night which removed violence from the plot to present a more mundane - and more naturalistic - narrative concerning entirely-too-heady artists and the anguish their artistry causes.) To create a more polarized world in which his "doomed" generation exists metaphorically, Araki relies on midnight movie style acting, or one might even say, the melodramatic acting style of the 50's women's films. His teenagers are not supposed to represent real characters. Even their names are generalized: Xavier Red, Jordan White, Amy Blue. By using cardboard actors (INTENTIONALLY! It always shocks me when people respond to the bad acting as though it was not intentional. One must wonder if they have never seen camp or midnight movie before. The bad acting in Araki's films is usually exceptionally good.) Araki's figures embody a generalized role within the culture he represents. When Amy starts the film off with her, "fuck," it is a delivered not from a girl, but an entire generation. It is the anthem of Araki's teenagers - from soundtrack to dialogue, this ideology is epitomized. In an act to better drive this point home, Araki uses completely recognizable personalities (either culturally specific to that moment in time or to the childhood of the teenagers) to man the convenience stores (Perry Farrell, Heidi Fleiss, Margaret Cho), fast food chains and bars(Matthew from Herbie the Love Bug, Darcy from Married... With Children). Even the assailants are played by two huge indie deities of the nineties Parker Posey and Skinny Puppy

It almost goes without saying that Araki's world is hugely regional, as well. When discussing their parents, Jordan claims, "My parents live in Encino." Any further description in Araki's world is superfluous. Encinco represents a lifestyle and a whole world of codes divorced completely from the sensibility of Araki's teenagers (when in fact, most of the characters would probably come from such places). The lost souls for the film wander throughout Lost Angeles trying to escape what made them. Yet, outside of this context, they would lose their validity. Every set stylization (as they really are quite brilliant here) lends to this interpretation. Every fast food shop (Carnoburger) and Quickimart are so hopelessly Los Angeles - something Araki captures to a tee. The Doom Generation only gets better with age. It is just as good as when I saw it when I was young. Better, in fact, because the irony that many people often mistake for contempt in Araki's films is so honest and endearing. For people who are becoming familiar to Araki's cannon through Mysterious Skin this is a harsh and frightening world, but it is a far more consistent one than is present in Skin and, in my mind, a far better movie.


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