Monday, August 07, 2006

Opening Words For an Araki Blogathon

Before writing about The Living End, which I am using as the starting off point for my exploration of the cinema of Gregg Araki (I'm thinking about wrapping it all up with his as-of-yet-unreleased Three Bewildered People in the Night which technically precedes The Living End, time wise), I figured I should begin with some starting comments. Araki, to me, is one of the most misunderstood filmmakers of the Nineties. His films have been met with disdain, revolt, disregard and animosity. Often dealing with rebelliously idiotic teenagers, his films are typically a mixture of sympathy and parody - believing in something while acknowledging its ridiculousness. This paradox is something widely misconstrued as a fashionable ambivalence, taking the absurd parts literally, or merely making a case of the films' decorative facade. What lies within this colorful body of work, however, is a wonderfully critical and honest portrayal of a disenfranchised culture of youths, coming to adulthood in a time of commercialism, AIDS, sexual promiscuity, media, mix tapes, post-punk idealism, gratuitous TV violence, apathy, freeways, CDs, cheap smokes, pay phones, 7/11s, antiseptic pornography, grunge... you get the idea. Like a collage artist, or perhaps social documentarian, Araki's films incorporate all of these referents in a dizzying, attention deficit world of careless depravity. It is initially, like his obvious idols, exacted in a neo-realist fashion - at least as far as neo-realism pertains to the MTV generation. Though, as his films developed, their linkage to Goddard and Truffaut became a tad more despondent, their adoption of a more pop culture aesthetic does not discredit them. Far from it, as the primary motive is the representation of a generation, the farther the protagnists grow from that of Araki's, the faster and more confused they become. Or, in a word, doomed.

I first encountered Gregg Araki through The Doom Generation. (And here I will display my absolute youthfulness) I was having a slumber party and it seemed an apt film to rent, given the yellow stickie tag affixed by the rental store, which read, "You must be 18 years or older to rent this movie!" I was but a wee middle schooler who found validation in Nine Inch Nails. I think I can honestly say I had no idea what to make of the movie upon my first viewing. Fucked up on something or other (or at least pretending to be, I don't really recall), I believe I thought it dreadful - what with the stilted acting and plodding plotline. It was too early on for irony to take full effect. And so, without a grain of salt, I took the film as true declaration. Oh dear. Again, with the home video release of Nowhere, all earnestness in tact, I sat in abject horror as the proceedings of the would-be misanthropic film played out before my insolent and rebellious eyes. Nowhere, perhaps better than The Doom Generation was part of my generation. To watch them kill themselves for crazy televangelists and get abducted by a man in a space alien suit was somewhat catastrophic without a parodic context established. The Living End and Totally F***ed Up followed suit. I glowed with anticipation when Splendor was to open. It was to be my first theatrical experience with a Gregg Araki film. I sat in the frigid A.C. resenting every misdirected moment of it. And then came the dry spell. In the five years between Splendor and last year's Mysterious Skin, with a more matured sense of cinema, I reassessed those films which, to me had embodied generational Fuck You's to the higher powers that be.

To my surprise I found dynamic and layered comedies, parodic tragedies, cynical theories on cinema and culture. The fuck you's that I thought to be directed at "the man" (whomever that may be?) were instead directed towards capitalism, conservativism and inward, as a malevolently laced introspection. I guess those are good opening words for this little blogging crusade. In closing, though I have begun with rather personal annecdotes about my experiences with Araki's cinema, and though I know that one can never truly divorce themselves from their personal affectations, this week will not be a fanatic rant but rather a critical investigation (as unbiased as is humanly possible) of the works of Gregg Araki as it would seem that now is a good time to look back at a surprisingly diverse and intensive body of works. Perhaps this could elicit others to join me. Because, like or not, most people my age have seen a film by Gregg Araki, however irresponsible or hetero it was.


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