[FILM] Greg Araki (Filmmaker, Producer, Director)
Gregg Araki (writer/producer/director/editor/ok he`s everything)
Graduate of USC and UCLA.
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Southern California,Araki earned a
B.A. in Film Studies at U.C. Sanata Barbara and n M.F.A. in Film
Production from the University of Southern California.
Araki`s credits include The Doom Generation(1995,Trimark
Pictures),Totally F***ed Up (1994,Strand Releasing),The Living End
(1992,October Films),The Long Weekend (O`Despair),winner of the 1989
LA Film Critics Prize for Best Independent Feature,and Three
Bewildered People in the Night,which won the Bronze Leopard,Young
Jury Cinema Award,and International Critics at Locarno in 1987.
One of the angriest, most unconventional, and relentlessly
intriguing voices in independent cinema, filmmaker Gregg Araki
emerged on the film scene with the subtlety of a gunshot to the head
with The Living End in 1992. His story of two HIV-positive gay
lovers on a highway rampage quickly established him as one of the
key figures in the "New Queer Cinema." The film reached out to many
of society's more alienated members--gay and straight--who related
to its energetic rage and identified with the anger of its principle
Of Asian-American heritage, Araki is a native of Southern
California. After attending film school at the University of
Southern California--where he was particularly influenced by
screwball comedies such as Bringing Up Baby-- he made his
directorial debut in 1987 with Three Bewildered People in the Night.
With a budget of only $5,000 and using a stationary camera, he told
the story of a romance between a video artist, her lover and her
Two years later, Araki made a name for himself on the festival
circuit with Long Weekend (o' Despair). Produced, directed, written,
photographed and edited by Araki (for his own whimsically named
Desperate Pictures Company), this very small-scale Big Chill
derivation involved a group of recent college graduates brooding
over their futures during one woozy, boozy evening. Araki followed
this modest effort with the aforementioned The Living End (1992),
which was shown in competition at Sundance.
Araki's next film, Totally F***ed Up (1993), was one close to his
heart. Filled with rage and decidedly anti-gay cinema sentiments, it
chronicled the messed-up lives of six gay adolescents who have
formed a family unit and are struggling to get along with each other
and with life in the face of various major obstacles.
Araki himself classified it as "A rag-tag story of the fag-and-dyke
teen underground....A kinda cross between avant-garde experimental
cinema and a queer John Hughes flick." Whereas this film was
subversive in its exploration of the youths' depression and negative
attitudes toward homosexuality, Araki's fifth film, The Doom
Generation, was an all-out darkly comic assault on gay and straight
audiences that brimmed with graphic violence, sledgehammer symbolism
and relentless eroticism. While largely trashed by more conservative
critics, the piece won a measure of respect in a number of circles.
Both Totally F***ed Up and The Doom Generation are part of Araki's
so-called "teen apocalypse trilogy;" the final entry, Nowhere
(1997), was described by its director as "A Beverly Hills 90210
episode on acid." Centering on a group of bored, alienated Los
Angeles adolescents who while away a typical day with kinky sex,
drugs, and the requisite wild party, the film combined a distinct
brand of nihilism with a candy-colored cheerfulness. This
cheerfulness was a large feature of Araki's subsequent effort, the
romantic comedy Splendor. The story of a girl (Kathleen Robertson)
who cannot choose between two boys (Johnathon Schaech and Matt
Keeslar) and so decides to live with them both, Splendor was Araki's
homage to his beloved screwball comedies. Hailed as the director's
most optimistic film to date, it had its premiere at the 1999
Sundance Festival. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
Shattered Spirits (1986) (research only) (for television) (1986) (TV
movie with Martin Sheen and Lucas Haas).
Three Bewildered People in the Night (1987) Script, producer,
The Long Weekend (O Despair) (1989) Nicole Dillenberg, Brentton
Vail. (Won an award from the Los Angeles Film Critics for Best
Experimental Film/Video) 87 minutes.
The Living End (1992) (editor, script, cinematographer) Craig
Gilmore, Joanna Went, Nicole Dillenberg, Jon Gerrans, Chris Mabli
(Producer is Gerrans, Marcus Hu, Andrea Speling, Jim Stark. Sound by
Marianne Dissard. Negative Cutter is Karen Kennedy. Props by Joannna
Went. Sound Recordist Jack Kofman also has a small role) Note:
Producers Jon Jostand and Henry S. Rosenthal starred with James
Duval in "Mod Fuck Explosion" (1994).
Totally Fucked Up (1993) (editor, producer, script, cinematography)
Craig Gilmore, Joanna Went, Nicolle Dillenberg, Jon Gerrans, Marcus
Hu, James Duval, Alan Boyce (Produced by Andrea Seprling. Sound by
Marianne Dissard. Lighting Director Pryor Praczukowski has a small
role. Producer Alberto Garcia is also Sound Designer).
The Doom Generation (1995) (editor, producer, script) Joanna Went,
James Duval, Rose McGowan, Jonathan Schaech, Lauren Tewes,
Christopher Knight (Special Effects by Chris Mabli, Produced by
Andrea Sperling, Jim Stark, Nicole Arbib, Pascal Caucheteux,
Gregoire Sordat, Shelley Surpin. Assistant Editor is Karen Kennedy.
Location Manager is Chris Baugh Jennifer Gentile is editor and set
Nowhere (1997) (editor, producer, script) James Duval, Alan Boyce,
Rose McGowan, Lauren Tewes, Christopher Knight, Nathan Bexton
(Produced by Andrea Sperling, Nicole Arbib, Pascal Caucheteux,
Gregoire Sordat, Shelley Surpin Location Manager is Chris Baugh)
Splendor (1998) (producer, editor, script) Jonathan Schaech, Kelly
MacDonald, Nathan Bexton, Dan Gatto, Mink Stole.
The Living End (1992)
"Guess I need to lay off those Joy Division records for awhile." -
The character of John Upon learning he is HIV-positive in "The
Poetic, fast-paced, new-wave and very 90's, "The Living End" could
quite possibly be the best American film on the subject of AIDS ever
made. The fact that the second title card of the film claims that it
is "an irresponsible movie by gregg araki" (sic) should be summarily
dismissed. The film may set itself up to be quite irresponsible; but
in the end, it proves itself to be no such thing.
The film centers around two fast friends. John (Craig Gilmore) has
just learned he is HIV-positive. He is a gay man of about 28 or so.
And while he would probably like to consider himself hip, he has, in
fact, become mired down in the staid lifestyle of a cinemaphile who
enjoys new wave music and tropical fish. Luke (Mike Dytri), on the
other hand, is young and rebellious. Looking like a male model, he
opens the film by spray painting "Fuck the World" on a cement wall.
(Akari uses graffiti quite successfully throughout the film). Luke's
anger stems from his own status as an HIV- positive male. When the
two meet, the romantic sparks fly and soon Luke takes John on
a "Thelma and Louise"-style, on-the- lamb, "road picture" of a
ride. "We've got nothing to loose," he tells John in discussing
their HIV status. "We're totally free. We can do whatever the fuck
we want to do."
Akari's direction is low-budget yet interesting. He uses a lot of
voice-overs while we sometimes get visuals and sometimes get black
screens. And while his editing is fast- paced and yet fluid, his
framing is always unique. The film is consistently interesting to
watch. While the film is very similar in ways to a Warhol/ Morrissey
film, the presentation also seems to be inspired by Hal Hartley in
it's 90's approach to editing and pacing. Araki credits himself with
the phrase: "written, directed, shot and edited by gregg araki."
(sic) Akari therefore seemingly deserves much credit for the film's
success. His choice in actors is quite worthy too.
Dytri and Gilmore have a few shaky moments, but overall they are
superb. Gilmore seems to be playing himself as John. We know guys
like him and we want to like him. Caught up in a world that has
fucked him over, John stills want to try to live his life. It is
easy to empathize with him. Dytri, in contrast is a romantic
presence but he never lets his beauty carry him as an actor. His
character is angry, irresponsible and not-so-bright. Dytri makes us
love him by charming John (and therefore charming all of us). Even
when he commits acts of murder and mayhem (some of them
unjustified), we still cannot turn our backs on him.
While "The Living End" has a marvellous story, it works best because
it is an allegory. The anger and the hurt that our protagonists feel
propels the story. But the action that they take symbolizes their
feelings about their predicament. Their ire and frustration propels
John to run and Luke to destroy. Their story on the road is an
allegory for the inner feelings of anyone with their problem. And,
much like any human, their anger finally exhausts them. In the end,
the film finds them alone and defeated. Luke throws his gun (i.e.
his anger) to the wind and John embraces him. The final shot shows
them on a beach in longshot. Their anger has dematerialized and they
only have each other to rely on. They may be together, but they are
alone in the world.
"The Living End" is a movie not to be missed. It deals beautifully
and poetically with the angst and confusion that HIV-positive gay
males must surely experience upon learning of their situation. It's
ending is hopeful yet sad. This is a remarkable film with which no
others of the genre can begin to compare.
Notes: The films final title page: "dedicated to craig lee (1954 -
1991) and to the hundreds of thousands who've died and the hundreds
of thousands who will die because of a big white house full of
republican fuckheads" (sic)
Mary Woronov has a small role in the film.
Special Effects\Make Up: C
Final Grade: A+
Totally Fucked Up (1993)
All the shit that comes with being a gay teenager, Gregg Araki puts
in "Totally Fucked Up." Fagbashing, parents, bad relationships,
nihilism, degradation, bad sex, masturbation, AIDS, fatalism,
depression, angst, boredom... you name it, it's here. Well, I take
that back. There is only one thing missing - peer pressure. Everyone
here is pretty much gay and none of their peers ever make it into
the movie. That's okay by me. I don't think I could take that much
added angst here. The characters are nicely drawn gay teens with
nothing but time on their hands. The main one of them, or at least
the one that gets most of our attention, is James Duval as Andy. Not
only is Duval as hot as hell but he plays his gay love scenes with
ease. And Duval, making his first appearance on film, totally
dominates the piece. The most angst-ridden of his friends, Duval's
Andy is a total dream to all of us older gay guys. Of course we like
him, even though he moans a lot.
What happens to him in the film has happened to all of us though and
his eventual fate is all the more troubling because of this. Because
he is so dreamy and because, once you peel away the layers of
blackness, he is so much like us, it hurts us to see his fate all
the more. Andy just wants to meet a nice guy and fall in love. What
gay guy doesn't want that? So when we watch him, we think we are the
perfect guy for him. We think we could make him happy. We think we
could love him. If only somehow we could reach him as easily as
those who hurt him do.
Along for the ride on this homo teen angst-fest are Roko Belic as a
teen who gets kicked out of his house by his homophobic father,
Susan Behshid and Jenee Gill as the lesbian couple (the only happy
people here), Gilbert Luna as Steven, a wannabee filmmaker (the
piece is set in L.A.), Lance May as Derik his lover and Alan Boyce
as Ian, Andy's eventual lover. While the acting may be a little
cumbersome at times, we eventually get to like all of these
characters and want to spend our time with them. We understand their
feelings and thoughts and we fit easily into their world. They
remind me of my friends from when I was 18.
Araki, who has established his style before and after this film,
doesn't do anything differently here. His film is low-budget looking
but still has tremendous style. Using video transfer (for look as
much as budget), Araki also makes this fit the story by making a
character a wannabee filmmaker who shoots vids. And with title
cards, industrial music, T- shirt and billboards and posters with
slogans, and cinema verite camera work, Araki continues to excite us
with his work. This is why he is probably the most important
director of the 90's. He is fearless in his need to bring us his
films and he makes his lack of budget work for him. He continually
bombards us with slogans, expression and visual images that remind
us of our late 20th century existence. Araki knows we understand
these messages; We get it. And in our TV infested pop culture
sensibilities (TV images pop up incessantly), we need to be hit over
the head. Subtlety is not in his vocabulary. The closest Araki might
get is having stock footage of a crashing rocket symbolism the
frustration of safe sex or having his characters party in an
abandoned parking garage.
Araki goes to the limit here in setting up his shots. There is
always something interesting and unique to look at. Araki is not
opposed to putting mannequins heads or a bombardment of bubbles in
the scene to make it seem all the more engaging.
And Araki is not afraid to use color to bring us his message.
Carrying over from the 80's sensibilities, color in Araki's world
represents crass suburbanite capitalism and commercialism, something
he dearly hates. Where others might use black and white to symbolize
a drab existence, Araki uses color for the same effect. Here it
represents the ignorant bliss of the straight world. Locked in this
colorful world of balloons and shopping malls, neon signs and
convenience stores, Araki's characters see through this rainbow-hued
charade and see the world for what it really is. They don't buy into
"Totally Fucked Up" telegraph's it's conclusion to us in no
uncertain terms. We should know what is going to happen. But we
don't see it coming. Like the world around us, bombarded by
commercials and commercialism, we don't see someone's mental
breakdown coming. When it does, it breaks out hearts. We want to
believe it isn't really happening. We want to believe it isn't going
to happen. We hope Araki (and his character) are kidding us. But
they aren't. It's disenheartening.
There will be those who don't like this film, of course, The
characters do gripe a lot and they are full of angst. I find this
enchanting having been one of those teens myself. Others will
condemn it for again portraying gays as victims. Guess what - we
are! In the terms represented here - we are! Gay teen suicide and
gaybashing is as prevalent now as it was when this movie was made as
it was 10 years ago as it was 20 years ago. Maybe it's beginning to
change... Maybe. But those homeless gay teenagers we see every
fucking day don't end up on the street because they've got loving,
accepting homes they don't want to go to.
Until the day it's not needed, "Totally Fucked Up" will be around.
It will still be relevant and it will still be a version of reality
for all to see. I don't think that's gonna change in my lifetime.
Notes: Filmed in L.A.
AKA "Totally F***ed Up." The film has no title included on screen
accept the phrase "More Teen Angst." It also is labeled as "Another
Homo Movie by Gregg Araki"
Pop songs by 16 Volt, Ministry (mentioned), Unrest, Wolfgang Press,
My Life with the Thrill Kill Cult, His Name is Alive, Coil, This
Mortal Coil, Numb, Red House Painters, Ride, Recliner, Babyland,
Pale Saints and Jesus and Mary Chain (mentioned). Also Mentioned are
Joy Division, Cure, Smiths, The Cocteau Twins, Michael Stipe, Bette
Midler, Nine Inch Nails, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner and author Dennis
Cooper. A Front 242 Poster is shown.
After the "Thank You's" in the end credits, there is this
message: "A Big Fucking No Thanks to/ You All Know Who You Are."
Special Effects\Make Up:A+
Final Grade: A+
An essay on post-post-modern loneliness, Gregg Araki's "Nowhere" is
a saddening dirge for the loss of innocence in American life. Sexual
liberation, rampant drug use, fast cars, alcohol, food,
possessions... none of these are able to satisfy the deep craving in
our collective soul. Araki zooms in to a glaring and magnified close-
up of the gaping hole in our psyche and shows us how nothing can
fill this empty cavern. Not sex. Not drugs. Not food nor cars nor
fame nor money...
Araki's protagonist, as is his wont in his so-called "teenage
trilogy," is the magnificent James Duval. As in previous Araki
films, he is bold, daring, and beautiful. We see the sorrow and the
helplessness so often confused with teen angst in Duval from almost
the first frame. Unashamed and unafraid, Duval makes his character,
Dark, a everyman for us. We understand him and empathize with him.
We ARE him.
Araki's world is a world of phony sets and phony characters. Nothing
could be more faux than the TV star played by Jaason Simmons. In a
beautiful moment of blurring the line between reality and
television, Araki has Simmons play a role so close to his true
persona that there is no distinction. Simmons, in effect, plays
himself but his character does things that we can only hope are not
a reflection of reality. Simmons should be congratulated for having
the balls to carry off such a role. As always, Araki peoples his
film with the most interesting and beautiful characters. He
surrounds them with other young stars who represent the vapid
imagining of our pop consciousness. They are "Teen Beat" fold-out
posters come to life, tarted up for our enjoyment. Araki makes Joe
Isuzu and Peter and Cindy Brady our parents, Julie from "The Love
Boat" a TV news anchor and Jack Tripper from "Three's Company" a
televangelist. These constant reminders of our "unreality" make the
happenings in his character's lives all the more surreal. We, like
Araki's characters, cannot tell reality from fiction. In Araki's
world, rock stars throw the best teenage parties and indie film
stars and cyber-models make the most awesome lovers.
Araki finally demonstrates this unreality by having a man in a fake,
giant lizard suit play a supposed alien which represents the coming
of reality. The unreality of alien existence comes full circle to
represent the dissolving of all the fiction happening around us.
Duval's Dark is the only one tuned in, just barely, to reality, so
his character is the only one that can see the lizard. The lizard
takes his teenage crush away and then returns him, or at least a
shell of him, only to remind us that the beauty and the love that we
all long for is simply unobtainable. In Araki's world, there is no
happy ending. The moment when we seem to find true peace is the
moment when reality explodes in our face leaving us blood-soaked,
shell-shocked, and - most horribly - totally and completely alone.
Araki gets a real budget and is actually allowed to film on high
quality film stock, he makes optimal use of this. "Nowhere," in the
tradition of his previous films, is a full tilt assault on our
sensibilities using visuals, slogans, audibles, dialogue, actors and
music to function in coagulated cohesion. His film is seamless.
Araki's film is beautiful to watch thanks to wonderful set design
and the beauty of his male and female leads. The bright colors and
the pop culture icons that appear throughout the film only serve to
enhance the TV fiction theme of reality which Araki so vividly
With "Nowhere," Araki supposedly wraps up his teen trilogy begun
with "Totally Fucked Up" and "The Doom Generation." No other
director in the 90's so graphically and perfectly is able to capture
teen angst and human longing and sorrow on celluloid. Araki's gay
sensibilities lead him perfectly in the direction of visual splendor
and erotic overkill. Araki's films are repugnant and disheartening.
They are also erotic and frightening. It is impossible to watch his
films without a full-on boner and yet, his heartfelt emotions
constantly lead us back to questioning. From the sexual, we find
ourselves in the cerebral. We wonder about our place in this world.
We wonder if all of our pop culture trappings have left us sterile,
isolated and limp. The tragedy of modern existence has never seemed
so obvious, has never felt so sad, has never trouble us so. Araki
opens our eye's to the nightmare that is our world without
platitudes or easy answers. He opens our eyes and then fills them,
as well as our minds, with stunning visuals, and a sober protagonist
that makes us care deeply about what it all means. We cry with him
at the lack of solutions and the absence of truth and beauty. We are
left bloodied, shell- shocked and desperately alone ourselves, as is
Duval. And we wish we could reach out to Duval, to touch him, to
hold him and to heal him. But alas, we are denied his beauty, his
comfort, his touch. We cannot quench his longing, not can he quench
ours. We cannot overcome the separation between our worlds: That
which is the silver screen.
Note: Araki wrote the script and acts as editor and producer.
With Rachael True, Nathan Bexton, Chiara Mastroianni (the daughter
of Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Denuve), Debi Mazar, Kathleen
Robertson (of "90210"), Joshua Gibran Mayweather, Jordan Ladd
(daughter of Cheryl Ladd), Christina Applegate, Sarah Lassez,
Guillermo Diaz, Jeremy Jordan, Alan Boyce, Ryan Phillippe, Heather
Graham, Scott Caan (son of James Caan), Thyme Lewis, Mena Suvari,
John Enos (of "Melrose Place"), Beverly D'Angelo, John Ritter,
Charolotte Ray, Shannon Doherty, Traci Lords, Christopher Knight,
Eve Plumb, Lauren Tewes, David Leisure, The Brewer Twins (Derek and
Keith), Denise Richards, Teresa Hill, Kevin Light, Rose McGowan, and
Gibby Haynes (of "Butthole Surfers).
Duval and Boyce were also in "Totally Fucked Up."
Several of these actors also appeared in "Biodome."
Music by several industrial and alternative bands. Also includes
Stacy Q's "Two of Hearts." References Clive Barker, Bikini Kill,
Dead Puppies, "Baywatch," Neitzche, John Hughes films, among others.
Filmed in L.A. in 1995..
Special Effects\Make Up: A+
Final Grade: A+
Splendor: Magnificent richness. Great luster - Webster's New World
Gregg Araki's first film after his "teen angst trilogy" is a watered
down and highly accessible Araki film. But I think I mean that in a
good way. "Splendor" just might be the best date movie of 1999.
Maybe not for the FIRST date... but after you have gotten to know
each other and things are getting a bit too stale.
Araki updates and, of course, then twists the "Jules and Jim" ideal
with a 90's L.A. girl. Veronica ("90210's" Kathleen Robertson),
quickly meets two guys and seemingly easily starts a three-way
relationship with them, sexual and otherwise. The boys are, if
course, at the opposite ends of the spectrum. One is a hard-bodied,
rockus, spikey-haired airhead drummer (Matt Keeslar). The other, a
sweet, intellectual yet self-absorbed writer (Johnathan Schaech).
Yes, the idea is a bit obvious. Because they both represent the
ideals women (and maybe gay men) seem to be looking for in a man:
romance and hot sex, sweetness and roughness, passivity and
aggression. But Araki doesn't hammer this in our heads. It just
simply is a part of the story. The clue that he names them Abel and
Zed (A and Z) is about the only obvious indication to what he is
saying here. What Araki does that is surprising, later in the film,
is throw in a third ideal to the mix. He takes a artistic and
interesting, quirky plot and then treats it as normal. It works
The chemistry between the three is pleasant as well. It doesn't
bubble or crackle with as much sexual energy and tension as I would
like in a Gregg Araki film, but enough for most, I bet. I suppose I
would have liked a little more sexuality between the two males, but
that is my ideal, not the ideal for the story we are presented here.
And so, Araki, is restrained. The guys do have moments together, but
they are rather subdued and tame. It's all pretty sweet stuff.
I'm not sure, maybe Araki is trying to be more mainstream, maybe he
just felt it was best for the subject matter. For example, Araki has
always had interesting color schemes and set designs and art
direction in his film. But, for the most part, the weird "visual"
stuff here is in the apartment of an artist, a slightly edgy lesbian
artist named Mike. I suppose one expects a lot from Araki. He has
established himself as one of the most visually stunning directors
of the 90's. Is he less of an artist because, instead of
modern "pop" art, with it's obvious distaste for commercialism,
Araki gives us cotton candy here? His visuals fit his film. Isn't
that what we want from a director?
It isn't a complaint really. I liked the movie. It was interesting
and involving. It had interesting visuals. It had awesome music. The
acting was good. The plot and dialogue were crisp enough. And yet,
it was a kinder, gentler Araki. I guess Araki is like Whiskey. Sure
it's good and you like it, especially good and strong. But sometimes
if you mix it with ice and Coke, it's just as good. Depends on the
day. Depends on the party.
Yep. "Splendor" is a real pleasant diversion. It doesn't try to be
deep or thought-provoking or shocking or cutting edge. Araki doesn't
try and push any sort of agenda on us. His film is a wonderful
romantic comedy that just might attract straight and gay audiences
into the same theater. Along the way, as is his wont, Araki makes
movie magic by never allowing morality or societal ideas to color
the film. In Araki's world, if your gay, no one treats you that
differently. No one thinks your unusual. There is never "peer
pressure" in his earlier films. And the same is true here. It is
suggested that the union of the three principle characters is
unusual. And that others might think it perverse or odd. But no one
directly questions it or judges it or condemns it. Veronica's desire
to have a relationship with two men at one time is simply treated as
another lifestyle "choice." She has other options, but she opts for
what she wants, for what makes her happy, for what is in her heart.
She opts to live by her own wants and needs - not by society's. And
in pulling back and simply allowing his character to choose her own
happiness and to discover her own path, Araki opens the idea that
this is all any of us want to do. Gay or straight or bisexual or
transgenderal or Baptist or Catholic or Agnostic or American-Indian
or Asian or Caucasian or old or young or male or female.
That's a pretty "magnificent richness" in my book too. One with
a "great luster" all it's own!
Also with Mink Stole (cameo), Eric Mabius, Kelly MacDonald, Adam
Carolla (cameo), and Nathan Bexton (of Araki's "Nowhere" who is
unfindable as a waiter in a cameo).
Robertson, Keeslar, Bexton are all in "Psycho Beach Party" due in
Special Effects\Make Up:B+
Final Grade: B+