November 14, 2000
You can tell you're watching a Greg Araki movie, when the lead character can't figure out whether he's in love with this girl, that guy, or his own gothic record collection. When describing the films of Greg Araki, the lowest common denominators are "multi-racial," "pan-sexual," "wild" and "woolly." Araki caught the attention of the Sundance Film Festival in 1989 with his first movie, The Living End. It's a stunning film about two HIV-positive young men running from the law and struggling with their own sanity and mortality. Many of its elements were explored to greater success in his following movies, but in this film it feels more raw and is certainly less polished.
Araki then decided to make a trilogy of films that fully explored what he called the "unwanted generation." First came 1994's Totally F***ed Up, a cinematic snapshot of a close-knit group of gay and lesbian teens that was named one of the year's ten best films by The Los Angeles Times. It has a very documentary-like feel that makes it all the more effective.
The second film in the trilogy, and precisely where things get very interesting indeed, is The Doom Generation. The Doom Generation retains the road-trip-gone-wrong atmosphere that pervaded The Living End, but makes good use of the higher budget. Sly cameos (like Perry Farrell, Heidi Fleiss, and Skinny Puppy) and a smart soundtrack make for an engaging ride. Teenage nihilism, biblical parallels, and style abuse may not seem like strange bedfellows, but here they make for an unforgettable misadventure. In the end, Araki steers this roller coaster of a story into a brick wall, then shows us the casualties. There's no "And they all lived happily ever after..." here.
Nowhere is the final installment in what has become known as the Teen Apocalypse trilogy and it does not disappoint. It's most commonly described as "Beverly Hills 90210 on acid", a reputation it has no problem living up to. The film portrays the 18-year-old experience in the late 20th century, but this is way beyond any movie Molly Ringwald has been in. Nowhere follows an interwoven network of teens struggling through the highs and lows of love, S&M, hallucinogens, car-jackings, murder and alien abduction. With a 19-actor ensemble cast, this one clearly has more going on than any previous work by Araki, and is all the more rewarding as a result.
After completing the Teen Apocalypse trilogy, Araki defied expectation by reaching beyond the realm of angst-ridden teenagers. His latest film, Splendor, is aesthetically post-modern, in keeping with his usual style, but possesses an old-fashioned spirit that recalls the screwball comedies of the 1930's. Splendor is about a young lady who meets and falls in love with two different men in one night. She somehow convinces them to share, and they all move in together. Naturally, it's not as cut-and-dried as that. After all, this is still an Araki film. It reflects his maturity as a filmmaker, but proves that huge budgets and critical praise couldn't make him "sell out".
The Summary: They're all great movies, but I recommend starting with "Splendor" and then trying "Nowhere" and "The Doom Generation." If you like them, you'll love "The Living End" and "Totally F***ed Up."
Video Empire (Azalea Rd. In Mobile) is the ONLY place in the area you'll find all of these films. I'd like to thank them personally, because without them this column wouldn't exist.
-- Trey Lane
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