In the intercutting opening scenes of the Gregg Araki film The Living End, Luke (played by Mike Dytri) a leather-clad, whiskey-swilling buff beefcake and bonafide psychopath with a death-wish dances in the sun-scorched desert, while Jon (Craig Gilmore), a film critic who rips other people’s work apart for 25 cents a word receives news of an HIV-diagnosis.
Nomadic drifter Luke’s philosophy is to live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse. When their paths converge, Jon is propelled out of trauma’s grim holding pattern and into a cross-country odyssey of dirty love, multiple-murder, and confronting mortality. This was my introduction to the irresponsible New Queer Cinema of Asian-American filmmaker Gregg Araki: the skewed universe of The Doomed Generation.
The former LA Weekly music critic quickly became the reluctant poster boy of New Queer Cinema for his devil-may-care approach to Do-It-Yourself filmmaking and his self-reflexive style. His writing, and direction, particularly in The Living END, were aligned with Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (the most obvious nod being when three Droog-like homophobes meet their maker after they cross the James Dean-quiffed Luke) and helped launch the careers of Rose McGowan, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Ryan Philippe.
The director didn’t put much stock in New Queer Cinema, telling Vice magazine in 2015: “it was never truly a movement…” and until the director adapted Mysterious Skin from another medium, much of his output was met with scorn, especially The Teen Apocalypse Trilogy, which really divided critics (it didn’t help that whole chunks of his movies were shot like the porn-y reimagining’s of Kenneth Anger on acid), who failed to embrace the underlying philosophy of Araki’s work: life is finite, so let’s fuck the world and each other.
Many of the concepts in Araki’s Teen Apocalypse Trilogy (Totally Fucked Up, Nowhere, and The Doom Generation) were affiliated with the staples of the 1970’s road-rage neo-noir pics like Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway, Death Race 2000, and George Miller’s Mad Max.
Araki also appropriated the teen-comic generic traits from filmmakers like Richard (Dazed And Confused) Linklater and Harmony (Kids) Korine – that is, if these films had been mainlined with amphetamines and the ultra-violence of Tobe (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) Hooper. Aliens, timeless settings, retro-futuristic art direction, Darwinian fatalism, and the significant cultural merits of truly great cinema: sex, violence, and severed heads.
Let’s take a closer look at some of his seminal works.
The first time critics (at least unanimously) responded well to a film by Gregg Araki was when he adapted Scott Heim’s novel. The film delves into the aftermath of an at-first unknown trauma on two boys: Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Brian (Brady Corbett).
Neil hangs out in run-down playgrounds and makes a living from being a sex worker, while Brian investigates the phenomenon of alien abduction and befriends a bizarre woman who claims to be an abductee herself.
Showcasing two amazing performances from Levitt and Corbett. I won’t pretend it is an easy film to watch (it isn’t) but well worth a look. It also features a haunting and poignant score from Robin Guthrie. Buffy star Michelle Trachtenberg also features as Neil’s best pal alongside the fantastic Elisabeth Shue.
THE LIVING END
Bonnie And Clyde with a queer flavour, this sexy and ultra-violent two-hander shifts viewpoints between Luke and Jon – one a violent drifter and the other a cynical and underpaid film critic. The consistently semi-naked Luke must get out of Dodge after stealing a Cadillac from a lesbian duo, and committing multiple-murder. This was a precursor to Araki’s Apocalypse Trilogy and the first of his flicks to be embraced by outsiders.
The concluding chapter of Araki’s trilogy unfolds over the course of a single day in Gen-X LA. The story follows wannabe Hunter S. Thompson Gonzo documentarian Dark (James Duval), the catty post-punk diva Lucifer (Kathleen Robertson), and The Craft star Rachel True as Mel on a day which they believe is leading up to The Rapture, with one ditzy character declaring it “Armageddon Day.”
A collection of soft-core jump-cuts of polyamorous pansexual teens doing drugs, talking dirty, and suffering bizarre hallucinations of a laser-zapping Godzilla and a sinister clown carrying dead dogs, the film also features juvenile delinquency, cockroach aliens, gooey spontaneous human combustion, TV evangelists, an awesome playlist, and an apocalypse – what more could a viewer want?
THE DOOM GENERATION
Road movies with a high body count were de riguer back in the ’90s, with a few even achieving “Classic Film” status: David Lynch’s Wild At Heart, Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, Tony Scott’s True Romance, and Dominic Sena’s woefully underrated Kalifornia. The Doom Generation, though, might just be my favourite – high production values, a tight script, awesomely violent set-pieces, and an amazing central performance from Rose McGowan as the snarky Amy Blue.
Considered by critics to be the nadir of Araki’s Teen Apocalypse series, this flick had more detractors than any other film put out by Araki. A trio of youths – Amy Blue, her jailbait boy-toy Jordan White (James Duval), and serial killer Xavier Red (Jonathon Schaech) go on a crime spree when Xavier inadvertently decapitates a store owner via a shotgun. They must confront Neo-Nazi douchebags, a machete-wielding appearance from cameo queen Parker Posey, and their raging libidos.
The Doom Generation is loved by “homosexuals, Satanists and other members of dangerous cult groups.” So what are you waiting for? Go watch some Gregg Araki movies now!
For more musings on outsider artists and filmmakers, make sure to follow Alan Kelly on social media.
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