Out director Gregg Araki's best loved and most famous film continues to be described
by critics as his most accessible film to date and
also his most controversial.
since its release in May 2005 and even now the movie is quite often featured
in Gay Film Festivals throughout the world. OutUK correspondent
Ron Dicker spoke to Gregg about Mysterious Skin.
It's the question most asked of Gregg Araki at the time of his film's release: Just where have you been?
"I went to an ashram and found myself," he jokes.
"Then I went to rehab."
Six years between projects is fairly long in
Hollywood time. Six years is very long in Araki time, given
that he churned out seven films in the previous 15
On set with Gregg Araki.
Araki, an openly gay director whose wizardry on
shoestring budgets vaulted him to the forefront of the
so-called queer new wave (even if he insists there is no
new wave), chats with OutUK in the sleek lobby of a
downtown Manhattan hotel. Sinew peeks out of his all
grey ensemble. He looks like a kung fu hero without the
His self-effacement belies the tough subject matter
he tackles in Mysterious Skin. Two Midwestern boys
abused by their youth baseball coach emerge as damaged
adults on a collision course with each other. One
turns tricks. The other pursues his theory that he was
abducted by aliens. How else to explain the extended
blackout and nosebleeds?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet.
"The way the camera looks at the world is very
childlike, full of wonder and inherent in that point of view
is insecurity and vulnerability," Araki says. "These
kids live in a world of sort of danger. Even if it's
Kansas and looks like apple pie, looks like America,
there's an inherent darkness lurking in this world. The
power of the story is that it can happen to anybody."
The film was Arakiís ninth and his first adaptation
of a book, this one of the same title by Scott Heim.
But a steady screen output, which includes his noted
teen trilogy of Totally F***ed Up (1993), The Doom
Generation (1995) and Nowhere (1997) screeched to a
halt because of the usual development vagaries and an
MTV series he directed and produced in 2000 called This
Is How the World Ends.
Says Araki: "Gus Van Sant is a good friend of mine
and he gave me the best advice: All you can do as a
filmmaker is you canít make stuff happen. You can't get
hot. You can't think that way. You just have to do what
you do and think of it as a day to day job. Everyday
is a mundane, routine of working on all my projects and
eventually one of them comes to fruition."
JUST AN ORDINARY GRANDMA
Araki, now in his mid-50's, calls himself a grandma who lives an
ordinary life. He says he likes to drink coffee, leaves
Hollywood to visit his parents 90 miles northward in
Santa Barbara once a month, and has a boyfriend who is
not in entertainment.
"I didn't seek out a person like that but it works
for me," he says. "It's better, having been with people
in the business. I like to have a separation from what
I do all day, versus what my relationship is about."
While Araki talks to a revolving door of reporters,
Bob Myerson, the executive vice president of UK-based
Tartan, lies on a couch nearby.
Mysterious Skin is
the eighth American film that Tartan took on since
launching its stateside wing ten years ago.
"Itís so good to see a filmmaker mature the way
Gregg has," Myerson said, "and really tackle the subject
matter in such an adult way and present it in such a
way for all audiences."
On a tight but undisclosed budget, Araki says he
sought a lyrical look reminiscent of Wong Kar Wai or
Terrence Malick. Araki has excelled with far less. He made
his first feature after USC film school, Three
Bewildered People in the Night (1987), for $5,000 (U.S.).
Still adhering to a doughnuts and coffee production
ethic, he touched a collective nerve with The Living
End(1992) about two HIV-positive lovers on a highway
rampage. That set the stage for his loosely linked
trio of films featuring the young and gay often behaving
badly. Some critics believe he lambasts gay culture.
"My films are very much a representation or
expression of what Iím feeling about the world," he says. " I
donít constantly go in and lampoon or skewer somebody."
JUST A FILMMAKER
If there is any other subject that can make Araki
roll his eyes, it is being labeled as a gay cult
filmmaker. "I like the term 'filmmaker,' ".he says. "When
Iím referred to as a gay cult filmmaker or even
independent filmmaker, I just feel like I just make movies."
Araki laughingly predicts that 20 years from now he
and Far From Heaven director Todd Haynes will be
making movies that have nothing to do with queer culture
and they will still be asked about the gay new wave.
"Nobody ever attached that to Spike Lee," he
continues. "Oh, New Black Cinema ! Thereís this weird need to
categorize and put it in a box. Iím just interested
in making movies that compel me."
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