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 years.


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 bad-ass intentions.
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.

LYRICAL LOOK

"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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