Talking Kaboom with Gregg Araki
His new film Kaboom is out on DVD (from Artificial Eye apparently) so we sent Alexander Smith to have a chat with Gregg Araki.
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Gregg Araki started making cinematic waves back in the early 90s with his film The Living End, about two HIV positive men on a Thelma-and-Louise-like murderous road trip.
Along with Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes, he was quickly anointed as one of the leading lights of the New Queer Cinema movement, which specialised in compelling and unapologetically controversial gay movies. He went on to make the so-called Teen Apocalyse Trilogy: Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation and Nowhere – his own takes on the American teen film replete with liberal doses of sex, drugs, murder and general unexplained craziness – each one wilder and trippier than it’s predecessor.
Disappearing from the big screen at the end of the 90s for a few years, after the more adult ménage à trois comedy Splendor, he made a triumphant return in 2004 with Mysterious Skin. Again focussing on teen protagonists, the film explored child abuse and prostitution with a poetic subtlety not evident in his previous work, gaining him a new generation of fans. After a quick detour into stoner comedy with Smiley Face, he’s back to teens and apocalypses in the brilliantly idiosyncratic, and Cannes Queer Palm award winning, Kaboom. Starring Thomas Dekker, Hayley Bennett and Chris Zylka as bed-hopping college-goers, it starts as a free-wheeling sex comedy before zooming off on numerous tangents which build into something far bigger than they, or the audience, anticipate.
Kaboom hearkens back to your Teen Apocalypse trilogy, rather more than your most recent films. Is this on purpose?
As a filmgoer I was becoming bored of going to see films that were all the same. I knew from the start that the film was going to be quite small, so I knew I could make something that wasn’t so mainstream and would really speak to it’s audience and connect with them in a way that no other movie could. In that way it has that in common with some of my earlier work. But at the same time as a person and as a filmmaker I’m in a totally different place. I can’t really make The Doom Generation anymore because I’m not that person anymore. Kaboom does share an affinity and crazy, reckless, carefree creative spirit but at the same time it reflects where I am now in terms of being a more mature film-maker and more centred in my life.
What were your inspirations for Kaboom?
I feel like the audience is much bigger for a movie like Kaboom than it ever has been before, there are more kids like that now, but there’s nobody doing those movies. The film’s view of sex and sexuality and the confusion of living in the modern age is bigger now than it’s ever been. In the 90s when The Doom Generation was made it was a small thing and now it’s expanded. The views on sex and sexuality are much more open in this generation.
We heard that Twin Peaks was an influence on the film.
Yeah David Lynch has been an influence on all my movies. You can see it from the very first one. His vision and style have been a huge influence on me. But this is the one that is most like him. For years I’ve wanted to make a Twin Peaks-y mystery - sprawling and epic.
The majority of your films have teenage protagonists, what is it about that age-group that keeps you coming back to it?
I sort of tried to steer away from it actually! [Laughs] After I did the trilogy in the 90s I said I don’t want to do any more films about teenagers. Then I did Splendor, which is more of a screwball romantic comedy type thing. And then Mysterious Skin came along and I was like ‘Ahh they’re 18, but I liked the book so much and I could relate to it...’ So I just kind of broke my rule to do Mysterious Skin. Now I just try to stay open to whatever direction my creative muses point me in.
How do you feel now about the ‘new queer cinema’ tag that’s been attached to your work?
Well for me it’s a really important part of my own history. It was never anything that Todd Haynes or Gus (Van Sant) or any of us ever planned upon. I think if The Living End had come out by itself, just this little art movie, I don’t think it would have had the impact it did. However we’ve all been keen to make it clear that we are all just artists doing our own thing. There’s no real agenda, no real dogma going on, we’ve all gone on to make different sorts of movies about different sorts of things but always very infused with that renegade sensibility.
Back when The Living End came out, you said (in issue 172 of Gay Times) that your aesthetic came from being in a sub-culture within the gay sub-culture and feeling alienated by a lot of the other gay films of the time. Does this still inform how you make films?
For me it’s been a huge advantage. All my movies are about outsiders and people who don’t fit in. I think in general it gives you a sort of advantage creatively to not be dead centre of the mainstream. I think the most interesting work tends to come from the fringes.
Can you see yourself ever working for big film studios?
I’ve always said that I have no qualms about doing a studio movie, but it would have to be something really special. The joy of Kaboom was that because it was a small movie I could go way out there, [laughs] and just do all these things like crazy sex scenes and three-ways, plus all the cults and the supernatural powers – the things that to me make Kaboom so fun, because it’s so un-mainstream in every way.
Did that kind of ‘anything goes’ approach make it easy to attract actors?
Definitely. This new generation of actors are really excited to do something that is more challenging, fresh and different. When you’re a 20 year old actor your options are often limited to playing George Clooney’s son, being in a bad horror movie or Gossip Girl!
Here’s where you can order Kaboom.
And here’s the trailer: