The New Queer Cinema raconteur gets our focus for this year’s Pride Month.
To be queer is to be alienated — to transgress against societal norms, to navel-gaze, to love yourself and hate yourself and love yourself all over again. Gregg Araki‘s films understand all of these things and more; they, the best of them especially, are quintessentially queer texts. They’re about loners, rebels, young Gen-Xers embracing the nihilism of their era (informed, of course, by the Reaganite yuppieness of their parents’ generation and the cusp of the AIDS crisis) and getting into mighty trouble because of it.
The Los Angeles native made his start, like many luminaries of the New Queer Cinema, with independent microbudgets; most impressively, that’s a mode he’d largely stay in throughout his career. His first film, 1987’s Three Bewildered People in the Night, was made on a microbudget and features many of his pet concerns: bi/pansexuality, polyamory, the recklessness of youth, and the indifference or violence from broader society those characters endure. It’s the blueprint for many of his films to come: Throw two or more queer characters, usually teens or early twenties, out on the margins of society; add booze, drugs, neo-Nazis and/or aliens; sprinkle some shoegaze on top; blitz till combined.
“I couldn’t make movies like this if I started to worry about what Jerry Falwell is going to have to say about it.”Gregg Araki, inTERVIEW WITH THE GUARDIAN
Araki films are innately transgressive, which is why they often divided audiences in their heyday. His arguable magnum opus, his “Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy,” was hotly contested upon release: While Totally F**ked Up received raves upon release, his darker, crazier works — The Doom Generation and Nowhere — were lambasted for their aimlessness, their fractured narratives, their unlikable cast of self-destructive kids. But with the benefit of time (and the rise of a new slate of queer film enthusiasts more on Arakis’ wavelength), they’ve undergone critical reappraisal, our eyes turned with greater grace to their formal experimentation and social rawness (Araki has often cited Jean-Luc Godard as a major influence). Even when he adapts the work of others — Mysterious Skin, one of his best, is based on a Scott Heim novel — his fragmented, deeply human sensibility shines through.
Coinciding with the release of a new 4K restoration of The Doom Generation (included in a helpful three-pack of Araki films currently streaming on The Criterion Channel), we’ve decided to turn our eyes this Pride Month on Araki’s oeuvre. Throughout June, we’ll look back on everything from his early indie works to his aforementioned Trilogy, to later works that range from accessible stoner comedies (Smiley Face) to newer Gen-Z takes on free love, queer sex, and alien invasions (Kaboom!, Now Apocalypse). And in so doing, we hope to shine a light on one of the New Queer Cinema’s boldest, most radical voices.