My piece on my favourite director, Gregg Araki, was shortlisted for the Sight and Sound Women on Film competition.
New Queer Cinema emerged in the 90’s and was an excoriating antidote to the stereotypical portrayal of sexuality in mainstream films. Araki is one of the pioneers, and his films portray sexual identity as mutable, moving away from heterosexual and homosexual norms.
With postmodern irony, an almost excessive use of intense colour, and tongue-in-cheek sloganeering, Araki’s films are pop culture delights. Yet, critiques of Araki’s earlier work lean towards the dismissive, positioning his paean to youth and pop culture as shallow and meaningless. Whilst acknowledging that he now has a firmer grasp of his craft, and noting that some of his early films have aged, I think critics have severely underestimated his work. ‘The Doom Generation’ (1995) and ‘Nowhere’ (1997) demonstrate Araki’s alchemic ability to concurrently evince humour and despair. There’s something chaotic about many of his films, but this isn’t messy filmmaking; the chaos is well choreographed and stylised. There is a dark edge to many of his films, but they are always shot through with wicked humour, a sweet romanticism, and a beautiful utopian ideal in the rejection of fixed identity. Obvious comparisons are Bret Easton Ellis, John Cameron Mitchell, John Waters, and Lehmann’s ‘Heathers’. Araki himself cites Hitchcock and Godard, predecessors who have inculcated a precise art direction, which Araki takes to extreme levels with brilliant effect.
His self-described ‘teen apocalypse’ films may not have received the critical reception they deserved, but with 2004’s ‘Mysterious Skin’, he was hailed as entering a mature phase with his sensitive portrayal of sexual abuse. ‘Mysterious Skin’ is stunning filmmaking, with a lyricism and beauty which communicates the bleak subject matter in a way that gritty realism would have been ineffective. There is a tonal shift from his earlier work, a more refined subtlety, but still evident is the humour and sensitivity that permeates even his most acerbic and frenetic films.
Araki has my admiration for his delicious irreverence and well-honed craft. He’s one of those rare directors whose films I consistently love.