PARK CITY '99: Totally Loved Up: Gregg Araki's New Film "Splendor"
is His Fifth Sundance Premiere and His Most Optimistic. What's with all
By Richard Baimbridge
Love him or hate him ? and there’s not much ground in the middle ? Gregg
Araki is one of the few filmmakers to develop a style so unique that if
one were blindfolded and led into a dark theater with no prior
information, they would probably be able to say “Oh, this is a Gregg
Araki film.” If, however, one were to only see the end of his latest
effort, “Splendor,” they might be well-confused. Teen-angst, blood and
guts be damned, Araki is on a positive trip this time around, with what
you might, god forbid, call a “90’s feel-good comedy.”
Sitting on the toilet in the bathroom of his condo (the only quiet place
we could find to talk), Araki recently shared his feelings with
indieWIRE on maturity, sexuality, and the changing visions of a Sundance
indieWIRE: When I first saw “Doom Generation,” it was in a theater full
of teenage kids who had only come because they heard Perry Farrell was
in it. It was 16-year-old guys with their girlfriends who were all first
really identifying with the tough-guy character Xavier Red. Then
suddenly, he’s drinking sperm, and the whole theater went silent after
that. You’re terribly subversive, aren’t you Gregg?
Gregg Araki: [laughs] “We premiered “Doom Generation” [at Sundance] four
years ago, and it was great. It was a lot like “Splendor” in the sense
that nobody had seen it, and people didn’t know at all what to expect.
That’s always the exciting thing about premieres. You don’t get a
warning of what’s gonna happen. I strive for the unexpected.
iW: Can you talk a bit about your relationship to Sundance, and why it’s
Araki: Sundance has been really great to me throughout the years,
particularly given my background. Like “Totally F**ked Up” and “The
Living End” were shot on 16 with super-low-budgets and no crew. My
position has always been the underground, radical punk rock filmmaker,
and the support that Sundance has provided over the years has given me a
certain credibility, so it’s more difficult for people to just dismiss
iW: What inspired you to do a trilogy of teen angst films?
Araki: It was originally not a trilogy. I just did “Totally F**ked Up,”
and the experience of making that movie, working with kids who were 18
and 19, made me eventually decide I wanted to make a trilogy about this
generation ? the lost generation.
iW: In “Splendor,” there seem to be some jokes that are tailored for the
industry, like the Hollywood Reporter meets Psychology Today jab.
Araki: They’ll get a bigger response here than in Baltimore, I guess.
The Ernest character in the film is a Hollywood type, and that’s what a
lot of those jokes are attached to. He’s loosely based on some people I
iW: In the past, you’ve listed Godard as an influence in your films. Who
inspired you this time around?
Araki: He’s always been a huge influence, and he still is in this film.
But “Splendor” was really inspired by that whole genre of romantic
screwball sex comedies. The basic idea is a revisionist screwball
comedy, but inject it with a millennium, futuristic aesthetic. I wanted
it to be set two years in the future, but harkening back to the ’30s and
’40s glamorous movies star age.
iW: It’s also the most ‘accessible’ film you’ve ever made.
Araki: I’m selling out! Actually, it’s important to me not to repeat
myself. I know I’m most well-known as ‘that ‘Doom Generation’ guy,’ but
after completing “Nowhere” I made a conscious decision to do something
different. Something with my voice and world-view, but different.
‘Splendor’ is a reflection of my continued growth. Each movie of mine
functions as a Polaroid of where my head is at. This movie is
electronic, peace, love ? everybody on ecstasy. That’s where the title
comes from, it’s almost like a drug [says in a slow, sexy voice]
iW: You use the theme of patriotic colors and the American flag in “Doom
Generation,” and also in “Splendor.” Why?
Araki: It has to do with this whole concept of America. I have an
interest in America and the broader concept of what America is. In “Doom
Generation,” America is a ritualistic, bad, scary thing. In this movie,
it’s more about money and business. The girl is at a car show, having
morning sickness, and basically feeling trapped.
iW: Are you obsessed with three-somes, or is it just unconventional love
that interests you?
Araki: Well, “Nowhere” had more like a six-some [laughs]. I’m not
obsessed with them, I find the sexual dynamic of that very interesting.
For “Splendor” I really wanted to do this sex comedy that was written
for three actors I’d worked with already. It was sort of written for
iW: Up until fairly recently, you were known as a ‘gay filmmaker’…and as
‘gay’ on top of that. But that’s changed now. What happened and how has
it affected your filmmaking?
Araki: I’ve always been against that whole ghetto-izing thing. I don’t
like being characterized as any other way other than an individual with
free choice, doing what I want, when I want. I think my life has
changed. I’m in a different place personally and creatively. But it’s a
good place. It’s sort of the next step, and I don’t know what the step
beyond the step is, but I feel good that I’m not where I was ten years
iW: That’s beautiful, man.
Araki: Brings tears to my eyes.