Gregg Araki has created a diverse assortment of memorable movies over the past twenty years. From 1992’s angry and disturbing yet sexy AIDS tale, The Living End, to his last film, the very funny stoner comedy Smiley Face, Araki’s technique as a writer-director has only gotten better and bolder.
Araki is back on the big screen this month with the wild Kaboom (released by IFC Films), now playing in New York and opening in Los Angeles tomorrow. A campy thriller with GLBT and even supernatural elements, the film was an official selection at both the Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals in 2010 as well as the current, 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
In a recent phone interview with Reverend, Araki explained his latest thusly: “It’s pretty crazy and hot; this is sort of the most autobiographical story I’ve made.” Thomas Dekker (A Nightmare on Elm Street) stars as Smith, a film school student of “undeclared” sexual orientation. Set in a seemingly idyllic Southern California seaside town, Smith’s life gets turned upside down one fateful night when he believes he witnesses a young woman’s murder. The movie’s ultra-photogenic cast also features Chris Zylka, who is adorable as Smith’s surfer dude roommate; Juno Temple (Year One); longtime Araki favorite James Duval; Kelly Lynch, looking better than ever, as Smith’s mother; and French actress Roxane Mesquida. The latter plays a lesbian witch who goes after Smith’s best friend.
“It’s about that time in your life when everything is a question mark,” Araki says of Kaboom. “Looking back from middle age, though, those are really some of the best times of your life.” Araki also said that gay men will like his latest because “there’s a lot of hot dudes in it, with definitely some hot sexual chemistry.” The director promises “plenty of eye candy for people of all persuasions,” and he delivers. There is guy-on-guy sex, girl-on-girl sex, guy-on-girl sex and, in one memorable scene, a guy and a girl both treat a bound and blindfolded Smith to a special birthday treat! Kaboom is colorfully shot by Sandra Valde-Hansen.
Araki is often credited as one of the significant, openly gay filmmakers who ushered in the “gay new wave” of movies in the early 1990’s, along with Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho, Milk) and Todd Haynes (Poison, Far from Heaven). Reflecting on his career, he says, “I feel so grateful and so fortunate; I love making movies and everything that I do.”
The Los Angeles native grew up in Santa Barbara. He later attended the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television in the 1980’s. Araki has won numerous festival and critics’ awards over the years, many of them for his masterful, moving adaptation of Scott Heim’s novel Mysterious Skin, about two young men who have been sexually abused by their boyhood baseball coach. Current superstar Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception) gave an attention-grabbing performance in one of the lead roles as a gay prostitute.
I asked Araki if he has a personal favorite among his films. “My movies are all like my kids and all are very special to me, even with their flaws,” he said. “My movies are all kind of snapshots of where I’m at during that point in my life.”
Kaboom provided Araki a unique opportunity to reflect on his overall body of work. “Thomas Dekker calls this my ‘greatest hits’ movie,” said Araki, since it contains themes and elements from virtually all of his prior films.
Araki shows no signs of slowing down now that he is in his 50’s. “I have several projects in the works at all times,” he said, “like four or five right now.” Talented, intelligent and admirably unafraid when it comes to exploring the diversity of human sexuality: What more could anyone ask in a contemporary filmmaker?
Reverend’s Rating: B
UPDATE: Kaboom is now available on DVD from Amazon.com.
Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.