Movies + TV

Literally the Best Thing Ever: Gregg Araki’s Totally Effed-Up L.A.

His films are complicated and disturbing, but so is life!

There exists a Los Angeles that is perpetually headed toward an apocalypse. It’s an L.A. where everyone seems to be taking some sort of psychedelic drug, frantically escaping from the scene of a crime, or cruising moodily in a convertible with a bag of Doritos in one hand and a cigarette in the other. No matter what someone’s doing (making out, playing hide-and-go-seek, buying fast food), it’s set to the sounds of shoegaze: Airiel, Slowdive, Whirl, Ride. Landscapes are Technicolored, checkered, or polka-dotted. Streets are lined with signs and billboards that scream messages of imminent suffering: a street bench reads “GOD HELP ME,” while a gas station sign shouts “SHOPLIFTERS WILL BE EXECUTED.” Everyone you see, whether they’re a teen junkie or an aspiring filmmaker, just seems so chill about how they are undeniably doomed. So how can we get to this L.A.? By way of Gregg Araki’s Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy, of course, which is totally effed up yet Literally the Best Thing Ever.

Gregg Araki, a poster child for ’90s independent queer cinema and a native of Los Angeles, started his Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy in 1993 with his faux-documentary Totally Fucked Up, which follows the lives of six gay teenagers living in the L.A. area. The second movie in the series was The Doom Generation (1995), starring Rose McGowan as dirty-mouthed bad girl Amy Blue, who finds herself in a love triangle (or, really, a sex triangle) with her boyfriend and a drifter named X. The last film in the series, Nowhere (1997), is my favorite of the three, and is the story of several teenagers who live in an alternate dimension-version of L.A. It features cockroach aliens, lizard men, and insane televangelists. The cast reads like a who’s who of teen celebs of the ’90s: Christina Applegate, Denise Richards, Ryan Phillippe, Traci Lords, Mena Suvari, and Shannen Doherty all make appearances. It’s like Araki was trying to disguise his avant-garde filmmaking with pop culture references. Or maybe he just made pop culture avant-garde.

Visually, the Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy takes its cues from pop art. Totally Fucked Up is split into sections, each one introduced with a flash of bright blue text, like “the young and the hopeless” or “lifestyles of the bored and disenfranchised,” set against a black background. The sets in Nowhere range from a garden-like bedroom filled with real flowers to a bathroom with psychedelic Twister-board wallpaper (that just happens to match one character’s overalls). And the costumes are as outrageous as the sets. Amy Blue’s all-black ensemble is such a classic bad-girl look; the cool kids from Nowhere dress up in S&M-inspired outfits and glittery kitten-printed T-shirts. Araki’s characters always look like they are eternally searching for the nearest rave or out-of-control house party.

Gregg Araki’s movies have all the ingredients of a mainstream, commercial depiction of teenagers having fun in a cool place like Los Angeles. Here are teenagers, they’ve got cars, they’re having sex, and they like to have fun. It’s the same elements as a 90210 or Clueless, but with a dose of darkness. Unlike typical teen movies, Araki’s films push past the fluffy proclamations of love and lust to delve into the world of eating disorders, sexual abuse, depression, and sexual confusion. In a decade that glamorized the lives of spoiled, rich Californian teens, Araki’s depiction of gay youth and his explorations of teen stereotypes were innovative and alarming. While Hollywood’s scripted teens of had “problems” like figuring out how to get into a club or how to use their parents’ credit cards effectively, Araki’s characters were dealing with AIDS, homophobia, rape, and suicide. Sure, they are witty and sarcastic (Amy Blue’s smartassery is legendary—her favorite saying is “Eat my fuck”), but they also exist in an exaggerated landscape of teenage suffering. Nowhere ’s Egg is raped by her movie-star date; the gay teens in Totally Fucked Up are kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation.

The Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy is not for everyone (Roger Ebert gave The Doom Generation zero stars, BOO!) and the movies are definitely rated R for a reason. They are complicated and disturbing, but so is life! Araki’s fantasy L.A. seems artificial, yet the adolescent emotions and angst are totally genuine. The characters are always literally facing the end of the world, but aren’t we all kind of doing that too, every day?

34 Comments

  • ravenflamingo June 13th, 2012 3:06 PM

    Holy crap I really want to watch these.

    http://agirlnamedraven.tumblr.com

  • Stephanie June 13th, 2012 3:10 PM

    Oh my god. How have I not seen ANY OF THESE??? They sound like the best thing ever. Off to add them to my netflix queue!

  • Flower June 13th, 2012 3:23 PM

    HOLY SHIT ONCE AGAIN HOW HAVE I NOT SEEN THIS
    ASDFGHJGFDSA
    I REALLY NEED TO OMG

    http://www.bobblyrainbowsocks.blogspot.com

  • katrinaexplainsitall June 13th, 2012 3:54 PM

    I’ve never even heard of these movies oh my god. but look at their clothes in that last picture. ugh, okay I need to watch them now.

    http://www.katrinaspice.blogspot.com

  • Hunter June 13th, 2012 4:01 PM

    MAD LUV 2 G. ARAKI FOR CONSTATLY DOIN’ HIM, AND 2 H. CILLS FOR SHININ’ THIS NEON LIGHT ON HIM~~

  • callie June 13th, 2012 4:04 PM

    owwwww im totally getting that thing you talked about the other week where you kind of don’t want everybody to find out about your thing that you like! doom generation is miiiinnneeeeeeeeee
    but ok i guess everyone is allowed to see it

  • emilylouise June 13th, 2012 4:06 PM

    Funnily enough, I wrote about Gregg Araki earlier on today on my blog.

    http://www.withoutobsession.co.uk/2012/06/commonly-worn-by-satanists-homosexuals.html

  • Moxx June 13th, 2012 4:13 PM

    YES YES YES
    I LOVE GREGG ARAKI
    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Moxx June 13th, 2012 4:24 PM

      Ajdjskjdj I love this article and Nowhere is also my favorite…
      The two girls with the “whatever” bras!
      The GOD HELP ME bench!
      Actually, all of the clothes, the decor, that party, the dialogue, the aliens!

      + Montgomery is the embodiment of the dreamy teenager thing. ++ he is handsome.

      The ending was perfect.
      –> oh, well…
      –> yay!
      –> no chance it’s going to end like this…
      –> !!!

      Askjagukfdhug so much joy!
      Thank you, Hazel c:

  • airplanes.books June 13th, 2012 4:21 PM

    i love love love gregg araki and james duval 4EVER.

    so perfect.

  • Moxx June 13th, 2012 4:26 PM

    Oh my the comments

    ***If you have not seen this, you absolutely must***

    Watch it at 3 am for full effect.

  • darksideoftherainbow June 13th, 2012 4:40 PM

    i’ve been looking at these movies for a couple years now but i’ve never committed to actually sitting down and watching them. i’m glad you wrote this and read it (duh, i read everything in rookie) cause now i’m def gonna give them a shot. i don’t mind that roger ebert didn’t like them…i don’t think movies are always judged correctly (should they even be judged at all? …somethings are excellent purely for entertainment value) i’m excited to see these and def excited to be pulled back into the 90s!

  • katiebell929929 June 13th, 2012 4:53 PM

    Hazel, you literally write about the coolest things ever and your like my mentor in all things cool. I am forever in your debt. LOL

    http://www.fallingintofashion.wordpress.com

  • eelissa June 13th, 2012 5:15 PM

    When these movies came out, they changed the 15 year old me forever.

  • WitchesRave June 13th, 2012 6:36 PM

    He also did Mysterious Skin which is the most shocking film Ive ever seen, after this film ended, I just sat there and said thought that it was really messed up and I felt really depressed. But it’s good that it was so shocking and raw because the subject matter that it depicts is the most revolting cruel thing that can happen in the world.
    I probably shouldve waited till I was older to watch it (I was 15) Im gonna give his other films a go now

    witches-rave.tumblr.com

    • Anaheed June 13th, 2012 6:58 PM

      I watched that movie as an adult and it messed me up!

    • saltwater June 14th, 2012 5:00 AM

      oh god, that film is so uncomfortable to watch but so powerful. it totally proved joseph gordon levitt’s worth to me as an actor (and not just a super-hottie).

  • lucyradicans June 13th, 2012 7:07 PM

    i worship at the altar of Gregg Araki.

  • coolcat12 June 13th, 2012 7:37 PM

    Where can I find Nowhere? Its not on netflix or amazon or anywhere? Where did u find it, I must see it. Is it on youtube?

    • Hazel June 13th, 2012 8:06 PM

      Nowhere is, unfortunately, not currently available on DVD in the US. It’s a really hard DVD to find. I downloaded it illegally using a torrent (shhh don’t tell anyone!) I heard somewhere on the web that the company Strand Releasing will be putting together a Nowhere DVD soon! One time I saw it playing on IFC.

      • starbarf June 13th, 2012 9:49 PM

        Nowhere is on Youtube in full, weirdly enough. Lucky us!

  • sapphirestars June 13th, 2012 7:46 PM

    these movies are just perf. for the 21st century teens.

  • dearmia June 13th, 2012 7:59 PM

    Doom Generation is my favorite by far!

  • Lascelles June 13th, 2012 9:06 PM

    Is it me or has Rookie gotten really trippy recently?

    • saltwater June 14th, 2012 5:05 AM

      i think i know what you mean and I LOVE IT. articles like this totally epitomize what the summer is all about for me, and it’s been the same all week. I LOVE ROOKIE’S VIBES RIGHT NOW i want to give the site a big hug.

  • MinaM8 June 14th, 2012 9:18 AM

    OMG excuse me, why the heck have i never heard of this before???
    This sounds sooooo good, I can’t wait ’till I watch it omgomgomg

  • Jennifer T June 14th, 2012 11:02 AM

    By any chance was Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere intended as, I don’t know, an answer to Nowhere? Elle Fanning’s LA teen character is almost everything Nowhere’s characters are not.

  • caro nation June 14th, 2012 12:42 PM

    ANUS FACE

    THAT BITCH I AM GOING TO FIND HER AND THEN I AM GOING TO KILL HER

    YOU ARE A LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEM FOR A COCK

    KINDLY PULL YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR RECTAL REGION

    Pardon me, this triggered some Amy Blue-ing.

  • radiofireworks June 14th, 2012 5:57 PM

    I LOVE Gregg Araki, especially the teen apocalypse trilogy; I think the Doom Generation has to be my favourite. Everything about it is amazing. Everything. Amy Blue is absolutely my style icon.

    Odd side note, but my flatmate looks uncannily like Amy Blue. She used to (coincidentally) have a very similar haircut too and it was genuinely spooky.

  • rubyhobbit June 16th, 2012 4:02 AM

    they have Nowhere (full version) on youtube
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLU_INu_G9k&feature=g-vrec

  • Toilets June 16th, 2012 11:15 PM

    I just watched Nowhere and OH MY GOD MY HEAD IS SO FULL OF MESS RIGHT NOW I DON’T EVEN

  • marissap June 17th, 2012 2:11 AM

    he also has a movie called the living end on netflix.it’s a little extreme the basic plot is gay death road trip. the music is once again awesome!

  • molliep June 19th, 2012 2:39 PM

    I wish that I had watched Gregg Araki’s films younger in my life. I think they send a great message about sexual identity and how teens shouldn’t be so caught up in being in relationships, instead, they should live every day like it is their last. The Doom Generation has always been my favorite, but Kaboom and Nowhere are pretty equally up there too.