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Gregg Araki’s Greatest Hits
‘Kaboom’ is ‘like all the best parts of all my movies rolled up into one’
Filmmaker Gregg Araki has never missed his mark.
He’s never had what would be called a box office hit, but then his films have never been designed to be that. He doesn’t make blockbusters, he makes craziness on an independent scene that chews people up and spits them out on a regular basis.
The fact that he’s done it fairly successfully for 22 years is a testament to the vision of a queer auteur who is, quite possibly, just a little, tiny bit insane.
This brings us to his latest film, Kaboom, opening March 11 at the Capitol Theater in Cleveland and in mid-April at the Gateway in Columbus. It may appear in other Ohio cities as well, but no confirmation is available yet.
The film stars Thomas Dekker (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) as Smith, a relatively hapless college student just trying to get through his life without being driven insane by his incredibly hunky dorm-mate (Chris Zylka), his lesbian best friend (Haley Bennett), the cute boy he keeps seeing at parties (Brennan Mejia) or the little British pixie-girl he’s currently having sex with (Juno Temple). Smith is something approaching bisexual, although he refers to it in collegiate terms, as “undeclared.”
Added into the mix are his incredibly stoned resident advisor Messiah (Araki mainstay James Duval), a bizarre cult of animal-mask wearing murderers, a witch, Kelly Lynch playing Smith’s mother and an impending apocalypse, and it might sound like the sequel to Nowhere, the third installment of his Teen Apocalypse Trilogy. Araki, however, notes some differences.
“I was interested in making a creatively ‘out-there’ and free-spirited film that might appeal to a young cult-type audience, because no one is really making these kind of radical, outside of the box movies anymore,” he noted when asked about similarities between this and the previous trilogy.
“So I wanted to make a film like that for the next generation, but at the same time, I’m not the same person anymore that I was when I made those movies back in the ’90s,” he continued. “I’m older and at a totally different place in my life. I also as an artist have no desire in repeating myself.”
“So I see Kaboom as much more of a David Lynch-influenced epic mystery (with lots of polymorphous sex in it),” he concluded.
Now, those who have seen the late, lamented Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles knows that Dekker played a young John Connor in that, the savior of the human race, trying to stave off the end of the world. It seems he’s doing much the same in this film. Coincidence, or did Araki pick him for that connection?
“Not consciously, as I didn’t really watch the show,” he protested. “I cast Thomas because he came in an auditioned and was the best possible Smith out there. He really embodied how I saw the character and as an actor he is so brave and dedicated and incredibly talented.”
“He really wanted to walk the plank with me,” Araki posited.
As with the Teen Apocalypse Trilogy, Duval plays a fairly major role (he starred in Nowhere, The Doom Generation and Totally Fucked Up). However, he never seems to get the happy ending that as skilled (and attractive) an actor deserves.
“I never really thought of it that way,” Araki said. “I think that in Kaboom--not wanting to give anything about the ending away--Jimmy gets to be a hero and break out and really do something totally different for him. So I thought that was really fun.”
“Jimmy’s a good friend and I wrote that part of the Messiah just for him. It was such a blast to work together again,” he noted.
One thing that is a constant in Araki’s movies is the music, an ephemeral moodscape that really grips the audience. Kaboom is no different, and really reflects Araki’s tastes.
“It’s seriously one of my favorite soundtracks ever,” he boasted. “Besides the amazing score composed just for the film by the legendary Ulrich Schnauss, Mark Peters (Engineers) and Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins), there are so many awesome bands in the soundtrack! Major bands like Placebo, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the XX, and also a bunch of new, up and coming bands that are totally fantastic.”
“On my Desperate Pictures Facebook page there is a full listing of all the incredible bands and songs, as well as the scenes they are used in, so fans can check all the music out,” he continued. “I urge people to go buy these songs on iTunes and support cool and amazing music by great indie artists.”
While it’s easy to talk about all the strange things hidden in Araki’s movies, one thing strikes the viewer right away in Kaboom’s poster and opening credits: Instead of being described as “A Gregg Araki Film,” it says “The Gregg Araki Film.”
“In many ways, I do feel like it is ‘the’ one,” Araki mused. “Thomas, who is kind of a super fan of all my films, said when we were at the Deauville Film Festival in France that Kaboom is, in a way, like ‘Gregg Araki’s Greatest Hits,’ like all the best parts of all my movies rolled up into one.”
“I thought that was kind of a funny way to look at it,” he continued. “It certainly has elements of all the movies--a lot of my trademark themes and ideas but also other stuff, like the joy and playfulness of Smiley Face, the dreamy music-driven moodiness of Mysterious Skin, etc.”
Araki is currently looking to his next film, which hopefully will be out faster than the gap between 2007’s Smiley Face, a stoner comedy, and Kaboom.
“I’m working on about three or four projects, all of which are different from what I’ve done before and different from each other,” he confided. “I just really want to continue challenging myself and to keep making movies because it’s what I love to do.”
That difference is part of what keeps Araki’s films fresh. They’re all Gregg Araki movies (and obviously so), but they are all unique. Even the three Teen Apocalypse movies are almost unrecognizable as a trilogy, with the exception of each starring Duval.
“All my movies are so personal to me--even the ones where the stories and character weren’t originally mine (Mysterious Skin, which was based on Scott Heim’s novel, and Smiley Face, made from a screenplay by Dylan Haggerty). They’re all like my children and I really put my heart and soul into each one of them,” Araki said. “I appreciate that they’re all so different as I really want to continue to challenge myself as an artist and not repeat myself.”
“One of the my pet peeves is some filmmakers who I feel kind of just make the same movie over and over, like they have this formula and never leave their comfort zone,” he admitted.
As for the “polymorphous sex” that riddles Kaboom, it reflects Araki’s view of sexuality. The Doom Generation was, at one point, tag-lined “A Heterosexual Film by Gregg Araki,” yet it has plenty of sexual tension between Duval and Jonathan Schaech.
“Yeah, I’ve always been of the mindset that sexuality is not necessarily black and white and that people don’t always fit into categories. Doom Generation and Nowhere were perhaps a little ahead of the curve in that regard,” Araki noted. “But it’s been my observation that the Kaboom generation--those young people the age of the cast--really do feel and live like that. It’s not so much about declaring yourself gay or straight or bi, it’s about living life and falling in love and having sex and experiencing stuff.”
“Which I personally think is a really healthy attitude,” Araki mused.
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