Sunday, June 5, 2005

Gregg Araki Interview

Araki on the set

While he was in town to support his fine new film Mysterious Skin, I got the chance to talk to writer/director Gregg Araki (The Living End, The Doom Generation) on a Saturday afternoon prior to the final SIFF screening. I figured I would be lucky to get 15 minutes, but we ended up chatting for almost 40. I'll post just a few of his comments for now. When I can find the time, I promise to post more. Thanks to the SIFF press department for setting things up and to Mr. Araki for the generosity of his time.

First, Araki and I talked about all the good press Mysterious Skin has been generating. It's his first adaptation and concerns two 18-year-old boys in Kansas, both of whom are dealing--in very different ways--with sexual abuse they suffered
as children. Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who views the relationship he had with his Little League coach (Hal Hartley vet Bill Sage) as a love affair, has become a sociopathic hustler, while Brian (Brady Corbet) is a nerdy college student convinced he was abducted by aliens (he can't account for several hours from his eighth year).

The poster art

It was hard for Araki to contain his enthusiasm for the way the film turned out and the overwhelmingly positive response it's been receiving. That said, a lot of reviews have emphasized the differences between Mysterious Skin and his other features, like Totally F**cked Up and Splendor. I wanted to highlight the similarities.

***** ***** ***** *****

Araki: I love this film. I'm so proud of it. I really think it is a departure for me, since it is my first serious, character-driven drama.

Fennessy: The tone is different.

Araki: The tone is much more heartfelt and sincere. It doesn't have that satirical, kind of postmodern irony. It's very straightforward and direct. It's much more straight-emotional than my other films. I think it's because Scott Heim and I, our sensibilities are so much aligned that it very much fits in [with] my "ouevre." Like the relationships, and especially because my movies are always about outsiders and Scott's a little bit younger than me, but our sensibilities are on the same wavelength, so a lot of the characters, the relationships, the themes, the sexuality...

Fennessy: There are some bizarre coincidences also. Like the aliens in Nowhere.

Araki: There are so many things in the film, in the story, that are like the rest of my films.

Fennessy: When you read the book was that one of
the things that convinced you to do an adaptation?

Araki: I think that it was. The story had a huge impact on me. I just found
it devastating when I read it. It really stayed with me. I've been sent a lot
of scripts and books and stuff and I've never encountered a story like it that
has really stuck with me. It just had an emotional impact.

That's it for now. Once I've transcribed more, I'll post again. In the meantime, I'll summarize a few of the more interesting things I learned about Araki from our chat. First of all, his influences are a little different than I expected. While making Mysterious Skin, he wasn't consciously trying to emulate other filmmakers, but he did have three in mind that he really admires: Alfred Hitchcock, Terrence Malick, and Wong Kar-Wai. The character of Avalyn (Mary Lynn Rajskub), who believes she was abducted by aliens (and forms an unusual bond with Brian), was the hardest to cast. While writing Mysterious Skin, which is set in the early-1990s, Heim was listening to a lot of the music that appears in the book and in the film: Ride, Slowdive, etc. The name "Avalyn" actually comes from an Ed Harcourt song (Slowdive, if I'm not mistaken). Araki is such a big music fan that he owns over 1,000 albums, but has never worked as a DJ or spent time in a band ("I don't play any instruments"). According to the IMDb, however, he did used to write music reviews for the LA Weekly.

Above: Gordon-Levitt and Michelle Trachtenberg

Although there won't be any other opportunities to see Mysterious Skin during SIFF, the good news is that it opens in Seattle on 6/17. Click here for part two.


  1. "Avalyn" is a Slowdive song, one of their best, its also the opening song in Nowhere; its one of Araki's favorite songs if I'm not mistaken.

  2. i love joseph gordon-levitt. he's HOT!!!!!

  3. And he can act, too. :-)
    Seriously, if anyone missed "The Lookout," it's now available on DVD. For my money, it was one of 2007's most underrated films.

  4. Is there an official Araki website? For someone so incredibly important in modern film and queer culture, it is hard to find anything substantive. Who is the "Steve" who gets thanks in the Mysterious Skin credits? I am chomping at the bit to know MORE about G Araki!!!

  5. Thanks for your comment, Joseph. Last time I checked, Araki didn't have an official website (and I don't know who Steve is, either), but I'll always be grateful I got the chance to talk to him; easily one of my favorite interview subjects. I just picked up a copy of "Smiley Face" and look forward to watching it. Here's hoping his next film obtains a proper theatrical release!