Saturday, February 24, 2007

Gregg Araki Interview: Part 3

Click here for part two.

Don't watch the trailer for Smiley Face [see below]. It cuts the gags together frantically and the comedy isn't given the leisurely velocity it requires. Smiley Face needs to play out at its intrinsic pace (somewhere between Kiarostami and late Antonioni on the cinematic freeway) to give Faris's genius its full rein. When Faris delivers her (already legendary) monologue about lasagne and Garfield, we need those Pinter-like pauses as she nudges her thoughts through her fuzzed-out brain. It's poetry.
-- Zoom In Online

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

With the announcement that Gregg Araki has a new film coming out later this year, I figured I might as well finish transcribing my interview with the filmmaker...from two years ago. Hey, I was too busy back then and there's no time like the present. Premiering at Sundance this January, Smiley Face is a stoner comedy--yes, you read that right--starring former Seattleite Anna Faris (Scary Movie, Lost in Translation).

I also stumbled across the news that a sequel is in the offing for Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, otherwise known as the film that proved Christopher Meloni (Oz, Law & Order: SVU) has comic skills and that Neil Patrick Harris could play against type--way against type as a leering lady's man--thus leading to a similar role on How I Met Your Mother.

Of course, the movie also proved that, decades after the heyday of Cheech and Chong, stoner comedies could still be funny, and that Kal Penn and John Cho were just the gents to bring the funny (Cho also appears in Smiley Face). It might sound like I'm digressing, but I'm not. My point is that I'd love to see these films on a double-bill, and if I'm able to get an interview going with any of the principals involved with Harold and Kumar, I won't hesitate.

In this section, Araki and I start talking about Stanley Kubrick, because a friend compared some of the spare, white visual motifs in Mysterious Skin to The Shining (specifically the opening sequence). I asked Araki whether or not that was intentional.

I've always said that my films are kind of Hitchcockian in a way, in that they're very controlled and very carefully story-boarded, but Kubrick was the same way. Now that you mention The Shining, I see what you're talking about in terms of the way the images are composed, especially the way that kid [Neil as an eight-year-old] is framed. The kid is in the center of the frame, looking at the camera, which is a recurring shot in Mysterious Skin. And there's something about the tone of it, too.

And that's why I like Kubrick's films so much. It's that, like Hitchcock, you always get a sense of his authorial hand--you get a sense of his cinematic mastery, his composition, his editing--whenever he puts a scene together. I've always found that really enjoyable to watch. And it's definitely in Mysterious Skin, this sense of scenes being put together, and shots, and how everything works. There's definitely a Kubrick thing there. Because I went to film school, and I've been exposed to so many films of "the pantheon of the greats," I don't even consciously think about things like that. I don't ever think this is a Kubrick homage or whatever.

The Tarantino approach--which I like, by the way.

For me, it's much more the opposite of conscious. I've seen so many things like Hitchcock or Kubrick or whatever the influence is, [but] it's not even really realized, it's just part of the way I think. A scene comes into my head, and it's influenced by all the films I've seen before.

I've noticed in a lot of your films you thank your
mom and dad, which is cool, but I'm wondering...

Actually, they get thanked on every film I've ever done.

And I'm sure they're supportive of your work, but--

Do they see the movies?

Yeah, I had to ask.

[Araki's films feature murder, mutilation, pan-sexuality, profanity,
and other parental favorites. They're also frequently quite funny.]

They have seen a few of my movies, but I normally tell them not to. I mean, I love my parents and they're really supportive of my films and really supportive of me, and they have been all my life, and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. I wouldn't be a filmmaker if it wasn't for them, and yet I couldn't really make films as a filmmaker, as a creative person, knowing that I'm making this film and my mom is going to watch it. I can never think of my mom watching one of my
movies. [laughs] I think my movies would have a different tone.

That makes sense. I always think about that
when I see an actor do a nude scene. I wonder,
Are they thinking about their parents...?

I don't think as an artist you really can think about your parents. Otherwise, nobody would do anything. You know what I mean? Otherwise, people would only do like Disney movies or something. I also have a niece and a nephew, who are 11 and eight, and they keep saying, When are you going to make a movie that we can watch? I'm like, you've gotta get older. [laughs]

So, what is CrEEEEps!

CrEEEEps! is my first real genre movie-genre-genre
movie. It's a horror/sci-fi movie with aliens. It's cool.

Have you done any casting yet?

We're still putting it together. I wanna start shooting this summer.

Have you seen many Kiyoshi Kurosawa films?

No. Who's that?

For me right now, he's the guy. He did Pulse, which hasn't gotten a proper release, supposedly because Hollywood is planning a remake. He also did Seance, Cure, Bright Future, and Doppelganger. They're very smart, very weird, and he uses sound design--he doesn't really use music--in this Eno-esque kind of way. There's always something going on. He's awesome. He came to Seattle a few years ago...

I'll have to check him out.

He described things really well. It made
me appreciate what he's doing even more.

That's my whole thing. There are so many bad horror movies being made now.

All the remakes!

Yeah, they're so terrible. I'm interested in doing
something really cool and smart and interesting...

Smart--that would be different.

But that would still be fun. The idea is that it would be fun for the Friday night horror crowd-you know, the multiplex crowd--but that it would also be smart enough for the Seattle Film Festival crowd. I think it's possible to please both camps.

Unfortunately, CrEEEEps! has been put on hold, possibly indefin-
itely. Fortunately, Smiley Face opens this summer. I predict it'll
premiere in Seattle at this year's SIFF. 7/16/11 update: I could
be wrong, but I don't think Smiley Face ever opened locally.


  1. I always thought Chris Meloni had comic skills but, perhaps being from NY/NJ, I can find the humor in Elliot Stabler more readily than folks not from the area.

  2. Unfortunately, "Smiley Face" wasn't part of this year's SIFF line-up. Worse yet, First Look went bust after the film's well received Sundance debut, and now it's being released straight to video. For more info, here's Cinematical's take:
    And here's the Amazon listing:
    They indicate a release date of 1/8/08.