Gregg Araki's Kaboom - opening this Friday at the Vancity Theatre - has a scene that floored me, which I simply could not elaborate upon in my interview with Araki in the Georgia Straight this week; for one thing, the reasons it caught my attention were entirely too personal. The main character, the sexually "undeclared" film student Smith, is fixated on his surfer roommate Thor, a big, dumb blonde straight dude; one night, Smith does a double take, on entering his dorm, to see that Thor is lying on his bed with his feet raised above his head, doing a flexibility exercise that, he hopes, will help him to eventually suck his own penis. Thor declares happily that he read about how to do this on the internet. I felt a very strange shock run through me at this scene, because I had mentioned my own (only semi-successful) attempts at autofellatio in one of the odder - some might indeed say queerer! - digressions in writing about film, when (sort of) reviewing Gregg Araki's previous film, Smiley Face: could it be that Araki had read my piece of writing, and was somehow inspired to incorporate an autofellatio scene into his movie?
Note: Thor is not in the autofellatio position, here.
When it looked like I might actually be interviewing Araki, I posted a link to my Smiley Face piece on his production company's Facebook page. When, in fact, the interview did get set up, I had the question ready. As I set it up, I was met with Araki's laughter.
Gregg: Oh you’re the one who posted that! Ha ha!
Allan: Yes, I am, I am – hi. So I wrote this review of Smiley Face where I felt obliged to mention that I had attempted autofellatio. I don’t know how I got there.
Gregg: Why not? It makes perfect sense.
Allan: Well, Smiley Face and autofellatio – (and here, sincerely, no pun was intended) – it’s a bit of a stretch. Not so much with Kaboom, though. So where did the autofellatio scene come from?
Gregg: Well, I don’t know where some of the stuff – like, my movies come from totally mysterious places; I sit down and write some of these scenes, and I don’t know where they come from - like, the thing with the dumpster, like, I dunno where that came from; I saw a dumpster once, and... When I write my movies, I just have this kinda “movie in my head," and it’s just all these images and scenes and characters and stuff happening. I didn’t read the thing that you wrote about autofellatio, but obviously I’ve seen whatever, net stuff – just the same shit that everybody sees, you know! And it was just really funny to me: the Thor character was this vivid character in my head, and just this idea that he was torturing smith with his, like, heterosexuality, but at the same time, he’s blowing himself; there’s something about that image that was really wonderful to me. I don’t know exactly where it came from – somewhere in my subconscious!
Allan: And –
Gregg (laughing): And no, I’ve never tried it!
Allan: I wasn’t actually going to ask you that, but thanks for setting the record straight! So how about language. You have these wonderful, wonderful images, like, “sucking the farts from a dead pigeon” and such. Does this stuff just come to you, or do you keep a notebook, or…?
Gregg: I do keep a notebook. I’m really, really into language and slang. I always have been. But a lot of the slang in my movies isn’t even real slang, it’s not like I hang out at the mall and listen to see what the kids are saying today; I just make some of this shit up, y’know what I mean? To me, that’s the funnest part of it, is inventing your own kind of slang. And that’s just something I’ve always been really interested in, this colourful way of speaking. It’s a testament to me of how great the actors are, that they can take these weird phrases and weird dialogue and make it sound like normal, like kids are talking like this everyday. Because a lot of it is very stylized and over the top. It’s one of the reasons I hate reality TV so much, because it’s so not interesting, you know? I don’t really watch the show, but somebody sent me that Laguna Beach show or something, once, and – watching these sort of inarticulate kids say “uh, well, um” with no sort of flourish – the way kids really talk, which is just, like, nothing, you know what I mean? It bores me! I don’t really go to the movies to watch inarticulate mumbling. I’m more interested in something more stylized and fun to watch.
Allan: The ending of the film seems to owe a great deal to Takashi Miike’s Dead or Alive. Was that an inspiration?
Gregg: No, I haven’t seen that movie. The ending of the movie was almost like a dream – it just sort of came to me as an image. For me, it was the only way the movie could end. It’s funny, because when John Waters saw the movie, John really loved it, and he emailed me saying that the ending is his idea of a feelgood ending, so… that was good to hear! (laughs).
Allan: It’s being said in the press that the movie stems from something John Waters said – that he asked you to make an “old school Gregg Araki” movie. But that’s not actually true, is it?
Gregg: It didn’t actually stem from that. It’s been a something I’ve been working on for years. I mean, it’s a project that I’ve been writing and working on and… but a few years ago I had run into John and he mentioned that he wanted to see me do an old school Gregg Araki movie, which I found (a) very flattering, but (b) kind of a good omen for the project.
Allan: I’ve actually seen (Araki’s undistributed, unused, but easily torrented year 2000 MTV pilot) This is How the World Ends, and I know there’s a lesbian witch subplot there, and there’s a lesbian witch subplot in Kaboom – so was that a source of material?
Gregg: There’s definitely a relationship. The MTV pilot is something that I worked really hard at, and it would have been a fun thing to do. And actually Kaboom at one point was written as a TV pilot, and was intended to be, like, a cable TV show. So there are definitely things – stuff that was in the pilot – that I loved, and I really wanted to have it seen, like the lesbian witch and – there’s a few other things. But the idea of the pilot ending – it ends literally on this big cliffhanger – and the idea of a movie that ends on a cliffhanger was kind of – there’s definitely a relationship between the two.
Allan: So is there a plan to continue with Kaboom? I mean, you call it a cliffhanger, but (SPOILER!) the world blows up, so… that seems like the end of the story to me!
Gregg: The cool thing about Kaboom is, Kaboom is set up in this universe… that was one of the most exciting things about working on the movie, was – it’s set up in a universe that’s kind of more stylized, it’s like, hyperstylized, and influenced by comic books and graphic novels and stuff. It’s kind of this world where anything could happen. It was really fun to work in that milieu, and so within that context, I think – you never know what could happen!
Allan: So as you've said, the film is much more optimistic than your early works. I’m wondering, though – there’s a quote from Robin Wood – you’re familiar with him?
Gregg: I actually met Robin in Toronto. When I met him – I read a lot of his stuff when I was at film school; he was the first openly gay film critic. The movie, The Living End, that I did back in the early 1990’s, the subtitle is ‘an irresponsible movie by Gregg Araki,’ and that title actually comes from an article that Robin wrote called “The Lure of Irresponsibility,” which was about Bringing Up Baby, one of my favourite movies. And it’s actually from that article, and The Living End in a way based on the same sort of paradigm as Bringing Up Baby. Robin Wood was very excited to hear that an essay that he wrote like, whatever – 40 years ago, at that time – that it actually had an impact on my movie.
Allan: Excellent. I know he was fan of The Doom Generation, which he wrote about in Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan – the updated, revised version. But he also says, somewhere in there - he is despairing about the state of things in America, and the state of cinema in America, but he says that one of the things that has improved is that the media and the public in general have gotten a lot less homophobic. And that’s also a big difference between Kaboom and The Doom Generation - about the only trace of homophobia is when the two jocks are rolling on the floor calling each other a “fagburger and a side of fag fries” and such…
Gregg: (Read Gregg’s complete answer as quoted in my Georgia Straight article!).
Allan: So do you spend a lot of time among young people? Your last couple of films have been very youthful in orientation...
Gregg (laughing): Smiley Face is more just stoner-oriented than youth oriented to me! And not necessarily… I mean, I have friends of all different ages, most of my friends are “old like me”… Really the genesis of Kaboom, is – of all of my movies, it sounds crazy to say it, but because it’s such a nutty movie – but it’s really my most autobiographical movie. It was sort of a revisiting for me, of that time in your life when you’re totally unwritten, where you don’t know what your place is in the world, you don’t know who you’re going to be, what you’re going to be. Your whole life is a question mark. The Smith character is very much based on my own experiences as an undergraduate film student at UC Santa Barbara. The school is basically based on my old school, and my best friend at the time was an art major at the College of Creative Studies. So much of the milieu of the movie is really drawn from my own personal experience – the movie is more me. It’s not me hanging out at a 2011 college campus and taking notes and making a movie about that! It’s really for me a kind of revisiting of my own youth. That’s one of the places where the movie comes from.
Allan: Something I’m curious about in the film – you’ve said it’s one of your more transgressive movies, in terms of there being no negative consequences for having sex. But something in it reminded me of Nowhere. In Nowhere, just as our main character is about to find possible love, in the form of Montgomery – Montgomery transforms into a giant alien bug. And now in Kaboom, Smith seems like he might have a workable love interest in Oliver, but just as that looks like it might develop – the whole apocalypse thing intrudes; at one point Smith actually says – “I’ll call you even if the world ends” – and then the world ends! So I wonder what that means: characters in your movies can find sex, but they have a much harder time finding love.
Gregg: There’s definitely that sense of yearning, there. To me, my movies have always had this romantic underpinning. In Nowhere, the Jimmy Duvall character is just this kind of bleeding heart looking for love in a hostile world, basically – and constantly having his heart broken. It’s been a part of all my movies, but it’s also very much a part of that age; there’s that sense – at least for me , particularly – when you’re in college, and you’re in these new relationships, and you’re learning about yourself and learning about other people and sex and love and everything else – you’re always kinda searching, and you’re always, in a weird way, yearning for something. It’s frequently unrequited, and I think there’s something kinda poignant about that. And I think that’s a big part of the soul of Kaboom.
Gregg Araki, centre, directing Kaboom
Gregg Araki's Kaboom opens Friday at the Vancity Theatre!