From V Magazine, V92 The Rebel Issue, Fall 2014. Nominated by Gabourey Sidibe
THE AUTEUR OF TEEN-ANGST PSYCHO-CINEMA RETURNS WITH A LUSH NEW DRAMA THAT SHINES A LIGHT ON THE POLITICS AND PERVERSITY OF THE AMERICAN FAMILY
PHOTOGRAPHY MARK ABRAHAMS
TEXT PATRIK SANDBERG
“This place is so fucking boring I wish someone would burn it to the ground.”
These words, uttered by Rose McGowan in an early scene of Gregg Araki’s 1995 film The Doom Generation, could easily be the motto for the screenwriter-director’s whole career. In fact, it’s repeated by Gabourey Sidibe, as Beth, in his latest film, White Bird in a Blizzard.
“Across different eras people are saying the same thing over and over again,” Araki says cheerily on the phone from L.A. While Doom Generation is set in the mid-’90s, the era in which it was made, period piece White Bird is a full-tilt journey back to the ’80s. But in both cases, the line is delivered beneath the strobes and black lights of a goth club. “I bet there’s a club in 2014 you could go to and they play those exact songs in that same order, and people say the same exact thing. I spent all my 20s in a club exactly like that. You know what I mean?”
Anyone familiar (or as is more often the case, obsessed) with the films of Gregg Araki can certainly relate to his chosen through line. From his very first feature film, Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize–nominated The Living End, through his “Teen Apocalypse Trilogy” of Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation, and Nowhere, to his critically lauded drama Mysterious Skin, Araki has built a singular iconography of aggressive teen angst, transmogrifying the soft-focus John Hughes model of isolated youth into something at intervals more savage, scathing, emotional, bizarre, outrageous, comic, expletive, and, to quote McGowan’s Amy Blue once more, “so vile and beastly, I can’t believe any human being can even conceive it.”
One-liners aside, White Bird (based on the novel by Laura Kasischke) veers closer to the affecting and tender Mysterious Skin than it does to the Apocalypse films. “I read [the book] and it was very poetic, super beautifully written, and had this melancholy air about it, the same way that Mysterious Skin did,” Araki says. “It also really struck me, because it was sort of like The Ice Storm or American Beauty…the sorts of movies they don’t make anymore, about the dislocated American family with this dark undercurrent. So that, to me, was really attractive.” Araki’s return to this tone is made particularly tactile by the original music for the film, composed by the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie, who also coscored Mysterious Skin.
Though the book is set in early-’80s Ohio, Araki moved the story to late-’80s SoCal, to bring it closer to the reality of his own adolescence, spent in Santa Barbara during that time. The flawless reproduction of the period— the music, the attitude, and the décor—make it almost impossible to believe this is the director’s first ’80s flick. “I had been wanting to make one for years and years, so it was kind of a perfect storm,” he says. Centering around teenager Kat Connor (Shailene Woodley), who searches to uncover the mystery of her vanished mother, Eve (Eva Green), the film breaks new ground for Araki by paying a stylish homage to the lush melodrama of his film idol, Douglas Sirk.
“I saw Eve as this tragic, feminist character,” he says of Green’s wildly entertaining version of a desperate housewife. “She’s the beautiful woman who’s starting to lose her looks and then is being supplanted by her daughter. She’s stylized and theatrical, but she’s a product of that time, the type who grew up watching Douglas Sirk movies. She’s just a really flawed, fucked-up woman.”
In regard to casting Woodley, whose profile has skyrocketed in the past year, Araki notes the fortunate timing—the actress had signed on right after her award circuit for The Descendants, before Divergent was even a conversation. “She’s so special,” he says. “There are ten thousand pieces on her in the media that say the same thing, but she’s so unique. She marches to her own drummer. She reminds me a lot of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, you know? They just have their shit together. They’re just really great, extraordinary human beings with both feet on the ground, and they’re serious artists who really want to make good, interesting work.”
Earlier this year, Woodley told V she cherished joining the “Araki clan,” which she described as a rite of passage. “Everyone’s been amazing,” Araki says with a laugh, before echoing his favorite line: “They’re like all my little kids out there, lighting the world on fire.”
See the rest of V91's REBELS and their nominees in V91
White Bird in a Blizzard is in theaters September 25