Gregg Araki continuously disappoints me. With the exception of Mysterious Skin (which I loved when it was first released), all of his films start off so promisingly – visually sumptuous, stacked with rebellious intent, sexually ambiguous and graced by a fabulous cast of young, indie Hollywood performers – before losing their way some time around the middle mark and imploding slowly until whatever lacklustre, insane finale gets tagged on for good measure.
Gregg Araki does not make good films, but that’s not to say they aren’t watchable. I’ve always had the feeling that Araki could produce great work if only he’d met and collaborated with the right writer, somebody able to align all the things that Araki is terrific at visualising – pop culture, defiantly queer narratives, hedonism and sexuality – with a cohesive story that a viewer could actually give even half a shit about. For the past twenty five years or so it’s felt like Gregg Araki has been attempting to make the longest music videos known to man but forgetting to incorporate the music into them.
Consisting of the films Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation and Nowhere, Araki’s Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy is rife with all the aggression, angst, restlessness, partying and sexual battlefields of pubescent struggles. I could tell you what they’re all individually about but it really isn’t worth the effort. The most important part of the Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy isn’t what the films are about but what they represent visually.
In fact, Nowhere and The Doom Generation are so visually arresting that for a long time they were two of my favourite films to play on mute in the background whilst I got ready for a night out. They’re visually stunning, a fast paced collage of pop cultural references and youthful experimentation.
Fading into the background
In these films Araki produces a World with all the territorial playfulness of a teenagers bedroom. The mise en scene is bright and trashy, a pulp daydream in neons, bombastic prints and patterns and statement phrases splashed behind characters like a thought bubble spewed out into a graffiti tag. He turns amateur existentialism into a branding exercise, allowing characters to be submerged within a background which very much defines their inner nature, turning provocations into consumerism.
These are movies in which the Live Fast Die Young attitude of ’50’s American cinema – of rebels on motorbikes, drag races and chain smoking at prom – collide with the nihilism and apathy of ’90’s America. Where survival is portrayed as a far more harrowing and exhausting concept than death and where living fast is symptomatic of a growing sense of urgency in hurrying along a World that you genuinely feel is about to end for you at any second.
Taking the camp with the tough (It’s all over now, Amy Blue)
It’s no surprise then that Amy Blue (Rose McGowen), The Doom Generation’s potty-mouthed, nymph-o-matic, rebellious daydream protagonist has become a cult style icon for the tumblr generation. With looks as killer as her quick quips (‘If bullshit were music, you’d be a big brass band’), Amy Blue is an explosion of thrift store overkill and holiday abandon, combining the camp with the rugged, the fierce with the seductive.
Amy Blue is high fashion pulled from a gutter. Over time the character has become a sort of a poster girl for disposable consumerism and wearable nihilism. From her transparent raincoat (which has been seen everywhere for the past few seasons from Miu Miu to Jeremy Scott – more on him in a moment – and which, from the looks of it, you can buy versions of from just about any high street store at the moment for about £50 more than it’s worth) to her Chicago Police Department biker jacket (oh my god, shut up. Total dream jacket), she’s a Pick’N’Mix of mismatched oddities. A walking treasure cove of the easily shopliftable, the completely unwanted, the coveted and the downright deadly.
Whilst we’re here we should also take a moment to salute that bob. Holy shit, ladies and gentlemen. If there’s one hairstyle that I will time and again applaud and throw snaps at, its the shoulder length bob. Representative of everything badass yet chic, the dark, shoulder length bob is the femme fatale of hairstyles. It’s the goody-two-shoes with a dark secret, all flick and bounce. It’s the hairstyle you want for dramatic entrances and exits. In The Doom Generation it gives Rose McGowen a sunken, shadowy form like her very own hood grown straight from her skull. A death-like temptress. A quick sand seductress. A succubus with red lips.
Every fabric in every colour and then we can party
What really makes The Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy stand out though is the endless parade of fierce, audacious fashions worn by a cornucopia of oddballs, misfits and beautiful people. These films pay tribute to everything from ’90’s clubwear to mall goth and even take a pit stop somewhere along the weird, troublesome ’90’s obsession with ‘the future’, outer space and alien beings.
Infused with background references to infomercials, commercial preachers and helplines, the Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy ploughs through pop culture to reveal a period bursting with all the tawdry fruits of the mass consumerism of the time (Fake fur, lamé, stretch cotton and plastic in every colour you could ever want!) and the beginnings of contemporary youth culture where nothing is worn with paramount sincerity and everything can be just thrown away the next morning.
Gregg Araki uses fashion the same way that other auteurs use words – nothing is there just for the sake of it. Not a thread of fabric is wasted. Fashion is more important to the films of The Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy than even plot or dialogue. The characters are their fashion, the plot is signified by fashion – carried by it – even when a reptilian space alien shows up in Nowhere you get the feeling that it’s there just for the sake of the costume and the camp, little gun.
Everything is a statement. Even down to the cast. In one of the most inspired acts of the whole trilogy, Shannyn Doherty, Rose McGowen and Traci Lords play three fast talking, obnoxious Valley Girls in matching outfits and ungodly high hair sat beneath the phrase Repent Now in a bus shelter. They’re there just for the composition.
Back in 2011, before Jeremy Scott got the gig as being the new head director over at Moschino, Jeremy Scott’s runways were already full of pop cultural highlights and disseminations on consumerism and capitalist branding. In fact, his AW11 range was chock full of references to Gregg Araki’s film aesthetic – ironic t-shirt statements, faux-future silver skirts and dungarees and fabrics patterned with pills.
Since then, of course, Jeremy Scott has become the creative director of Moschino – infusing the brand with his own fun sense of pop cultural playfulness and ironic subversion. Scott is doing very much what Araki has done with his own cinema career: to hell with taking it all so serious and just have fun with it. You get the impression that neither Scott nor Araki could give a gentle fuck what anyone has to say about their work so long as they enjoy making it.
There’s something deeply subversive about Scott’s take on runway fashion. His collections strut down the runway each season with a sort of half snarl about them, a blown kiss at all the stuffy, regimentation of the staple classic brands who regurgitate their own clichés without the slightest glimmer of humour. He seems to be a designer with an affinity for the anarchist and a deep disgust for the mass manufacturing standards of our food, fashion and media industries. Jeremy Scott makes statements without preaching; he delivers visually and he makes it fun, taking the ugliest and the tawdriest and slapping a high end tag on it’s label for the approval of people who care more about affluence than they do about style.
It’s low brow culture repackaged as high brow and it sort of reminds me of that bit in Fight Club where Tyler starts the soap company out of stolen liposuction fat (‘…selling rich women their own fat asses back to them’). It completes a cycle of fashion: the filtering through of high brow into low brow and back again.
It’ll be interesting to see how long Jeremy Scott can maintain these very specific themes up in his work without falling foul of repetition or the deadly blow of an uninterested, bored out of their skull fashion media. There’s only so much you can do with pop culture motifs and reprints before you’re basically entering the territory of market stall ‘knock offs’ after all, no matter how high end your brand may be.
But in the mean time, let’s just feast our senses on the satisfying whimsy of irresponsible youth, the cheap, beer soaked disposable get-ups of the all night party, the romantic abandon of a camp, thrift store plastic outfit worn somewhere that nobody will see it and the powerful sensation that sometimes our characters and our thoughts can be so loud as to make lasting, visual statements in the World. Even if people will insist on watching us with the sound off.