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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 18, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 07
SGN EXCLUSIVE: Director Gregg Araki's sexy Kaboom
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SGN EXCLUSIVE: Director Gregg Araki's sexy Kaboom

by Gary M. Kramer - SGN Contributing Writer

Kaboom
Opening February 25
Northwest Film Forum


Gregg Araki's Kaboom is a sexy, sci-fi, romantic mystery about Smith (Thomas Dekker), a Bisexual film student at an unnamed college. Smith lusts after his frequently nude surfer roommate Thor (Chris Zylka), is best friends with the wisecracking Stella (Haley Bennett), and has a series of intense, intimate sexual encounters with London (Juno Temple). In addition, Smith thinks animal-masked men are hunting him. In fact, three threaten him one night after he encounters a strange woman from a recurring dream he has.

Araki's film throbs with both sexual tension between Smith and Thor and dramatic tension as the engaging mystery unfolds. Kaboom is vivid in both its color and style, too. Araki provides viewers with a trippy experience both visually and through the narrative. On the phone from Los Angeles, the filmmaker claims that he likes to infuse his work with surrealism. (He even includes a clip of Luis Buñuel's classic Un Chien Andalou in Kaboom.)

He explains, 'I'm not interested in reality when I go to the movies. I don't want to see a constructed, controlled vision of the world. That's why my films have the colors and pop aesthetic. I want something more stylized.'

All of Araki's films - from his breakout 1992 hit The Living End to his critically acclaimed Mysterious Skin in 2004 - have a dreamy quality, a heightened sensibility that plays with reality. The writer/director recounted that his lead actor Dekker observed that Kaboom is, 'Like my greatest hits - the best bits from every film I've done.'

Araki admits, 'There is a certain truth to that. For me, it was a return to those culty films The Doom Generation and Nowhere.' These last two titles, along with the documentary-styled Totally F***ed Up were part of the director's 'Teen Apocalypse Trilogy.' Kaboom could be The Doom Generation for a new generation. While this new film shares a fatalistic quality of Araki's earlier work, it is a decidedly sunnier project, despite the ominous title.

Araki reflects further on this statement: 'It's a strange movie to me in that it's dark and apocalyptic, but it's fun - there is an optimism. I made it in a way to return to a style unbound by genre, expectation, and convention; an experiment in creative freedom. I let story and character do whatever they want. I did not worry about it being too weird or confusing or different.'

Kaboom unfolds in its own crazy logic with characters and plots going off in all kinds of directions. Being along for the ride is part of the fun for viewers.

Araki explains that his inspiration for the film began as 'nostalgic recollection.' He cites his college routine of sitting in coffee shops with his best friend and talking about their days as Smith and Stella do. And he still enjoys being transported by music, just as Smith is when he sees his favorite band perform.

'These are pure and real moments,' the filmmaker says about the scenes drawn from his experiences. 'All the conspiracy comes in from I don't know where. I wanted it to be a mystery with an element of intrigue.'

If the characters suffer from an impending sense of doom, it may be because Araki believes teenagers magnify every emotion they have. He likes the metaphor of the apocalypse becoming real, which may be why he titled his film Kaboom.

But can this new Queer cinema pioneer still relate to teenagers now that he is - gasp! - 51?

'I don't know why I can't,' he remarks, displaying a sassy attitude. 'People talk about me or Larry Clark, or Gus Van Sant [who make films about] adolescents. But are teenagers supposed to make these films? For me, teenagers are dramatically interesting because they are unformed, and unpredictable. Most middle-aged people have extremely boring lives that would make boring movies. Teenagers don't have the ability to make a film about themselves - save Xavier Dolan.'

Araki insists that Kaboom is his most autobiographical film. He likes portraying that period where who you are, what you will become, and how you identify yourself are all 'question marks.' He emphasizes that the Bisexual and sexually ambiguous experiences the film's characters have are very much geared to that particular time in youth.

While the filmmaker admits that his years as an undergraduate did not include as much sex as Smith has in the film, he has had relationships with both men and women. His romance with actress Kathleen Robertson, who starred in Araki's 1999 film Splendor, was much-discussed.

When pressed about his sexual identity now, he answers, 'I consider myself essentially Gay.' However, he quickly confirms that the current generation 'is very much not into categories or into strict definitions of sexuality - what it is, or who they are. It's individual desire and experience. The general loosening of boundaries is healthy and more natural. For political reasons, though, it's important to declare yourself.'

The discussion then turns to the casting of the actors in Kaboom, most of whom participate in same-sex sex scenes. Back when Araki made The Living End, it was hard to find actors - Gay or straight - to play Queer roles. But the filmmaker said that nowadays, that's not the case, 'The world is changing, so rapidly. For actors in particular, it's much easier for them [to play Gay] in the wake of Brokeback Mountain. It's accepted. There are still actors that won't do it, but it's easier than it used to be. I don't try to deliberately cast Queer actors - I don't care who they sleep with. Obviously, it would be cool to have an openly Gay actor in a film, but it's not an overriding factor.'

So is Araki, the one-time enfant terrible of the new Queer cinema era mellowing? Perhaps.

'The weird thing about this movie is that I find it very different from Doom Generation. Although it has immature characters, it has a maturity about it. Doom Generation was something I made when I was younger and angrier. Being younger, and of the mindset of the characters, I had a different perspective. There's a certain level of wisdom here. Looking back on life at middle age, [college] was some of the best years. Stella says - she's a mouthpiece for what I think about that period - that those years are about your experiences, not your exams/classes. What you get out of that period is the people you meet and relationships you have - that is your growth as a person. That was the starting point for Kaboom.'

© 2011 Gary M. Kramer

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