The demon dog of gay cinema is growing up. Gregg Araki hit the scene with Totally F*cked Up, a pop kaleidoscope of gay L.A. teen-dom hopped up on trash TV and Jesus and Mary Chain records. Since then he's killed off Rose McGowan in The Doom Generation and annihilated Beverly Hills in Nowhere, raising hackles among audiences and critics alike. His new film Mysterious Skin, an adaptation of Scott Heim's cult novel, looks at the recovery process of two sexually abused Kansas kids, and it refuses to flinch from the messy post-trauma emotions. Neil (Third Rock from the Sun's Joseph Gordon-Levitt) becomes a reckless hustler, Brian (Thirteen's Brady Corbet) grows into a UFO-obsessive. When both victims re-enter each other's orbit, a cathartic finale emerges. VH1.com spoke to Araki about his five favorite movies; inbetween he explained how Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai, Martin Sheen and Cary Grant all played parts in the creation of Mysterious Skin.
Neighbors Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung come within a hair's breadth of romance in Wong Kar-Wai's Hong Kong rhapsody.
What moved me so much about the book Mysterious Skin is that it was such a dark and troubling story, but it was told in a very beautiful lyrical language. It was important that the film had that dichotomy -- the ugliness of the abuse but the ethereal dreaminess of the way the book is written. Mysterious Skin takes place in lower income Kansas, so I was really after this aesthetic that heightened reality so it was more emotional. When we started making the movie I told the director of photography, "I want the movie to be incredibly beautiful, like In the Mood for Love." The Hong Kong setting in itself is a little bit tawdry, but a world of beauty is created through the composition and the lighting and painting of the images.
Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek are beautiful losers who hit the road after killing Spacek's dad in Terrence Malick's debut.
The couple-on-the-run film has always been one of my favorite genres. There's a certain romanticism in the idea of this couple against the whole world that's trying to destroy them. The Martin Sheen character has moments of ridiculous grandeur, but Malick's so inside those characters' heads that I find them really sympathetic despite the fact that they're killers. The thing about Mysterious Skin, too, is that Brian and Neil are so sympathetic. They pull you through this journey and make the movie accessible. I've had 65-year-old grandmas come up to me and go, "Oh, thank you so much for making this movie!" [Laughs] Particularly with older women, the movie triggers this sort of maternal response. You very much want to care [for them], because both of them are so vulnerable and damaged.
Paleontologist Cary Grant gets his life turned upside down by heiress Katherine Hepburn and her pet leopard in this '30s screwball landmark.
That's one of my huge, huge favorites. In film school, my two favorite genres were couple-on-the-run movies and screwball comedy movies. At their thematic essence they're almost the same thing. Some people think my movies are nihilistic, but I've always thought of them as being very romantic. Screwball comedies are the same thing. They're about a romantic couple in this chaotic universe, a world of anarchy. There's always this sense of a journey. In Bringing Up Baby, Cary Grant goes through this transformation which is really interesting. What happened to the screwball film? They tried going for this kind of Preston Sturges thing with that George Clooney/Catherine Zeta-Jones movie Intolerable Cruelty. It even has a Sturges kind of title to it. But it didn't really work.
Nouvelle vague director Jean-Luc Godard punctures pretensions in this classic study of '60s Parisian youth.
Totally F*cked Up, my first teenage movie, was a sort of weird, arcane vision of Masculin/Feminin. It was very much modeled on that film. In interviews about Masculin/Feminin, Godard was talking about how young people are such fascinating material because their lives are so in flux. They don't know who they're going to become. They're in this sea of change. That's how the whole "teen apocalypse" trilogy of Totally F*cked Up, The Doom Generation and Nowhere began. In general, Godard's always been a huge inspiration for me. As a filmmaker and an artist, he's so bold and courageous. Even if people don't get it, he knows very clearly what he's doing. As a filmmaker, you have to admire that audacity.
Robert Bresson, God's favorite filmmaker, takes a look at modern society and really doesn't like what he sees.
The thing about my influences is that they're so ingrained in me that I don't really consciously think of them. But all my films, I think, have a very Hitchcock-ian nature, just in the manner in which they're constructed because of storyboards and the editing. And there is almost a Bresson-ian quality to Mysterious Skin that I never even thought about, a kind of spiritual quality to the movie. Bresson was so into that whole churchy spirituality, and there's a kind of solemnity to Mysterious Skin that I think is very Bresson-ian. That's why I really love for people to see it on a big screen in a big theater, because there's a sort of cathedral-like quality to that experience.