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A self-styled "guerrilla filmmaker" (because he often makes films without permits and pays his actors very little), Gregg Araki's features are tinged with ironic nihilism and reflect the boredom, despair and inadequacy of segments of American youth who consider themselves outside the mainstream. The openly gay, Asian-American was born and raised in Southern California and made his first feature, "Three Bewildered People in the Night" (1987), on a budget of $5000. Shot in grainy black and white with a stationary camera, the film was a character study of a love triangle between an aspiring video artist, her gay male friend and her boyfriend. His second feature, "The Long Weekend (o' Despair)" (1989), shot in similar style on the same budget, depicted a reunion of college friends who come to realize that they cannot recapture the feelings of the recent past. Both films depicted disintegrating relationships in a starkly stylized, claustrophobic manner.
Araki achieved a breakthrough with his third feature, "The Living End" (1992), which also earned him the label as a pioneer of the 'Queer New Wave Cinema'. Shot in bright colors on a budget of over $20,000, "The Living End" follows two HIV-positive men who, in the midst of a casual affair, embark on a road trip after one murders a policeman. The film exploits and explodes the cliches of the road picture to create a controversial exploration of life in a society where AIDS and homophobia are inescapable realities.
Araki's fourth film, "Totally F***ed Up" (1993), was actually shot before "The Living End" but delayed because of funding difficulties. "Totally F***ed Up" portrays, in a fragmented structure, the lives of six gay and lesbian teenagers contending with AIDS, suicide, homophobia, despair, depression and drugs. "The Doom Generation" (1995), subtitled "A Heterosexual Movie," was a return to the road picture. Essentially a riff on "The Living End," it focuses on two alienated teenagers, aimlessly driving around California, whose lives are transformed when they become involved with a mysterious drifter. The supporting cast was filled with odd cameos by such diverse personalities as former madam Heidi Fleiss and 1970s TV icons Lauren Tewes ("The Love Boat") and Christopher Knight ("The Brady Bunch"). The visually striking "Nowhere" (filmed in 1995; released in 1997) is Araki's take on the interrelationships among post-high school youth in Los Angeles and is meant to be an antithetical version of TV's "Beverly Hills, 90210."
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Directed first feature (reportedly for $5,000), "Three Bewildered People in the Night"
Breakthrough feature "The Living End" released
Began his "teenage" trilogy with "Totally F***ed Up"
First feature with budget of $1 million, "The Doom Generation"
Completed unofficial trilogy with the nihilistic "Nowhere"
Shifted gears and directed the romantic comedy "Splendor"
Produced and directed the MTV series "This Is How the World Ends"
Earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for directing "Mysterious Skin"
Directed the comedy "Smiley Face," starring Anna Faris