Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Gregg Araki post #1- 'Mysterious Skin'

Rewatched one of my fav films, Gregg Araki's 'Mysterious Skin' (2004) the other night and thought I would not only post about it, but do a series of posts about Araki and his work in general.

I saw my first film directed by Araki, 'Nowhere' (1997), when I was a young teen. I hadn't seen anything like it before and it made a huge impact and imprint on me. I discovered a world of music through the soundtrack and the film has influenced and inspired my own work. I had the pleasure of meeting Araki at the 07 Toronto Film Fest when he brought the unfortunate 'Smiley Face.' He was funny, charming and humble. We talked about Ladytron and how much he liked them.
Below is an awkward pic of us (hello Casper with bad hair):

Based on the novel by Scott Heim, 'Mysterious Skin' is a powerful and heartbreaking film about the everlasting effects of sexual abuse and how the past forever haunts us, no matter how hard we may try to outrun it. I first saw the film at Inside Out (04?) and actually didn't love it. I think this was due to the stupid audience with whom I didn't want to share the intense, visceral reaction the film evokes. Only when I rented it on my own was I able to let it hit me with full force and appreciate how strong and well crafted it is.
'Mysterious Skin' stars Brady Corbet as Brian Lackey and the hot Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Neil McCormick, two teenagers who were sexually abused by their baseball coach when they were young boys. Whereas Neil has grown up to be a sexually outgoing prostitute, fetishizing older men/father figures, the geeky, introverted Brian blocked out the abuse and is convinced he was instead kidnapped by aliens and experimented on. The film forks into two story threads, following Neil as he moves to NYC with his friend Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Brian as he desperately tries to discover the truth about his past by tracking down Neil. Once they meet and their stories converge, the boys confront the dark secretes of their childhood in an incredibly wrenching climax with a symbolic final image as Neil narrates the molestation he and Brian experienced.

Subtle, nuanced, restrained and introspective, 'Mysterious Skin' feels like it is told through the eyes of a child, with all the mystery that entails. The cinematography is beautiful with interesting direct address shots, dreamy lighting and many appearances of the classic Araki shot pictured below:

Araki masterfully handles the difficult subject matter with an unsentimental, matter of fact approach and even manages to infuse an innocent sense of humor. Abandoning some of the campier aspects and bad boy rebelliousness of his previous work, he appears to have distilled his preoccupations and predilections for 'Mysterious Skin.'
Most of the performances are good, including Elisabeth Shue as Neil's mom but especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Neil. I was blown away by all the intricacies and minute mannerisms of this character and Levitt does a way better job of the brooding, mumbling, clenched jaw, small town gay than Heath Ledger in 'Brokeback Mountain' (2005). The only performance that sticks out for me as artificial is that of Michelle Trachtenberg as Wendy. I had the opportunity to meet and work beside her on the film 'Ice Princess' (2005)- I was an extra. She seemed like a cool, laid back girl but I don't think she possesses the chops this film required.
As always, Araki selected pitch perfect music for the soundtrack. This time around enlisting Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd who create a haunting tonal score.
Check out an example of the music here:
The film also features these amazing tracks worth downloading/exploring:
Slowdive- "golden hair," "catch the breeze" and "dagger"
Sigur Ros- "samskeyti"
Curve- "galaxy"
Cocteau Twins- "crushed"

Go rent this film.

The End

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