'The Doom Generation' 2.0 Gregg Araki's indie cult classic, restored

  • by Brian Bromberger
  • Tuesday April 25, 2023
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Johnathon Schaech and James Duval in 'The Doom Generation' (photo: Strand Releasing)
Johnathon Schaech and James Duval in 'The Doom Generation' (photo: Strand Releasing)

When the restored 4K version of Gregg Araki's independent cult classic "The Doom Generation," got rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival in February and played at sold-out theaters in New York, Araki hadn't the foggiest notion why critical reception and audience appreciation was much more positive now than it was in 1995.

In an email interview with the Bay Area Reporter, writer/director Araki, 63, wrote, "Your guess is as good as mine! The film may be 28 years old but it still feels fresh and unique. There's truly nothing out there like it. And given the weird state of cinema these days — movies like "Parasite" and "Everything Everywhere" winning Best Picture — maybe audiences are more adventurous and looking for movies outside the box these days."

"Doom" has been called the alienated teen pic to end all alienated teen pics, "a zany, violent, and erotically charged depiction of Gen-X malaise." Headed home after a wild night at a LA club, teen lovers Jordan White (James Duval) and acid-tongue Amy Blue (Rose McGowan) pick up a handsome drifter named Xavier ("X") Red (Johnathon Schaech).

When Xavier inadvertently kills a convenience store clerk, they are forced to go on the run and hide in a motel to avoid arrest, leading to an explosive sexual tension among the trio and a brutal encounter with neo-Nazi thugs, culminating in an ambiguous ending. Xavier seduces the couple to his own subversive sexual perspective, blurring boundary lines so inhibitions dissolve and relationships change, but all are confronted by a society intolerant of "different" behavior.

Johnathon Schaech, Rose McGowan and James Duval in 'The Doom Generation' (photo: Strand Releasing)  

Nowhere fast
In the press notes, Araki sees "three teenagers going nowhere very fast, natural-born byproducts of decaying America, teenaged slackers raised in the glow of music videos, whose veins pump nihilism, as they careen through a nocturnal wasteland of mini-marts, motels, and open highways."

The violence in the film starts almost cartoonish, in the tradition of outlaw couples on the run (i.e. "Bonnie & Clyde'), but winds up having a real, ominous, chilling quality.

"While Doom is my funniest film," said Araki, "it's also the darkest and most pessimistic, but I think all my films end on a note of uncertainty."

Araki wanted to restore some footage censored out of the original cut.

"There are so many crappy versions floating around, especially the despised, not-Director-approved, mutilated-to-hell-Blockbuster version," Araki explained. "I wanted to create a definitive version for this and future generations. This was a great opportunity to recalibrate the colors and visuals, and remix the sound in rockin' 5.1, so you can actually hear the amazing soundtrack."

Araki added, "What I love most about the 4K remaster is the chance for people to see it on the big screen. It's all about the churchlike experience of cinema for me, to take you to another world, not watched on some laptop or device. From here on, this new version is the only version of the movie as far as I'm concerned. All the other copies should be burned."

Araki was depicted in the 1990s as the poster child of the New Queer Cinema, as defined by lesbian critic B. Ruby Rich. These independently made movies featured fluid, often rebellious and aggressive forms of sexual identities. They also resisted promoting only "positive" images of gay men and lesbians, with characters who were outsiders, renegades, or fugitives.

Araki compared this movement similar to the French New Wave of the 1950s and '60s.

"It made a big impact on cinema at the time, then later became part of the culture at large," he said. "I think the amount of LGBTI/queer visibility today is awesome, though there's obviously still progress to be made, even in 2023."

Araki believes the blend of genres in "Doom" makes it unique.

"Dark comedy, satire, euro-style sex adventure, action/road movie, postpunk music video, definitely makes it not your typical teen movie. I've always called 'Doom' my 'Nine Inch Nails' movie. It's my angriest film and most wild/punk rock/energetic. I think it's from spending too much of the early' 90s in underground postpunk industrial club mosh pits!"

Director Gregg Araki  

Punks, weirdos & queers
Araki conjectured why the film has resonated with contemporary audiences may be that his movies have always been for and about outsiders — punks, weirdos, queers — "people who feel like they don't fit into the mainstream and march to their own drummer. I hope this remaster will reach a whole new generation, especially those young people stuck in some horrible red state and give them a ray of hope there's a better, cooler world out there."

Araki also said he enjoys making movies about teenagers.

"There's something monumental and heightened about their hormone-mad lives-like they get a zit and the world ends. They live and die ten times a day. They're interesting subjects and express how I feel about the world."

"Doom" is the second installment in the director's trilogy known as the Teenage Apocalypse series preceded by "Totally Fucked Up" (1993) and followed by "Nowhere" (1997).

Araki noted, "The Heterosexual Movie subtitle was a bit of an inside joke because I'd been approached by a producer who said he could get me a 'real' movie budget if I made a 'hetero' movie." (Both "The Living End" and "TFU" were tiny DIY 16MM features). "So I said okay and purposefully set out to make the queerest, most hilariously homoerotic hetero movie ever made, yet still explore sexuality with the same unflinching honesty. But yeah, the fluidity of sexual identity in both 'Doom' and 'Nowhere' was definitely looking forward to the current generation where it seems nearly everyone's pansexual."

While Araki says he will always feel like an outsider, he's definitely in a better headspace today than in the '90s.

"I really appreciate how special this moment is," he said. "I'm grateful for the outpouring of love and support and the passion of the fans who've kept the film alive all these years. I've had so many people tell me how much 'Doom' means to them. Honestly, as an artist, there's no higher accolade I could ever receive. It's truly been humbling and amazing."

'The Doom Generation' screens at Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco on April 28 and 29, with a live Q&A with director Gregg Araki and actor James Duval at the April 29 6:30pm screening. $17.75. 2550 Mission St. www.drafthouse.com/sf www.strandreleasing.com

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