Cult filmmaker Gregg Araki talks career retrospective

September 17, 2013

Courtesy of Gregg Araki

Gregg Araki may not be the most recognizable name to most audiences, but for those who know him and his films, his name means everything.

From directing Rose McGowan as a foul-mouthed meth addict in “The Doom Generation” (1995) to Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a teenage prostitute in “Mysterious Skin” (2005), Araki has been a staple of independent film since he entered the scene in the late ’80s. He has a dedicated fanbase — not everyone gets Araki, but those who do just do.

This Thursday, a retrospective of Araki’s career will begin at the Museum of Arts and Design, with screenings of his work running through October. In an exclusive interview with WSN, Araki reflected on his films and what it’s like to be the focus of your own career retrospective.

“I’ve had more retrospectives than probably any living filmmaker,” he said with a laugh. “They don’t wait till I’m dead, they have them while I’m still alive.”

“And it’s kind of a little bit of a weird experience, because you’re almost looking at [your movies] as the work of somebody else,” Araki said. “Like, this stuff is so long ago, you don’t even remember making it.”

Araki will make an appearance at the screening of his 1997 film “Nowhere,” on Friday, Sept. 27, as well as an intimate master class session on Saturday, Sept. 28.

However, one of the most enticing aspects of the upcoming retrospective is the screening of Araki’s rare 2000 MTV pilot, “This Is How the World Ends” — previously described by Araki as “Twin Peaks for MTV” — which was not picked up as a series.

“This was right around the time when ‘Jackass’ and ‘The Osbournes’ and all this reality stuff was really taking off,” Araki said. “It was expensive to make scripted TV, compared to how much a reality show costs.”

Araki said he still wants to give TV another shot someday, but as for the show he’s currently loving? “New Girl.”

“I really like that show,” he said. “I think it’s really fresh and fun, and the cast is really interesting to watch. To me, it’s always about the cast.”

Araki is an expert at casting, with many of his films including surreal celebrity cameo appearances, such as “Nowhere,” which features Christopher Knight and Eve Plumb, who played Peter and Jan Brady on “The Brady Bunch,” as a married couple, or “The Doom Generation,” which features comedian Margaret Cho as a psychopathic convenience store clerk.

“Those movies were all like kind of trippy dreams, and so it was sort of like, the way you’re dreaming, and people like Lindsay Lohan are in your dreams,” he said. “Like random, weird, famous people sort of pop up while you’re dreaming.”

Araki is now in the editing stage of his next film, “White Bird in a Blizzard,” which stars Shailene Woodley as a girl whose mother disappears.

“That’s really the movie I’m very focused on at the moment,” Araki said. “It’s a period piece, it has an amazing soundtrack, it’s set in the late ’80s, so it has all of my favorite music in it. And the cast is really amazing.”

“It’s very kind of a Gregg Araki movie, but it’s also kind of got a lot of other things that I think will surprise some people,” he said. “I can’t wait for it to be finished. I can’t wait for people to see it.”

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sept. 17 print edition. Jeremy Grossman is arts editor. Email him at jgrossman@nyunews.com.

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