HCF REWIND NO. 136: NOWHERE 
AVAILABLE ON DVD: 26th August
RUNNING TIME: 78 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Dark Smith is an 18-year-old, alienated Los Angeles high school film student who dreams of the ‘End of the World’ and wants to get away from his nagging mother whom he lives with. He is in love with Mel, a bisexual African-American girl who can’t commit herself to any one person or gender, splitting her time between Dark and her girlfriend Lucifer, but also becomes enthralled by the homosexual Montgomery. One morning, Dark, Mel and Lucifer arrive for breakfast at their local coffee house and there meet up with their friends, all of whom have complicated issues. They all make plans to meet that evening for a big party and a drug-fulled game of kick-the-can…..
Though I am a huge film fan and thereby try to see as many films as I can, I also have a ‘life’, so there is much stuff that I just don’t get to see. Maverick American director Gregg Araki is one filmmaker whose work, until now, I have not sampled, even the critically acclaimed Mysterious Skin from 2004. I remember distinctly when The Doom Generation came out in the UK and was mostly ripped apart by the critics, something that usually gets me keen to see the film in question, but I never did get to see it. Sometimes it’s nice to see a film without knowing much about it before-hand, and so it was the case with Araki’s Nowhere, which has just been re-released in the UK by Second Sight, though any film that calls itself ‘Beverley Hills 90210 on acid’ has got to be interesting, even if you never liked, or really bothered much with either Beverley Hills 90210 or acid.
Nowhere is actually the third film in a loosely connected trilogy of films by Araki which he has dubbed the ‘Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy’. Totally Fucked Up is about the lives of six adolescent gay people who form a family unit and the various obstacles they face [Araki is a member of the New Queer Cinema movement, which seeks to break down notions of ‘normal’ heterosexuality through transgression and subversion rather than through polemic statements, and led to films like Brokeback Mountain]. The Doom Generation is a twisted road movie throwing together a teen couple and a bisexual drifter whom the couple accidentally rescue. Recurring themes in Araki’s oeuvre appear to include outsider characters, the pain of adolescence, and homosexuality being no stranger than heterosexuality. Nowhere explores these, but, for the most part, in quite a light manner. That’s not to say there isn’t some serious stuff in it; there are at least two incidents that are rather shocking, but overall it’s good fun as long as you are of the broadminded sort and fancy something odder than your usual teen drama. If ‘Beverley Hills 090210 on acid’ doesn’t sound appealing, how about ‘American Graffiti directed by John Waters?’
The characters are a more intriguing sort than usual for a teen movie and I enjoyed spending time with them even if I tired of their constant hedonism at times. Our ‘hero’ Dark struggles with not only having a promiscuous bisexual girlfriend but feelings for another boy. Then there’s the gay couple, one of whom is in a band, the other heavily addicted to drugs, the sado-masochistic couple, the three girls who each have differing eating disorders, and so forth. Dark is the person we spend the most time with, an adolescent struggling with insecurity, sexual confusion and the difficultly in understanding and fitting into a world which doesn’t seem to want to understand or welcome him. The various other folk all have their own stories though, to the point where it feels like we are watching a weird version of Short Cuts at times. Sometimes they are blackly amusing, such as a guy is so off his tits on drugs he enjoys his dealer’s two sado-masochistic mistresses ripping off his nipple rings. Sometimes they are shockingly nasty, like the girl who meets a heartthrob TV star and finds out that he is not at all like the image he projects. These young people tend to talk in a self-consciously trashy manner, constantly finding clever insults. Arraki’s dialogue doesn’t sound very realistic, but it’s really fun to hear. Exchanges are of the nature of:
Shannon: Hey Jana, isn’t that your muff diving little sister over there with her disgusting boscoe-flavored girlfriend?
Jana: Insert it in your clammy crevice, will ya, Shannon?
This is a movie where sex is described as: “like a good sweaty game of rocket ball, only you get to come at the end”, and: “how about you sit on my face and cut a nice, big, juicy fart?” is a chat-up line.
The film opens with Dark in the shower pleasuring himself in a scene which plays like a variant on the beginning of Dressed To Kill, then going to meet his friends for breakfast in a diner which is the strangest breakfast-eating place I’ve ever seen in a film, almost entirely black except for the walls which are black with white spots, and with a band playing, but then the rooms they sleep in are frequently bizarre too. One bedroom is all blue with huge drawings on the walls. Another has newspaper writing all over it, even the bed. One room even has a whole row of flowers growing on the floor. The set design is really striking in this film, and after the naturalistic feel of most of the early scenes, it turns into a gaudy treat with much exaggeration of colours, especially blue and red which makes some scenes look like they’ve escaped from Suspiria. Except for reminding us that some of the characters are on illegal substances, the visual approach doesn’t really seem necessary, but it sure makes the proceedings appealing to look at, and that’s not mentioning the alien that occasionally turns up.
Of course everyone ends up at a big party which here just seems like one big drug-crazed orgy, albeit one with a wider range of persuasions then any parties I ever went to. There is violence, and every now and again a smarmy evangelist appears on TV in what seems to be a twisted variant on Wolfman Jack, the radio DJ from American Graffiti. George Lucas’s teenagers had a nice benign god. Arraki’s have someone who seems like the devil. Perhaps it’s what they deserve. Arraki obviously loves his cast of deviants and transgressives, and it’s interesting how there are hardly any ‘normal’ people of note about in the world these people inhabit, yet in the end what is he trying to say? Perhaps he’s not trying to say anything really, and that’s just fine. Nowhere is helped considerably by its cast [though lead James Duval both looks and sounds like a cross between Keanu Reeves and Justin Long] which include several future stars, Baywatch heartthrob Jaason Simmons in a rather startling role, and a great many cameos from TV and screen stars including Traci Lords.
The shortness of many of the vignettes and general flippancy means that we don’t care as much about many of the characters as we should, and in the end, I’m not sure I totally ‘got’ Nowhere, but the more I think about it, there may not be much to ‘get’. It’s just showing a writer and direction who clearly has a vision and style which is unique to him, and, at least in this particular film, I enjoyed having him share them with me.
Second Sight’s new DVD includes:
*Audio commentary with director Gregg Araki, James Duval, Rachel True and Jordan Ladd