Today: June 20, 2024

Nowhere

If people actually cared about the youth culture of the 1990s then directors like Larry Clark and Gregg Araki would be household names. Instead, they are cruelly under-rated figures whose greatest works dip in and out of print like stones skipping across the surface of a pond. Araki’s Teenage Apocalypse trilogy uses surrealist imagery, psychotic violence and kinky sex to catalogue what it felt like to be alive and young in a decade that was neither one thing nor the other. Totally F***ed Up pioneered a new approach to gay filmmaking at a time when unprecedented numbers of teenagers were bypassing the closet and immersing themselves in a not-yet commoditised counterculture that lay just beyond the horizon of a now defunct mainstream. The Doom Generation celebrated this heady weirdness of late-night TV, UFO cults and absent parents but looked forward to a time when it would all come tumbling down to the sound of drop D guitars and feet shuffling in embarrassment at the thought of believing just a little bit too much in UFOs. The final film of an undeniably great trilogy, Nowhere feels both less important than Totally F***ed Up and less viciously melancholy than The Doom Generation, almost as though that which was once new and rebellious was being slowly co-opted and turned into just another pointless youth fashion.

The film opens with the beautiful-but-whiny Dark (James Duval) masturbating in the shower whilst thinking about his girlfriend. The more intense the masturbation, the more this vision of romantic bliss is replaced with fantasies of submission and homosexual experimentation. However, rather than recoiling from these forbidden desires, Dark owns them in much the same way as all of his friends.

Dark is surrounded by a bunch of beautiful, stylish and impeccably foul-mouthed teenagers who somehow manage to come across as a pack of grating imbeciles. Dark’s main squeeze is the beautiful Mel (Rachel True) who sees it as her duty to have sex with as many people as possible while she is still young and beautiful. This forces Dark to endure the taunts of Mel’s lesbian lover Lucifer (Kathleen Robertson) and a pair of grotesquely Aryan twins named Ski and Surf. Utterly in love with Mel and yet pained by her promiscuous ways, Dark pouts and broods while people all around him fall in and out of love and in and out of serious drug habits. The music, as usual in Gregg Araki’s films, is superb and the design is striking and yet somehow none of these kids seem authentic… their appetites are too large and unreasonable to be sympathetic, their desires are too narcissistic to be pure.

Araki has described Nowhere as a an episode of Beverly 90210 on acid and the description remains particularly apt; Beverly Hills 90210 was a teen soap opera about a bunch of incredibly wealthy people having minor relationship difficulties and the same can be said about most of the characters in Nowhere. They all have so much money to spend on drugs and clothes that their humanity has somehow gotten lost along the way. Despite their many similarities to the characters of Totally F***ed Up and The Doom Generation, the characters of Nowhere are of a different breed; they’re the ones who embraced weirdness because it was the done thing rather than because it was how they felt about themselves and the world. They are the ones who should be distrusted. They are the ones who kill an otherwise vibrant scene.

Imbued with a touch more humanity than many of his peers, Dark begins to notice strange things happening on the edges of his culture; alien lizards are disintegrating vacuous teens while a televangelist makes big promises on late-night TV. Filled with dread and alienated from the air of fashionably empty transgression surrounding him, Dark abandons the values of his peers in favour of a traditional fantasy of finding one person with whom he can spend the rest of his life. Aware that something is slipping away from him, Dark makes an uncharacteristically articulate speech about reaching the end of an era as his lover explodes leaving only an alien insect that promptly climbs out the window taking all youthful weirdness with it.

Watching Nowhere, one is struck by the fact that it feels very much like a lament for a form of youth culture whose loss has gone largely unreported. When the 1960s came to an end, people wrote songs, made films and wrote books but when the youth culture of the 1990s slowly unravelled, people only breathed a sigh of relief at not having to wear bright colours and big-tongued trainers anymore. The point Araki makes is that this type of rise and fall is inevitable… the seeds that cause youth cultures to bloom come with a pre-determined lifespan ensuring that nothing lasts and summers always end. Part of what makes Nowhere such an interesting film is that while Araki celebrates the style of the 1990s, he is also painfully aware of that period’s shortcomings and failures. A tonally complex and visually striking film that features appearances from many young actors who would later become Hollywood A-listers, Nowhere is a deliciously rewarding take on the era that popular culture forgot.

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