“More Teen Angst… Another Homo Movie… In 15 Random Celluloid Fragments” is the text which preludes Totally F***ed Up, one of the early feature films by Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin, Kaboom). And what an amazing cacophony of random, angsty, teen celluloid it turns out to be.
“Another Homo Movie,” however, it isn’t. Not least because there were hardly any films of a similar genre that preceded it. Ok, there was The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but there weren’t many films by the early 90s “showing the way that things really are”, as the character Stephen (Gilbert Luna) puts it in an entry to his video diary at the beginning of the film. Araki’s previous film, The Living End was refreshing; casting a less victimised and stigmatised gaze onto those living with HIV, yet it belonged in the realm of fantasy, with the main character Luke (Mike Dytri) forcing his way into Jon’s (Craig Gilmore) car, and off they spiralled into an adventurous road movie. Paving the way for the likes of Araki, Gus Van Sant and John Cameron Mitchell, and perhaps the first of the new queer films which attempted to show the way things really were, was My Beautiful Laundrette, a small homage to which, is made in Totally F***ed Up, where Stephen explains how he and his boyfriend met in the toilets after a screening of the film. With such a lack of predecessors, this early film from Araki is unquestionably a milestone in representing queer teen culture.
The film follows the lives of six gay friends in their late teens, experimenting with relationships, sex, drugs, friendship and technology. Stephen is making a film about his friends as they talk to him about everything from their last sexual encounters to musing about the state of the nation. “All the stupid people are breeding like mad, while the cool people aren’t having any. So the population just keeps getting stupider and stupider,” is one such gem offered by Patricia (Jenee Gill). The film rolls with a deep irreverence, depicting the ‘gay scene’ with gleeful irony; partners chained to dog leads parade in the foreground as Andy (James Duval) goes on his first date with heartbreaker Ian (Alan Boyce) and perfume drenched men waft past with a gloaty air as our six teenagers sit on the sidewalk mulling over the suicide teen rate in Europe. All the clichés are brought out, but they are brought out with style and humour, and yet it fails in any way to become a parody. Bringing it back down to earth is the docu-style film that Stephen is making (for any analogue freaks out there this is worth watching for the technical kicks) and a plot following those all too frail emotions when it comes to having one’s heart broken at that age.
Compelling, original and full of energy, this film is, to use Ian’s terminology, completely “gnarly.” A rare and important contribution to the film archive of young queer stories, and, to this day, an urgent wake-up call. Angsty, yes, Random, yes. Homo, very, Own It, Yes, very.
A re-release of Totally F***ed UP on DVD by Pecadillo Pictures is out on August 8th.
Text: Joe Cohen