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Retro Movie of the Month: SPLENDOR (1990)

Retro Movie Review: Splendor (1990) Greg Araki was a key contributor to the buzzing New Queer Cinema movement of the 1990s. Born in Los Angeles and raised within the Santa Barbara city limits, Araki after completing college with a MFA began his film journey with the

splendor scaled - Retro Movie of the Month: SPLENDOR (1990)

Retro Movie Review: Splendor (1990)

Greg Araki was a key contributor to the buzzing New Queer Cinema movement of the 1990s.

Born in Los Angeles and raised within the Santa Barbara city limits, Araki after completing college with a MFA began his film journey with the low budget Three Bewildered People in the Night (1987) and The Long Weekend (O’Despair) before filming and completing The Living End (1992). All of them receiving praise from Independent film audiences and critics. Three Bewildered People won the Bronze Leopard, Young Cinema Award at Locarno.

Following this creative upswing He wrote and directed what is to be called his Teen Apocalypse Trilogy consisting of Totally F****ed Up (1993), The Doom Generation (1995) and Nowhere (1997). All three films considered cult-classics and all were on rotation in my adolescent video collection of VHSs and store bought purchases. Specifically The Doom Generation and Nowhere: Doom Generation a nihilistic comedy/ road movie starring Rose McGowen, James Duval and Johnathon Scheach with cameos from Nicky Katt, Amanda Bearse, Parker Posey, Skinny Puppy, Dustin Nguyen and Perry Ferrel. And Nowhere an end of the world meets raunchy teen comedy set in the pretentious and sunburnt streets of Los Angeles starring James Duval, Rachel True, Kathleen Robertson and co-starring Guillermo Diaz, Christina Applegate, Ryan Phillippe, Jeremy Jordan, Jordan Ladd, Scott Caaan, Mena Suvari and John Ritter.

Both films receiving mostly positive reviews and receptions. However, most people and surface breathing film critics dismissed them as shallow:

  • “There is an attitude in Gregg Araki‘s film (The Doom Generation) that I’ve sensed in a lot of work recently: The desire by the filmmaker to have his cake and eat it, too. He wants to make a blood-soaked, disgusting, disturbing movie about characters of low intelligence and little personal worth, but he’s not willing to cop to that, and so by giving them smarmy pop-culture references and nihilistic dialogue, and filling the edges of his frame with satirical in-jokes and celebrity walk-ons (Margaret Cho, Heidi Fleiss), he’s keeping himself at arm’s length. Hey, if we’re dumb enough to be offended by his sleazefest, that’s our problem; Araki is, you see, a stylist, who can use concepts like iconography and irony to weasel away from his material.
    Note carefully that I do not object to the content of his movie, but to the attitude. Content is neutral until shaped by approach and style.”

    – Roger Ebert, (https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-doom-generation-1995)

 

I don’t agree with the late Roger Ebert, I mean this is the same man who didn’t like Blade Runner (1982), Hocus Pocus (1993), Death to Smoochy (2002) and some more. I look at it from the angle that Greg Araki was just a victim of perhaps being ahead of his time.

Regardless of the naysayers after completing his trilogy Araki made his most optimistic film to date.

Splendor is a romantic comedy about a functioning love triangle starring (then real-life girlfriend) Kathleen Robertson, Johnathon Scheach and Matt Kessler. Once again set in California and involving young adults. This is probably his most accessible film to viewers. Kathleen, Kessler and Scheach are relatable and charming and once your mundane, conventional and lace curtain presumptions of “what a relationship is” takes the backseat you’ll really end up enjoying the film. I did. I always have. This was a movie I always put on for girlfriends to watch and chill. Robertson captures your attention with her scene devouring presence and heart. Meanwhile, her Prince Charming’s played by Kessler and Scheach win you over faster than a pigs pussy tastes like SPAM.  

splendor2 300x175 - Retro Movie of the Month: SPLENDOR (1990)

Here is an excerpt from a Filmmaker Magazine, interview with Greg Araki Archived (2011-08-14) at the Wayback Machine:

  • Filmmaker: The other thing about Splendor is how it messes with the classical construction of comedy. Typically comedies, even screwball comedies, end in marriage, signifying that social and political harmony has been restored. But with a three-way you get to have your marriage and eat it too. The order restored is fundamentally unconventional.
  • Araki: That’s exactly it. The movie is very much about achieving conventional happiness in an unconventional way.
  • Filmmaker: Your films use a fairly defined visual vocabulary. How do you construct a happy film?
  • Araki: We were going for a specific aesthetic. I wanted to make the most gorgeous film ever made. I wanted the colors to just trip off the screen. I wanted the film to have that early ’40s movie-star glamour, as well as a New Millennium, post modern, new wave feel. The old and the new together. Trying to envision the future by looking backwards. I set it two years in the future which is not long enough to be futuristic, but long enough to feel new.
  • Filmmaker: Where does the title come from? Is it supposed to evoke the Wordsworth line of “Splendor in the Grass?”
  • Araki: No, it was a rave music sort of vibe. Especially that big Everything But The Girl song [“Before Today”] in the middle of the movie. It is electronica, but tending towards its warm end rather than its hard techno side. I think of it more like the film Splendor in the Grass. Or as one of Matt’s friend calls it “Splendour in the Ass.” But I picked the title because it is such a gorgeous word.


The film is watchable on YouTube. Just click on the link below and acknowledge that you are a human being. Keep it cool and stay safe out there in the wastelands of America. And remember to always keep your finger on that REWIND BUTTON.
Splendor (1999) directed by Greg Araki
Movie Link – https://youtu.be/I21cqgxdfgo 

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sam.haine@newretrowave.com

A misanthropic fiction writer and pop culture killer, originally from NYC as well loiterer of the Philadelphia area. The author of a handful of spoken word albums. Member of the Jade Palace Guard; a collective of underground lo-fi artists. Creator and author of HAINESVILLE. Currently residing in Tucson, AZ.

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