Once, as Gertrude Stein was reminiscing about her hometown of Oakland, CA, she said, and I quote, “There’s no there, there.” It’s unfortunate that she was never asked about LA, or if she was, that her response was not recorded for posterity. I shudder to think what she would have made of a place that has elevated vacuousness to an art form. Which brings me to the latest installment of Gregg Araki’s LA chronicles, NOWHERE, a film whose whole-hearted dadaism is something that Gertrude would have embraced without reservation.
When we meet Dark, the non-hero of NOWHERE, he’s spending a little quality time in the shower, imagining people he knows or would like to know doing all sorts of friendly, playful things to themselves and each other. Interrupted from his solitary pleasures by the mother from the black lagoon, he undertakes another day of relentless sunshine, smog, and angst in a place where love hurts. Bigtime. And I’m not just talking about the unfortunate way in which one character loses his nipple rings.
Dark drifts through his day in la-la land, killing time, cruising the streets and hanging out in the pop-nihilist eatery, The Hole. Here, over florescent Fruit Loops, Dark’s friends, Egg, Ducky and Dingbat gear up for their day of polysexual boffing and S&M mind games as a prelude to the night games of kick-the-can and commando partying.
Araki knows that Los Angeles ripples with enough absurdity all on its own. He lets it speak for itself using only the mildest of ironic overtones, showing us a place where the décor can have more personality than the people living in it. He gives us Brady-bunchers Eve Plumb and Christopher Knight are the Good Housekeeping-perfect parents of seriously deranged kids. And it casts celebrity offspring (Chiarra Mastroianni, Scott Caan, Jordan Ladd) and ex-porn queens (Traci Lords) with abandon. He even makes it work when he throws in a space alien to set up the film’s sublime cosmic joke of a punch line.
NOWHERE is a very black satire about love, longing and wearing really, really cute clothes. It makes me wonder if we’ll ever plumb the depths of nothingness L.A. has to offer. And it makes me awfully glad that I don’t live there.