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May 06 2015

10th Anniversary of 'Mysterious Skin' and Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Actor

Glennhere.Look,we all know Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a child actor,and a pretty good one,too (that scene where he got skate in the face inHalloween: H20is very memorable).But let's not kid around here.It wasn't until the release of Gregg Araki'sMysterious Skinin 2005 that most really started to take him seriously.One year later he starred inBrickand he's only continued to rise up the ranks as a popular and critically respected actor.Looking back,I can't recall if his presence was as exciting to me in this film as Michelle Trachtenburg fromBuffy,but looking back now he's certainly one of the reasons the film holds up.

It's actually rather appropriate that the 10th anniversary ofMysterious Skinshould occur now at around the same time asNew York Magazine's article entitled "Why You Should Go to the Movies (and Do Other Stuff) Alone"has been getting shared around on social media.You see,Araki's film was the first film I ever went to see at the cinema by myself.I travelled to Melbourne all on my lonesome,without friends or family who I usually convinced to join me for a day at the arthouse,and caught a screening of the movie that had amassed so much controversy in the local media.There were threats of it being banned after a 'family organization' (code for fundamentalist "won't somebody think of the children"noddies) demanded a review of its already very restrictive R18+ rating which is the Australian equivalent of an NC-17.Given the history of sexually graphic films being banned after similar action - titles likeRomanceandBaise-Moi- I knew I had to see this film.And fast!


Was it the controversy that made me want to see it?Was it Gordon-Levitt and Trachtenburg?I had never seen an Araki film at that stage and my investigation of queer cinema was still a year or so way from going supernova,having only seen mainstream movies likePhiladelphia,being frightfully embarrassed going to seeThe Deep Endwith my mother,and sneaking views ofBeautiful Thing,StonewallandMy Beautiful Laundretteon late night TV,quietly in my room.I guess the idea ofMysterious Skinsounded radical to me.Finally of age,who could stop me?

I remember it vividly.The rebellious feeling of going to see an R-rated movie (remember,much more restrictive than America's R),one perceived as dirty and disturbing,too!Do young audiences get that thrill anymore?Certainly not in the cinema,I assume.That nervous feeling of the lights going down and entering a world that is so far removed from one's own typical,‘normal' high school suburbia.The crowd buzzing at the thought of what's gotten people so riled up.It both shocked and saddened me,yet also exciting me at the prospect of a new branch of cinema I could embark upon.It still to this day jockeys around withBrokeback MountainandThe New Worldfor favourite film of 2005 and I think its strengths have only grown in the intervening years.

It's not an elegant movie – the dialogue certainly sounds awkward in a graphic way that people wouldn't usually sound like – but it remains supremely beautiful and a keen distillation of the impact of abuse as well as looking into the fallacy of "why didn't you leave?"rhetoric.The complaints leveled at the film suggested that it's a training manual for abusers,which is an eternally grey area that cinema still finds itself uncomfortably straddling in particularly when it comes to violence in the aftermath of tragedy.Wonderfully acted by its young cast especially (it was Brady Corbet's first step on the road to auteur wonderland).Araki and cinematographer Steve Gainer filmed using 35mm and it shows in the vivid colors and striking compositions.The soundtrack,full of sublime dream-pop is the perfect musical accompaniment for the often otherworldly images.

SoMysterious Skinis a particularly fond memory for me.I'm so glad the film wasn't a let down lest I lost my nerve and never be as adventurous again.Even if I didn't have a story attached to the film,it would still be an excellent film worth revisiting or discovering for the first time.There's a frankness to it that is engaging yet disturbing and cinematically envigorating just like all good queer cinema should be and rarely is anymore.I wonder if anybody who didn't fall entirely for in 2005 might think differently now given it was the last gasp of an exceptional 15-year era of queer film.

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Reader Comments (17)

I miss this Araki...and the earlier one.But haven't been into it since.

May 6,2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Love this movie and JGL in it (shout outs to Bill Sage and Brady Corbet too).

However,this article made me remember why I love Shailene Woodley (wait,wait,hear me out!) despite never having seen one of her movies.In the Oscar round-table last year,she told the most amazing story about getting cast in White Bird In A Blizzard (still on my "to watch"list) and watching a DVD of Mysterious Skin to familiarise herself with Gregg's films.She was so taken with JGL's work that she started telling her friends about this amazing actor and why he should be a star.Before her friends politely told her that he kind of is.

Adorably clueless.

May 6,2015 | Unregistered Commenterkermit_the_frog

I remember wanting to see this in the (vain) hope that Elisabeth Shue would have (another) knockout role...and then walking out with a newfound respect for JGL.

May 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I saw this in the theatre on its release and the acting is great in this but this was one of the most soul crushing experiences I ever had in a movie theatre.I'm not sorry I saw it but I would never watch it again.

May 6,2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Hard movie to sit through,but damn,that one muscle John was hot.

May 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge

Mysterious Skin was the first warning shot for me whenever approaching a Joesph Gordon Levitt led movie.His performance and that of the ensemble was spot on.Although I hate the actor who played the abuser.I hope he never lives it down or is ever in the position to win big career prizes.I avoid movies with pedophilia themes because of Mysterious Skin.

May 6,2015 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Was this the first time Araki directed a film that wasn't based on his own original script?That might be why it stands above everything he did before (and possibly since,too.I'm not sure,I've stopped watching his films).

JGL is jaw-droppingly good in this.It's one of those roles that unmistakably announces an actor's talents beyond what anyone thought he could do.

May 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

This is Gregg Araki's best work and definitely a career turning point for JGL as he would go on to become one of the best actors working today after that.

May 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

I always felt weird about how much I was attracted to JGL and Brady.

May 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoey

I like the movie.I love the book.I think Brian (Brady Corbett's character) gets sort of a short shrift in the movie.Both his and Neil's stories are equally important.

May 6,2015 | Unregistered CommenterFaith

joey - but you were as young as they were so it is definitely OK ;)

May 6,2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I feel like this is one of those movies that shaped my tastes.

I remember I found it because I was obsessed with Precious at the time (it had just come out),and I remember reading a comment on the internet about how it's sad that the only positive role model in her life was her teacher,who played a pedophile in another movie (Mysterious Skin).Haha

May 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

JGL was robbed of an Oscar Nom!!

I rem seeing this around the same time as brokeback mt,& as similar as they are in their gay themes,they are such diverse stories..& I'm profoundly touched by both,BB Mount w its heartrenching lcentral uv story....& MS w a totally fearless & heartrenchingly beautiful perf fr JGL..

Till this day,I still could not figure out how issit that BB Mount get all the award love,while MS was totally shut out??not even an Indie nod??Issit bcos it was too gay for mainstream audience??but then BB Mount was pretty upfront w its gay theme too....

I do hope JGL get nom this yr for either The Walk or Snowden...

May 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

Excellent post.Mysterious Skin is one of my favorite films and is what catepulted me from "I like JGL"to "I LOVE JGL!"The rating is honestly what made me rent it.Around the time that A Dirty Shame came out,I realized I had never actually seen an NC-17 movie,so going through a movie magazine,I saw this was about to be released at the time,so I rented it as soon as I could.

I still think the rating given to this film was total bullshit,but not much I can do about it now.

May 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterBrittani

such a great,compelling film with a fantastic,haunting ending.that sigur ros track with that shot of them getting smaller and smaller.ugh.the soundtrack is also shoegaze,dreamy perfection.

May 8,2015 | Unregistered Commentermcv

It's an exceptional film,one of the defining queer films of the '00s,and Araki's most complete and well-rounded work from beginning to end.

I was late to the party in that I caught it a couple years ago on Netflix but was blown away by it.The casting,the bravery,the sadness!It's so amazingly raw and honest and captures such a specific type of character and period so well.The direction is inspired,there's so many memorable compositions that stick with me and there's an ease to the technical aspects of the film that I don't find in much of Araki's work.It's pure directorial confidence and control.

And I'm a pretty big fan of films that signify an ~arrival~ of a performer in the way this does for JGL.He's not a fave actor or anything but he's sensational here.

Bonus points for films tackling dark but surprisingly common aspects of coming-of-age homosexuality in such a frank way.I'm shocked it even got a release of any kind,to be completely honest.

May 8,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

Mark The First,it likely wouldn't get much of one today.Not beyond a screen or two + VOD.

May 10,2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

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