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UCLA Film & Television Archive screens ‘The Living End’ in honor of Queer Cinema

Mike Dytri (left) and Craig Gilmore (right) play Luke and Jon in “The Living End.” (Courtesy of Academy Entertainment)

"Pioneers of Queer Cinema"

Feb. 26

Billy Wilder Theater

Free

By Talia Sajor

Feb. 25, 2022 3:33 p.m.

Queer Cinema lives on through an on-the-road, gritty romance.

On Saturday, the UCLA Film & Television Archive will be screening short films “Oblivion” and “If Every Girl Had a Diary along with feature film “The Living Endat the Billy Wilder Theater as part of their “Pioneers of Queer Cinema” series. The screening will be followed by a discussion with the director and writer of “The Living End,” Gregg Araki. The film draws inspiration from the pop-punk and alternative scene, Araki said, and follows the romance between HIV-positive Luke (Mike Dytri) and Jon (Craig Gilmore), as they begin a violent and murderous journey across the Western United States.

“It was a queer Bonnie and Clyde,” Araki said. “It’s (a) coming of age for a whole generation of gay people in that time frame.”

First premiered in 1992, “The Living Endwas written during a difficult time for queer artists such as himself, Araki said. HIV and AIDS, he said, were spreading throughout the country during the early ’90s and left members of the gay community carrying the concern of the epidemic in their day-to-day lives. He said he began to write “The Living End as a way to help cope and process his feelings of anger and frustration regarding the situation.

The time of the HIV/AIDS crisis was also the kick-starter for the “New Queer Cinema Movement.” Films deemed as “New Queer Cinema” – a term first introduced by scholar and film critic B. Ruby Rich at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival where “The Living End” was premiered – were able to represent the queer community unfiltered, Araki said, in ways that mainstream audiences had not seen before. He said during the 1990s there was a certain shock factor in screening two men kissing and engaging in intimate relations, as he did in his film, along with other “New Queer” films.

“If ‘The Living End’ had come out all by itself … it would have been (a) blip and people would have forgotten about it more,” Araki said. “But as being seen as part of a movement, it had a real impact on the culture.”

[Related: Film experts discuss Black experience, history in entertainment industry]

Alongside Araki in the making of this project was producer Marcus Hu, who will also be presenting at the program. Hu said after “The Living End” was initially debuted at Sundance, they received acclaim from the audience for its portrayal of the current events happening during the ’90s. With the political climate at that time, Hu said the movie served as a revenge-fantasy film against politicians for their lack of support and aid for the gay community. He said because of the urgency of the issue, the film was able to gain widespread publicity and importance across audiences.

“There was a hungry gay audience,” Hu said. “They (wanted) to see images of themselves … because it was so rare back then. Because of that, it really did create a huge, amazing body of work.”

Joining Araki and Hu at the event will be actor Mike Dytri, who starred as Luke in “The Living End.” Dytri said one of the most important details of Luke is the way his character was written. Similar to the many queer characters today, he said Luke was created as an ordinary person with flaws, complexities and strengths, with the only trait that distinguished him being his sexuality.

As Araki also self-identifies as queer, he said he finds his sexuality and role in the Queer Cinema Movement to be an integral part of not only his identity but also his work as a writer and filmmaker. He said he credits this aspect of himself and the focus of being an outsider in comparison to traditional societal standards to be the ultimate driving force of his artistry.

“If I wasn’t queer, I can’t even imagine what any of my films would be like,” Araki said. “It defines where my head is, where I am in the culture, what’s important to me and the kinds of films I want to make.”

[Related: ‘Love, Laugh, Doom, Tears’ examines graduate student’s experience with sexual assault]

With Araki’s continuous focus on queer storytelling, he said LGBTQ+ representation and visibility have increased in the media and his everyday life since the debut of “The Living End.” Although society’s attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community has shifted, Araki said “The Living End stands as an artifact of the queer experience – the resistance, obstacles and struggles – prior to its normalized visibility. Araki said he continues to look back at the film as a time capsule of a defining moment in queer culture and American politics.

“It was the birth of conscious movement of gay people becoming more visible and having more of a voice … and being completely unapologetic about it,” Araki said. “Seeing that and seeing its historical context is really incredible.”

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Talia Sajor
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