(L-R) Johnathon Schaech, Andrea Sperling, Gregg Araki, and James Duval attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “The Doom Generation” Special Screening at Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
By Stephanie Ornelas
It had been nearly 15 years since the cast and crew of The Doom Generation were in the same room together to watch their film. They did an industry screening in 2008 but since then, they hadn’t seen it together. That all changed on January 23 when they gathered at the Egyptian Theatre during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, where the film was screened in its restored and remastered state.
In The Doom Generation, James Duval and Rose McGowan’s characters pick up a handsome drifter (Johnathon Schaech), and the three vagabonds get themselves into all kinds of deadly trouble. The hilarious yet dark film had audience members cracking up, and also stunned with one graphic scene that was cut from the film after its original premiere. In true Sundance fashion, the film screened exactly as it did back at the 1993 Fest — with that powerful yet graphic scene ultimately left in.
Members of the cast and crew were present to do a Q&A led by Kim Yutani, Sundance Institute’s director of programming, and they were visibly thrilled to be together again. Looking back at their work on the film — which was ultimately picked up by Trimark Pictures — they reminisce about their favorite memories.
“This was such a giant learning curve for me,” says director Gregg Araki. “This was the first film I actually had a crew on, and every day was a fucking adventure. They’re just sweet, fond memories.”
Producer Angela Sterling recalls some of the quirks and workarounds due to the film’s low budget. “I just remember not really having a lot of money to make it. But Greg and I had made two other movies before this, and we had a lot less. I still was in my early days producing and I didn’t really have a proper vehicle to drive. So, as a producer, I was skateboarding everywhere around the set.”
It was also way before traditional cell phones existed, Sterling recalls, when society was unable to rely on the technology we have today. “It’s really interesting when I think about making this movie, because there was no way to really communicate the way we all know now. We had beepers, and I got one giant phone that I put in my car, and I would page these guys. Johnathon was driving Jimmy [James] to set, and I’d have to get on this giant phone, plug in some number, and hope they would somehow show up here or beep me back, I guess,” Sterling laughs.
“There are really so many memories,” Duval chimes in. “The Northridge quake hit right before the second day of filming, so that really lent itself to the feeling of The Doom Generation. But I think one of the memories for me that is really kind of wild is when we were shooting the car scenes. We had to put the car on a trailer hitch. And it was so big, it barely fit, so you couldn’t open the doors. A key grip had to hotwire the windows and we’d crawl in. Then, for sound purposes, he had to hotwire it back shut. So, once you’re in the car, you’re locked in there.”
(L-R) Andrea Sperling, James Duval, Johnathon Schaech, Gregg Araki, and Director of Programming at Sundance Film Festival Kim Yutani speak onstage during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “The Doom Generation” Special Screening at Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
(L-R) Andrea Sperling, James Duval, and Johnathon Schaech attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “The Doom Generation” Special Screening at Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
But it wasn’t all adventure and laughs during the Q&A.
When it came time to cast, it’s clear that Schaech was a frontrunner to play the troubled drifter, but he was also going through a lot personally. “It was a long time ago, but I know this: my acting teacher passed away August 8, 1993 from AIDS, and he was an incredible teacher. I had lost all hope for acting. Then these guys came into my life and gave me hope.”
Araki was also asked about the graphic scene that was cut out before going to distribution. He explained the motivation behind it — and it’s simply horrifying.
“This film was made when I was an angry little punk rock kid. When I saw the movie recently, I said, ‘God, it’s so fucking violent, it’s crazy.’ But I noticed in all of my movies from the ‘90s, there’s a gay bashing. There is this sense of danger to being queer and being the outsider, and I think that’s why it resonated so much with the kids and the outsiders. There is that sense of the outsiders being fucking killed that’s happening even today. The sad part is, there are still gay kids and trans kids getting killed by these Nazis. The first screening of The Doom Generation was so intense. Nobody had ever seen it before. And during that ending scene, people were just walking out, so in shock. It is a really intense scene, but that’s the world we live in.”