“L.A. is like nowhere,” says Dark, the brooding, angst-ridden, teenaged protagonist of Gregg Araki’s criminally underrated 1997 film, Nowhere. “Everybody who lives here is lost.” Being adrift, perpetually searching—for a partner, for a party, for oneself—is indeed the movie’s central theme and animating force. Its misfit characters seem to wander aimlessly through their super-modern, post-industrial world, a citywide non-place. And we follow them in fascination. Yet, unlike Marc Augé’s notion of non-places—spaces void of personality and permanence—Dark’s L.A. is laden with significance and symbolism.
Much of that excess meaning comes courtesy of the soundtrack. Araki—whose previous features The Living End, Doom Generation and Totally Fucked Up included music from Curve, Ride, Nine Inch Nails, and Coil, and cameo appearances by Babyland, Perry Farrell, and Skinny Puppy—was well known for stacking his scripts with musical references, and soundtracks with unreleased songs, remixes, and other rarities. With the film turning twenty this week, it is high time to rediscover the music that made Nowhere an American cult cinema masterpiece in the salad days of pre-millennial nihilism and twilight capitalism. Whatev.