It's been a little over a decade since Larry Clark unleashed his debut feature, the provocative teen drama, Kids (1995).
Since then, the 62-year-old Clark has continued to explore the dark side of adolescence from the intensely brutal Bully
(2001) to the nihilistic Ken Park
Still, what threads all of Clark's work is the careful attention given to the composition of the images. This no doubt comes from the groundbreaking still photography Clark captured of the teenage street prostitutes, hustlers and drug addicts in his native Oklahoma. His first collection of these photos, Tulsa
(1971), gained Clark serious critical acclaim and the book went on to become an inspiration for many film directors, among them Francis Ford Coppola
, who drew considerably from its look for his 1983 film Rumble Fish
Larry Clark's latest film, Wassup Rockers
], follows the true-life experiences of a half-dozen Latino skate punks. When they take a day-long trip from South Central to Beverly Hills, they end up experiencing the wrath and racism of the upper crust. Clark first met the kids during a photo shoot in Venice, California. Like the film's characters, they had taken several trains and buses to get across town. The filmmaker struck up a friendship with the teens and, over several years, photographed and interviewed them as the script and financing finally came together.
The tone of Wassup Rockers is very different from the heavy explicitness of some of your previous films. A lot of the comedy is very broad. Is this Larry Clark lite?
Well, first and foremost, the film is about these kids. They're very young, this is what's happening in their lives and I'm just showing that. And there is sex. There is quite a bit of sex. It's not explicit, but you certainly know what's going on. But these kids are living in a very difficult environment that they have to navigate just to stay alive. These kids are very poor. They don't have much but they have spirit. And they love living and they live life to the fullest.
It goes from a recreation of their lives kind of docudrama, but a real movie, into this action-chase-fantasy-adventure-crazy-slapstick-everything thrown in there movie. Even though this film is not as explicit or as dark as my other films, it's just as good.
And the film is about a lot of other things. It's about racism. It's about LA. It's about the isolation of South Central which is all black and Latino. White folks never go there. So hopefully, they'll see this film and realize that real people are living out there.
You've said that this film was the hardest to make. Why?
Well, we didn't have a lot of money, which wasn't unusual. We were so rushed and so crazy. To get what I wanted, you have to stay loose. And I think I work best going into battle, which is a plus. And the kids were kids. They were really wild and undisciplined. And that was their process - to be themselves. I wanted them to be themselves because I wanted them to be themselves in the film. You can't just say, "Sit down and shut up while we set up. You're not going to be yourselves." They had to be themselves the whole time. That was their process.
They played jokes on people. It was like herding cats. Every scene you would have to round them up. And then they would hide. They fucked with everybody in the crew, came up with nicknames for each one, and were always needling everybody. As a result, I kind of lost my crew on the way. I was dragging them along and the kids. Everyone started thinking of it as "Larry's Folly." No one knew what I was up to, but I knew what I wanted.
What's the secret to getting such great performances from these young non-actors?
The big secret is that I knew the kids for quite a while and I really worked on it. On the second of July, I will have known these kids for three years. And they got to know me and they could trust me. I always told them what I was going to do. I was very reliable. We had this bond. Otherwise it would have never worked out.
In the scene where Kiko (Francisco Pedrosa
) sits on the bed and opens up about this really personal stuff with Nikki (Jessica Steinbaum
), it was all about getting him comfortable enough to talk about his life. Then I took the actress and told her certain questions that I wanted her to ask. I only told him we where doing this on the day we were shooting. Usually only on the day because I want it to be fresh and I didn't want them to be stressed or have to memorize too much.
Had they met before that day?
Well, they knew each other but they hadn't really talked. When we shot it, I made them lock eyes and it was just a magical scene. It was magical because it was so honest. Kiko had told me all this stuff much earlier before we shot it. He had twisted his ankle and couldn't skate that day. So it was just Kiko and me talking and I started asking questions and we ended up having this really intimate conversation.
I really wanted to get that into the movie, but I wondered if I could get him to do it again. But because I'd put in that time and got to know the kids and we trusted each other, I was able to do it. When we were shooting that scene, my eyes were just misting over like crazy. This is why I put in all this time. This is why I took all of this abuse. This is why I almost killed myself. And it was well worth it.
Why are you still fascinated with adolescence?
It's my territory. It's interesting, and I find it fascinating how we all grew up in these different environments and how we survive. I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and even though I was a child of the 1950s, I was taking drugs back then. It was such a secret world, and I started photographing my friends because there were no photographs like that. If I had been able to see these pictures somewhere else, I wouldn't have had to take them.
So I ended up photographing my friends over a ten-year period as we grew up, and you could see what happened to people. And that was my first book, Tulsa
. That's what started it. But this was probably because I came from an adolescence that was really troubled. I was a really fucked-up kid. Really low self-esteem. So it is interesting to me now, all these years later, to find kids growing up in this environment where they don't want to conform. They have to constantly fight for who they are. And I still find that very compelling.
What is the status of your film Ken Park? Will it ever see a release here in the US?
It's played all over the world and been very successful. It made a lot of money in France, a box-office smash, let me tell you. It played Russia, Greece, Spain, Italy, everywhere. Except for America, because some of the music wasn't cleared. A really crazy producer started to do it but didn't finish. He just lied. Some of the music I busted my ass clearing, like Lefty Frizzell
, he never paid for it. So we have to either change some music or reclear some music, which is difficult.
But you can go on eBay and get the DVD from France, the Netherlands and Russia. They're all good quality DVDs. Don't get the one from Hong Kong because the DVD is pixilated. Which they can't do, but they did anyway. I should go to China and beat them up.
It's such a great American movie. I hope it sees the light of day in the US some time.
We're working on it. We hope it will at some point. I want it out, but I gotta move foward.