Larry Clark’s Fountain of Youth At over fifty years of age, Larry Clark has probably explored, exposed and exploited teenagers legally more than anyone. In 1995, after having worked as a photographer for years, he decided to get into movies and directed his first film. You might have seen it, it’s called Kids. Since then, his filmography reads like a rap sheet for that creepy uncle who lets you massage his gnarled feet while telling you musky stories about how he lost his virginity on prom night right before he was shipped off to Vietnam.
Where Kids, based on the screenplay written by a then 19 year-old Harmony Korine, is an unflinching and disturbingly honest look at skateboarding kids and AIDS in New York City, Clark’s 2001 film Bully is an exploitive look at the lurid, directionless, and ultimately violent life of a bunch of Florida teens. Complete with pubescent panty shots, graphic sexuality, and shocking violence, the film is a sweaty piece of work loosely based on an actual case where a group of teens, pushed to the breaking point by an abusive friend, finally took revenge by killing him. Next, Clark re-teamed with Korine to make the seldom-seen and highly controversial Ken Park about teenagers at odds with their lives who find companionship and sympathy through sex with each other.
Whether you think of him as provocateur or pornographer, Clark’s films consistently explore the notions of youthful isolation, anxiety and alienation, while often blasting the failure of the family structure in modern society. With this legacy of films behind him, it’s a surprising (as well as an artistic) relief that Wassup Rockers should end up being the most innocent and heartfelt look into American youth this dirty old man has put on film to date.
With Wassup Rockers, Clark has relinquished–if only for the moment–the need for lurid sexuality and desperate violence. Instead, this low-budget film focuses on a group of seven real-life Latino teenage skater friends growing up in South Central, Los Angeles. Clark spent over a year befriending these kids in order to gain trust and access to their lives, crafting the semi-improvised script around actual stories they told him. Originally spotted while skating at Venice Beach, the group of boys caught the director’s eye because of their individual style which immediately placed them at odds with the hip-hop dominated community they lived in.
Sporting skinny jeans, studded belts and long hair, these kids are punk rock, and are subsequently challenged and alienated everywhere they go. Whether it’s the ghetto or Beverly Hills, trouble finds these Rockers at every turn. But the honest and unassuming approach Clark takes here is a moving change from the dysfunctional worlds he normally reveals. These are not bad kids; they don’t do drugs, they aren’t into chaos, they just want to skate, meet girls, and get home safely. They talk about their “first time,” play in a punk band, and laugh at each other. During one long day in Beverly Hills, the boys weave their way through the yards and homes of the proverbial elite, fighting rich white boyfriends and running from tight ass white cops and lecherous party hosts. The only support they get is from the Latino maids who help them get out of the neighbourhood when things get dangerous.
It’s unlikely we’ll see these kids again in movies, but the moments they have given us are to be treasured. They may be poor, but they know who they are and how complicated and fleeting life is. They are friends in all the right ways, and don’t care what you think.