Exclusive Interview with Larry Clark
Matt Day recently had the chance to talk exclusively with Larry Clark, director of the films Kids and Bully, about his latest work Ken Park. The film has sparked a storm of controversy around the world due to its graphic content, read on to hear his defense of the film, and his thoughts on his films on DVD.
Matt Day: Ken Park has been grabbing a few headlines lately, after being banned in Australia, how’s it going getting the film released elsewhere?
Larry Clark: Good. I was just in Europe I was at a film festival in Germany and we premiered it there, then I was in Paris doing press – it opened in France on October the 9th – then I went to Lyon and they premiered it there as well.
MD: So it’s just the UK and America that are having trouble with the release?
LC: Well I think we’re close to making a deal for the UK, we actually have three suitors believe it or not that want this film so the whole thing’s coming together and hopefully it’s going to play in the UK. We have a distributor in the US, so hopefully the film will be out soon. It’s kind of a shaggy dog story because the film was originally going to come out in August and then November and it might even be delayed a little more but it’s definitely coming out in the US. What’s taken so long is we had distribution, somebody courted us, wined us and dined us, and then they pulled out at the last minute.
MD: Was that in America or the UK?
LC: That was in the US, but now we have new distribution in America. This film, it was such a struggle even making it, it took all these years to get financing for the film, and when the film was finished the producer and financiers said this film will never be distributed, you’ll never get distribution unless you cut it, no-one will touch it. And I said “wait a minute you’re wrong, if we can get it in front of an audience wait and see what happens”. Luckily we got in Venice, where they also told me I wouldn’t get in because they brought in a new director who they said was very conservative, but he loved the film and invited us to the competition. So we brought it to Venice a year ago and the audiences responded to it so well and then they sold it all over the world. Now here’s this film that I was told would never be distributed unless I cut it, I said I’m never going to cut a frame from this film, this is what it is, it took all these years to get it made. If I wanted to cut it I’d have made a different film years ago. Now they’ve sold it all over the world, it opened in Russia, in Spain in Greece, it opened in Italy July the 4th – 32 prints of this little film in Italy – it opens in France soon, it played in Austria, and hopefully now the UK, I’d love it to be in the UK.
MD: Well the UK presents a rather difficult situation, as you’ve made it clear you didn’t want to cut the film in any way. I recently spoke to Sir Quentin Thomas, who’s the director of the BBFC, and although he hasn’t seen the film yet he did confirm that ejaculation is something that hasn’t been classified in the UK before.
LC: But look at the rules, I have a copy of the rules, and the rules state that you can show erect penises, you can show ejaculation, you can show oral sex, you can show intercourse, you can show anything as long as it’s in context, so maybe it hasn’t been done, but it can be done – there’s no rules against it, and this film is all about context. I was told that if you show certain things in film, if you show certain images, it’s automatically pornography. I said wait a minute what are you talking about?, and they said if you show certain things, like ejaculation, it’s automatically pornography and I told them – no it’s not, if it’s a part of life, if it’s in the context of the story, if it’s not gratuitous, and if it’s really well done then it’s not pornography, and I’ll prove it to you. That was one more thing I wanted to prove, just one more challenge, and this film – and you’ve seen the film – is not pornography. It’s part of the story, it fits in, it seems right. Take for example the last scene in the film, the sex scene at the end [one of the most explicit in the film], people from Venice, and film festivals all over the world, tell me that’s not pornography, it feels right, it’s not a dirty scene – the dirty scene is where Peaches’ father kisses her. This isn’t me, this is audiences everywhere, they see the film and respond and they think this is OK. I think that the people that see the film at the BBFC will see that, a lot of people are speculating but I think that we’re really breaking new ground here, and that’s one of the roles of an artist, and when people see this film they’ll see it the way it is, I’m not cutting the film for anybody, ever.
MD: The UK has an interesting situation in that there is a classification exclusively created for pornography – the R-18. Films classified with this can only be sold in licensed sex shop, but they can get away with a lot more than is allowed at a regular 18 rating. If the BBFC were only willing to pass the film uncut with that rating would you want it to be distributed in that way?
This is a film, it’ll be shown in theatres, it a good film – I think it’s my best. I’m working with a great cinematographer Ed Lachman, it’s a great looking film, it is what it is, and it’s not pornography, I’m very proud of this film.
MD: There were a lot of familiar faces, but not big names in the film, did that help add to the realism?
LC: The acting is just spectacular, it was really interesting to mix first time actors with really experienced ones. All the adults a really great, professional actors, and all the young people in the film are first timers which made it really interesting. Wade Williams, who play’s Claude’s father in a brilliant performance and he said that working with Stephen [Jasso], he doesn’t know what he’s going to do, he doesn’t know where he’s going to go, he’s just so open and honest. “If he had any kind of training I might know, I might have a clue where he is, where he’s going to go, so I’m out there totally lost, I have to stop acting and just be real”. So that makes for fantastic scenes where the actor is forced to be real and the first timer is being real, so I was really happy with the first timers, it’s interesting to see what happens.
MD: You really seem to have a talent for picking a young cast off the streets and finding great actors out of nowhere.
LC: Well I did it in my first film Kids, no-one in that film had ever acted before but they were kind of from that scene, that downtown scene, and it’s weird to do that. I’m amazed by it too, I was in the skate park and I saw Stephen Jasso who plays Claude and I saw Mike Apaletegui who plays Peaches boyfriend Curtis and they were just skaters in the park that you see in the film, and I thought in my mind that’s the way I want Claude to look, and that’s the way I want Curtis to look, so I went up to them and, well, I made them actors. The main thing about being an actor is to not be self conscious and these kids really can do that. You can usually tell right away, sometimes you see one and you have a reading and it doesn’t work, but generally you can tell it right off the bat.
But then it’s a lot of work, it’s not easy, I don’t want to say this just happens. You pay a price emotionally to pull these performances out of them and they pay a price too, emotionally, to give that kind of an honest performance.
MD: There were certainly some fantastic performances in the film, do you think it will launch careers the way Kids did for Chloe Sevigny or Rosario Dawson?
LC: I think if they want to continue a career they can. I think Tiffany Limos is amazing, and she’s out in California now, she’s going to be in a couple of films but Kids really did [launch careers] Chloe’s a huge star in Europe, Leo Fitzpatrick works a lot and John Abrahams who had a small part in Kids has also been in a lot of films.
MD: You wrote the stories for both Ken Park and Kids but you got Harmony Korine to write the screenplays.
LC: Yeah Harmony did a brilliant job, but after he wrote Kids for me it to a year to raise the money, that was a tough film to finance too, just trying to find the money – and keep all the kids together because they had no money. Harmony was living with his grandmother, and I’d cast a lot of the roles and I was trying to hold everybody together so I made a couple of music videos for money to pay some of the kids rent. But in that time I had all these stories for Ken Park so I gave them to Harmony and I told him I could have four films here but can you put these together in one movie, and he made a brilliantly structured screenplay. So I’ve had the screenplay all these years, but when we made it I changed it a bit, we read it and there were some things that worked and some that didn’t and I didn’t like the ending so we changed the ending a bit.
MD: What was it originally?
LC: [laughs] The ending was a joke, I mean it ended on a joke, and after we went all that way through the film I didn’t want to end it that way, and it wasn’t a very good joke! But Harmony wrote both those screenplays when he was 19 or 20, and I truthfully think they’re so good because they were the first things that he’d done, and he was really in a space where he could work with no distractions, and he hadn’t taken any drugs yet.
LC: Seriously! He’d never taken drugs, he wasn’t a drug taker, and I think he’s gotten a little lost since then but I got him when he was fresh, and I think you can see the screenplays are very well done, they’re very clear, and there’s certainly a talent there that will hopefully be rekindled.
MD: A lot of people have criticised you for your depiction of children in Kids and Ken Park, perhaps not realising that the screenplays were written by somebody of that age.
LC: Well that was the point, I started making work for myself when I was a teenager photographing my friends. My first book Tulsa was a photo-documentary of my friends over a period of nine or ten years, so it became like visual anthropology, I started that way so when I had the idea for Kids I immediately thought of it. When I did my first work people said it was from the inside, only someone from the inside could do this. So when I had the idea for Kids I thought it would be great to have some kid from the inside write this, do what I did years before, but I said, no kid can write. But then I met this kid who was in his last week of high school, and we’re in the [skate] park, he sat down beside me and we started talking, and he told me he wanted to make movies, so a year later when I got the idea for Kids I thought of Harmony, so I called him up, and you know what happened.
And even though I had the ideas and the stories for Ken Park, Harmony was 20 years old so he was understanding the relationships on a level with them as an adolescent and I certainly think that was a big plus.
MD: Speaking of your photography, I’ve always felt that both Kids and Ken Park feel more like photographs than films, in that they’re a snapshot of these lives. Has your history as a photographer made you more likely to strip away the regular movie structure and just make a picture?
LC: Well I’ve been making images so long I just feel so comfortable with it, it just comes to me naturally. Working with Ed Lachman, who’s a great cinematographer, he did Erin Brocovich and Far from Heaven, he tells stories - and I can say this because he says this – he was inspired by my work, by Tulsa and Teenage Lust. So working with him is great. He knows how to make an image too, and he knows my vision – and I have a very clear vision – and I think that’s why the film works, I really know what I want and I’m not out there flailing away. Maybe it takes a while to figure out how to get it! But I know what I want and Ed and I together probably have 70 years experience as visual artists so between us we should be able to figure it out and make this a visually exciting film.
MD: Well the shot towards the end of Ken Park, with Tate sitting on his bed with his grandfather’s teeth in is one of the most disturbing images I’ve seen on film recently.
LC: [laughs] Yeah…..it certainly is.
MD: Moving away from Ken Park, Another Day in Paradise was the only time you’ve worked with anything like a star cast [in the shape of James Woods and Melanie Griffith] is that something you want to do again?
LC: Probably I will do that again, but I certainly had a baptism by fire on that film. I wanted to challenge myself, I’d only made Kids so I hadn’t worked with actors and I wanted to do that, but it was a really difficult film to make, I wasn’t in the best shape myself, I was still fairly chemically involved when I made it so it was hard. But I learned a lot, I learned about working with actors, and about working with Hollywood crews – you really have to teach them a lot, they have real cookie cutter rules and ways to do things, which is why all those films look the same and they’re so boring. So it was really something but now I think I could do it much better, and I actually have a couple of screenplays that I’m close to doing deals on and they’ll be with actors.
MD: I heard a rumour that you were meeting with Billy Childish to do a film based on his autobiography.
LC: Yeah, it’s funny, I didn’t even want to come to Europe, I was just so tired, but I wanted to meet Billy Childish. So I thought if I’m going to England I’m going to meet him because I’m a big fan, but I couldn’t find out where he was. My girlfriend got on the internet and tracked him down and emailed him, so I met him and I told him I really liked his book My Fault – which I think is the best title for an autobiography ever – so hopefully we’ll get that off the ground, it’s a film I’d love to make, an English film, I’ll come and make a film in England! That’ll be fun.
MD: So the other films you’re working on, are they also adaptations or are they original?
LC: Well I have an original screenplay called Syrup which is a comedy that takes place in the hip-hop world and we’re very close on that, we’re looking into casting it now so hopefully that’ll be made soon, and then I have a drama based on a 1973 Jim Harrison novel, he wrote Legends of the Fall, but this is an earlier novel about a guy that comes back from Vietnam and he and his girlfriend and another guy go on a road trip across America so that’s like a road movie. So I have a number of films I hope to make back to back, I’ve been busy.
MD: It’ll be good to see you busy.
LC: Yeah it certainly will, it keeps me out of trouble! [laughs]
MD: Your films haven’t received the best treatment on DVD, with Another Day in Paradise the only one you were directly involved with, do you want to be more involved with them?
LC: Well Another Day in Paradise I had to do. I was supposed to bring in an R [rating] on that film so to get my director’s cut on the DVD I had to agree to talk about it, and then they censored me! Sons of bitches said I slandered some producer so they censored me so I’ve never listened to it but I know there are a couple of lines that are censored. I have been asked to do a commentary for Bully and Kids, and at some point I will, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I could just sit and talk about them they were really interesting experiences, so hopefully that will happen, but it’s just so hard to get paid for these fucking films! You make them and then you never see the money, it’s very difficult to beat them because they’re all thieves.
LC: [laughs] No! some of them are good thieves, nice kind thieves, I like a lot of them, but they’re all thieves, what are you gonna do? But as you make more films you figure out how to keep a little bit of money for yourself.
MD: Is it frustrating getting a relatively small audience for a film you’ve put so much work into?
LC: I’m making little art movies, I’m not pandering to audiences, so it’s just commerce, it’s the name of the game. I’m just grateful that I get to make the films that I do, it’s a struggle, but I’m pretty happy.
MD: So do you ever consider making something less controversial, something easier to get funding for, or are you committed to pushing the boundaries?
LC: Well I can do a whole lot of different things, Ken Park was something I had to do, I had to, but it’s out of my system for a while so hopefully the next film or two won’t be quite so difficult to finance or get distributed, but I have another script that I’m going to wait a couple of films before I try to make it. It’s really a dangerous film and it really breaks a lot of taboos.
MD: Well coming from you that’s a serious claim.
LC: [laughs] At the moment I don’t know how I’m ever going to make this film but luckily I do have another one!