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Capone Chats With Larry Clark About Today's Kids, And WASSUP ROCKERS!!

Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here, with the results of my recent sit-down with writer-director-photographer Larry Clark (KIDS, BULLY, ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE, and the largely unreleased in the U.S. KEN PARK).

I'll openly confess two things about my feelings toward Clark prior to meeting him: I generally like his films and I was more scared to meet him than anyone I've interviewed to date. I don't know that much about him personally, but I'd envisioned something between a hard-core junkie and a misunderstood man-diva, who is constantly being attacked for his portrayal of teens and preteens engaged in some very adult behavior. I was so concerned about the interview that I went to an after-screening Q&A of his latest film WASSUP ROCKERS just to get a vibe off the guy.

I have to learn to abandon my preconceptions, because Larry Clark was one of the warmest and most conversational of all the directors or actors I've ever met. I could have easily gone on talking about any number of subjects with the guy for many hours and never run out of things to say. I hope this comes through in what follows.

You tell me...

Capone: I should tell you, I actually snuck in for the Q&A last night just to see what kind of guy you were and see how the public reacted to WASSUP ROCKERS.

Larry Clark: Oh good. How was it?

C: I thought it went really well.

LC: ...and the woman in the front row?

C: Yeah, she seemed to really dislike that first scene of the film, which I found bizarre because it effectively sets the tone and the story for the first half of the movie. I didn't know you were sitting in the theatre watching the movie with everybody else. I kind of poked my head in, and it seemed like people were reacting to the film in all the right places.

LC: Yeah, they were!

C: They were laughing, I only caught the last half hour, I guess, and they were laughing in the spots I thought they should have been laughing.

LC: They were laughing at the Janice Dickinson fight scene.

C: I think everybody laughs at that?

LC: That was the biggest laugh. I was so happy too because it¹s over the top. People would say, "That's over the top."

C: When I saw it last week, I think some of the people in my audience applauded when she got electrocuted.

LC: Yeah, that's right!

C: Actually, I did want to talk about that first scene that the woman in last night's audience did not like, because I didn't really know the approach that you were going to take when I stepped into the film.

So, when it started, I thought, oh, a documentary. I knew that you had these kids in the film who were not actors. And, I don't think everyone quite caught onthat the kid is kind of telling the story of the first half of the movie.

LC: That's when Jonathan was 14, after I first met him, and that's how I'm getting the idea for the film. He's telling me these stories. That interview wasn't in the film until the editing room. I said, "Wait a minute, let's see what that's like." Because I'm mixing genres up, you know, half way through the whole film, I'm mixing genres like crazy.

So, as a filmmaker that was fun, because now it starts as a documentary performance of Jonathan when he's just 14, telling about his friends and his life; he says, "We're going to start a band," and then a year later, when the film starts, and he's 15...we're showing what their lives are like.

It's all based on their stories, and also recreating the stories that he tells, you know. And then, halfway through the film, I take them out of South Central, and then we start on the action/adventure.

C: I'm sure I won't be the first one to point out that the film does--in that second half where they do leave South Central--that it does sort of ring a little bit of THE WARRIORS.

LC: Or like The Odyssey...

C: Well THE WARRIORS, of course, comes from The Odyssey.

LC: And, also John Cheever, because "The Swimmer" is in there, which I hadn't realized until after I wrote it, but John Cheever wrote the short story called "The Swimmer", which was made into a movie with Burt Lancaster, which is a great movie, where he swims across Beverly Hills pool by pool and goes into backyards and visits people. Watch that film again. It's really fuckin' great.

C: Some blaxploitation films that have that same thing, where the hero is walking through neighborhoods that he isn't usually in, and people are reacting to his presence.

LC: And, the best films were made in the '70s. God, they made good films in the '70s. They were all great.

C: I really did like the opening scene, and there's another scene where Kiko is with the girl on the bed...and they're just talking. He's telling her those stories about his lift, and that's very realistic. I assume what he's saying is true.

LC: It's absolutely true. When we were shooting that scene, I was tearing up, because I was thinking, "This is my movie. This is what I've been trying to do. This is what I've been working for a year and a half trying to get to--a moment like this."

Because Kiko is really telling the girl his story. He doesn't know the girl, she's a 14-year-old actress from a different environment completely, who's really interested in this story. He got shy, I mean really quiet, and she's such a good little actress, she's drawing him out.

I took her aside and had her ask these questions, and I told him that I wanted him to tell these stories about his life, which he told me personally, and so my job was to get him in a position where he's comfortable enough to do that on camera. And, he's telling her--it's really a real scene.

In the script, I just wrote, "Kiko and Nikki sit on the bed and talk." But, I knew what I wanted him to do because one-on-one, Kiko and I had had these talks, way after he had got to know me. It took, like, eight or nine months before he was comfortable enough with me to actually...cause he's a really tell me about his life and what's going on.

And, it was so moving that I wanted him to do this, and, as I say, my job was to get a sense of his life. In a lot of instances in the first half of the film, I wanted to get these kids in a situation where they could really be comfortable enough to really tell their stories.

Like when Jonathan tells about the first time having sex--that's another one. Jonathan, when he was 14, told me about this, but he had said it was "weird", you know, and he had told me some details, you know, but not everything. And, so we were going to shoot the scene...the night before, I said, "Jonathan, tomorrow we're going to do a scene where you're going to talk to Milton, who's still called Spermball at that point in the story, and tell him about your first time. I'm trying to figure out how to get him prepared. So, right then, my mind's going, "How can I do this, how can I do this?"

So I say, "When you go home tonight and lay in bed with the lights out, I want you to re-live that time moment by moment in real time. I want you to think about everything that happened, and really think about it and relive it." And, so the next day, when it's time to shoot, he's telling Milton that story for the first time in detail that he'd blacked out or forgotten, and he tells it in all this detail for the first time to Milton, so it's really real. How does the director get these kids in that position to be able to do this? It was interesting for me.

C: That sense heightened sexuality is a constant in your films. In all the years that you've been talking to these kids and working with these kidswhat does sex mean to them at that age? What have you gleaned that it means to them? Clearly, it doesn't mean the same thing that maybe it would mean when they're older...

LC: Well, it's used as an experimentation and trying to...I mean, it's interesting that, especially now, the pressure for kids to have sex at a very early age is enormous. The culture we live in, society, advertising, movies, TVmusic, especially hip-hop music, every kind of music now is all about kids having sex at an early age when emotionally most kids are not ready to have sex. But the peer pressure of the culture is such that these kids feel that they have to very, very young. That's just the way it is, you know?

C: Yeah, I was just trying to get an idea of what you learned about teen sexuality as a result of years of working with these actors.

LC: Right. I think when we're kids, you know, that's really there, and you're trying your best ,and you can't wait to get laid, you know.

I was talking to my son back then about that when he was a teenager--he's 22 now... or 23...and my daughter's not a teen anymore, she just turned 20--but the whole thing about dying a virgin. At that age, they think, they just don't want to die a virgin. They want to get to do it as soon as possible. My son said that's the reality, they talk about that a lot.

C: The kids in WASSUP ROCKERS, maybe even more than in any of the other films you've made about this age group or slightly older, are equal parts very innocent and very hard. What is it about the teen experience in that environment that you are drawn to?

LC: When I first met these kids, I thought, you know, these kids should be seen. You never see kids like this in film. You just don't see 'em, and I want you to see these kids.

And, also the peer pressure of the ghetto to conform to the gangster rap style and to the hip-hop style with the baggy clothes and the cut-off hair and smoking the pot and being all Ogangsta.'

C: They spend a lot of time in the film really rebelling against that pressure.

LC: Exactly. These kids just want to be themselves and have fun, and usually, as young teenagers, you have a right to try on different guises to see who you want to be. You can be a jock or a death metal or a punk rocker or a preppie or a gangster--you try these different guises, you can change from week to week.

Just before I met him, Jonathan got a crush on this gangster girl, and so one morning, he got some clothes, and the next day he was all in baggy clothes like a gangsta and went over and was courting this girl. It lasted about two weeks, and then he decided he liked this other girl better. So, he went back to being a punk rocker. But, you should have that choice at that age. And, these kids have to fight to do that, to be themselves. There's so much peer pressure to conform.

And, just the environment is so dangerous. From Kiko's house, it's two blocks to the store. Just walking to school is dangerous, and there are drive-by shootings all the time. Right after I made the film, I was watching TV, and there was a shot of a high school on TV, of all the kids coming out of school, and I said, "What are they doing with my footage on the tube?"

Well, what had happened was, there was a drive-by right there in the same location where we shot. Someone drove by, some idiot drove by, some gangbangers, to shoot somebody, missed and shot a 15-year-old, and she died two weeks later. I mean, that's the reality: you send your kid to school or to the store and that can happen. I wanted to show you this moment in time where you're at this age and you're growing up, but you still have that foot in childhood. You can do both, because these kids could act like little kids and then act like adolescents the next minute.

C: It seems they want so desperately to be older. It's not just about sex, but it really is just a constant effort to be and act older than they are.

LC: It's interesting that way, because when they're that age, they say, "I can't wait to be 18, I can't wait to be 18". But now, like, Kiko's 16, and Jonathan's just had a birthday at 17, now Jonathan is saying, "I don't want to be 18; I wanna be younger again!" So, it flips around.

C: It's rare in your films that parents play an active role or a positive role in the lives of their children, if you even show them. Do you think there will ever be a time when that might change, when you might write a film where that isn¹t necessarily the case?

LC: Well, that could happen easily. Sure, if I think of a story where that¹s the case.

C: But it hasn't been your experience to this point?

LC: Well, in KEN PARK the parents are not...they're pretty crazy, totally nuts. But, yeah, like good parents--that could definitely happen.

C: You know, I meant to congratulate you at the onset about KIDS being listed #23 in Entertainment Weekly's 25 Most Controversial Films. So, if there were an actual awards ceremony, what would you say to the Academy that picked your film? How does that strike you?

LC: Yeah, and THE WARRIORS is on that list. There are a lot of good films on that list. I just think out of the millions of films that have been made that's pretty great. I mean, KIDS has such a life. It's just like every generation sees it. All the kids have seen it, and kids will continue to see that film.

C: Speaking of KIDS, do you keep in touch or keep track of some of the actors from that film? Because obviously some of them are genuine celebrities.

LC: Sure, like Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson.

C: ...And even Leo Fitzpatrick.

LC: Leo. Leo's always working.

C: I always see him. He pops up everywhere.

LC: Leo just made two films with Hal Hartley, two in a row. And, he was in my film BULLY. He¹s a fine, fine actor.

C: I spotted him in "The Wire" on HBO.

LC: Oh yeah, he was in "The Wire."

C: I think his character died eventually, but he was really good.

LC: Yeah, he's really good. He's a fine actor. But, yeah, yeah, I do. I talk to Rosario, I see Chloë on occasion, and we may work together again, if it comes up. I would love to, you know.

C: Let me just back up a little on WASSUP ROCKERS. How did you meet these kids? And how did you decide...was there some specific story they told you that triggered you to say "There needs to be film made about them," a reason other than kids like this not ever being seen on screen before.

LC: The original idea was what we talked about before--the peer pressure to conform. I said, "Man, you know, the peer pressure in the ghetto is stronger than anywhere else. So, that was the original thing."

I was asked to photograph Tiffany Limos from KEN PARK for a French magazine. KEN PARK was coming out in Paris, and this magazine would be good press for the movie ¹cause it would be on the newsstands, and they were going to give us the cover. And, I was going to photograph her with kids from the movie, kids in KEN PARK, who weren¹t around.

So, it was serendipity. We saw Porky and Kiko at a little skate park in Venice and started talking to them. And, then they took us out to the ghetto. "We're from the ghetto in South Central" and they took us, and we were with them for four days.

C: By the way, I love when they say that, "We're from the ghetto." They put on a different, more serious voice when they say it.

LC: Kiko, yeah.

C: He could be laughing about something and a second later he'll say that line. Someone would say, "Where are you from?" and he'd get real serious.

LC: The line is in the film, because when I first met him, that's what Kiko said. And so, I kept having him say it, you know, like every scene, and I kept having him say it because it was so funny. And, Kiko was such a good actor. And, Kiko would say, "Man, you have me saying it every time." So, I had everybody ask him where he was from..."I'm from the ghetto." It just gets funnier and funnier and funnier.

And, when I took the published magazine back to L.A. and then started taking him skating and then made that video of Jonathan being interviewed get some stories for the film 'cause I didn't know what kind of a film I was even making yet. And, he's telling those stories, so that's when it started. How can I do these stories? How can I do this? And, it's interesting mixing the genres in the film, because you actually get to see how I started, how I'm getting ideas for the film and then "Bang!" we jump into the film. It's just in the right moment.

C: Are the kids really in a band? Do they really have a band?

LC: Yeah, that's his band that actually played in and sang.

C: I was impressed with their playing.

LC: Yeah, I was, too. Yeah, yeah, and the punk rock music is all local bands. There's one published band, Defiants, but all the other tunes are neighborhood, local bands; Jonathan and Carlos' band is the Revolts. Yeah, the music's terrific, and there's going to be a soundtrack album of that music. They'd make homemade CDs, so that music was in my car all the time, and I knew that had to be the music of the film.

C: So, that song we hear them playing in the movie, that's their's?

LC: That's their tune.

C: You mentioned at the Q&A last night about the time you took the kids to the skate park to scout locations and they ended up getting tickets from the police. And you had to get their parents involved, and it made me think, How do you approach the parents of some of your underage actors? Some of the parents have got to have issues with some of the things their children are doing, so how do you work with the parents?

LC: Well, I talk to the parents and tell them what we're going to do and explain it to them--what's going to happen and all the details. It's kind of funny because just before I made the film Milton called me up and said, "I can't be in your film." I said, "Why?" He said, "Because I don't want to be called Spermball anymore." And, I said, "What? Spermball is the greatest name in the world. You gotta be Spermball!" He says, "I can't be Spermball anymore."

He's growing up, you know. And so, on the spot, I'm thinking like crazy, and I'm thinking, Omigod, what am I going to do? And, I said, "Listen, I'll write in the plot that they call you Spermball, but you don't want to be called Spermball. Then I'm gonna have you do things where you get all this respect, and at the end of the film, they won't call you Spermball anymore. They'll call you Milton. So, then I wrote in that line, you know, that whole plot point all because of Milton calling and saying,"I can't be in the film."

C: It seems like the script was a very living, breathing thing.

LC: It was. It was so organic, it was changing all the time. And, the other thing was the girls we cast these little girls who take acting classes that hadn't had a lot of experience with boys as far as I could tell and that¹s what they said.

So, they're really acting, and it wasn't appropriate, you know, because they're so young, to even show them laying in bed. So, with the blonde from Beverly Hills, Jade, Laura Cellner, who plays the girl based on a kind of Paris Hilton kind of an idea, that attacks Jonathanand the idea was that Kiko would be talking in one room, while Jonathan's getting busy, right?

And, so Laura's mother is on the set, and I'm discussing the scene with her, and it's not a prettySand she says, "She's only 14, it's not appropriate for her even to be laying in bed." So, I said, "No, I'm not going to do it. I'm just going to show, you know, close-ups."

But, I kind of figured out how to suggest exactly what's going on without showing anything. There's this dialogue that I thought of on the spot--because I'm thinking quick. So, I take the mother in the other room, and it's probably the most nervous I've ever been in my life, telling Laura's mother this dialogue, right? So, I said, "I want her to say, "You're not circumcised," and he says this, and she says this, and I'm looking at her mother, and her mother's looking at me. She stares at me for about 45 seconds, and says, "I can relate to that." I was definitely figuring it out as I went along.

C: That's why I asked the question earlier about parents in your films, because clearly you interact with parents of kids this age. And it seems you have had fairly positive experiences with them.

LC: Yeah, yeah, especially these kids, you know, these are the really, really good kids.

C: I wanted to ask you about the Beverly Hills party scene. Clearly, you don't have a very high opinion of some of those Beverly Hills types, but do you have the luxury of sort of entering and leaving that milieu?

LC: Yeah, I know that world because I've got some friends who are in that world.

C: Do you dip into that culture every so often just to remind yourself how much you hate it, just to recharge your batteries?

LC: Well, no, I don't. I just know people in that world who have been influenced by my work--big-time photographers who tell me how inspired they were by my work and got to be photographers, so I know them well, so I kid them, I say, "You're fashion conscious." And, I can kind of get away with that.

When this French magazine, this double magazine came out, it was supposed to be 10 pages with Tiffany on the cover. They gave us 23 pages, made it two covers--one of Tiffany, and one of Jonathan, this 14-year-old kid, because he photographed so well. He's a man-child, he looks so good, right?

And, a fashion designer called me up that I know raving about it, saying "I want to photograph Jonathan, I want to photograph Jonathan." And, I said, "Well, you know, I'm going to make a film with these kids, so I can't really let you do that now." And, he said, "When you're finished with him, can I have him? Maybe I can do a campaign with him."

So, I figured for the movie that there would be this a fashion party the kids would crash. That's where the idea came from. They'll come to the place, and they'll be bloody with black eyes with ripped up clothes from the fight, and what will the fashion world's reaction be? My next campaign. Then you would start to see fashion models with bloody noses with these torn clothes.

And, it's funny, because I used to tell the kids, you know, during this year of taking up skating and hanging out with them, where they're in these old clothes and the ripped jeans, and they write all over the jeans and stuff, and they had this style, and I said, "You know, the fashion world will see you and rip off your style and then sell your jeans for 300 bucks." And, the kids would go, "That's crazy!" And, so now, they're doing that.

In the last year, all these jeans that look like Kiko's and Porky's jeans, they're selling for $300, $500, $700, and I had someone ask me last week, I swear to God, they said, "If these kids are so poor from the ghetto, what are they doing wearing $300 pair of jeans?" I swear to God. It's so funny, he got it backwards.


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