Larry Clark

The Kids director continues his obsession with adolescence in Wassup Rockers.

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“The kids in Wassup Rockers eat candy after sex. Sex and sugar—what else do they need?”

“The kids in Wassup Rockers eat candy after sex. Sex and sugar—what else do they need?” Illustration: Rob Kelly

Ever since his horny AIDS parable, Kids, debuted at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival to both horrified gasps and applause, photographer Larry Clark has made his name as a fringe auteur of adolescent sexual mischief. From the sadomasochistic games of Bully (2001) to the hard-core dysfunctions of repressed suburbia in the sparsely seen Ken Park (2002), Clark has returned time and again to the lives of subversive teenagers. It's a subject the artist first captured in Tulsa, his 1972 photographic book of youthful transgression.

Ever since his horny AIDS parable, Kids, debuted at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival to both horrified gasps and applause, photographer Larry Clark has made his name as a fringe auteur of adolescent sexual mischief. From the sadomasochistic games of Bully (2001) to the hard-core dysfunctions of repressed suburbia in the sparsely seen Ken Park (2002), Clark has returned time and again to the lives of subversive teenagers. It's a subject the artist first captured in Tulsa, his 1972 photographic book of youthful transgression.

Clark's latest film is Wassup Rockers, a gonzo odyssey of Latino teens trying to escape Beverly Hills. This time around, the director takes a kinder, gentler approach—more Alice in Wonderland, less Caligula. A scruffy and laconic Clark, 63, sat down recently in his Soho office for a chat about social nonconformity, porn-infected imaginations, and the fine line between childhood and maturity.

What drew you to Latino skater boys in South Central L.A.?

Where these kids lived is dangerous—there are street gangs everywhere and drive-by shootings all the time. But they seemed to have more fun than anybody, even though they didn't drink, they didn't smoke pot, and they didn't want to conform to gangster style and hip-hop. Every Saturday I took them skating and fed them—I hung out with them for over a year.

How did you think up the story for Wassup Rockers?

The first half of the film is all based on the kids' lives. And then I wanted to take them on an adventure out of South Central, so I just started goofing on stereotypes of Beverly Hills and laughing and mixing genres. It's just all over the place—documentary, action chase, adventure, slapstick and dark humor.

How was it to work with so many nonprofessional actors?

Basically, I took these kids off the street and made them into movie stars. Their process was to be wild all the time, to be themselves all the time. It was a crazy, undisciplined shoot, to say the least. It made the crew crazy. It was the hardest film I've ever made.

For the upcoming omnibus film Destricted, you interviewed teenage boys about pornography and then filmed one of them having sex with a porn star....

And it turned out to be an educational film. All these kids born after 1980 have grown up with pornography. It's so available to them. And my film is about how it infects people. Kids see that, and then they think they're supposed to pull out and come on the girl's face—and then that becomes the norm. I thought that was amazing.

The sex in Wassup Rockers is surprisingly tame compared with your other films. Ken Park includes autoerotic asphyxiation and an uncensored teenage three-way.

Ken Park had explicit sex to the max. But how do you make something sexy without being explicit? That's why I show the kids in Wassup Rockers eating candy after sex. Sex and sugar—at that age, what else do they need?

Why are you so drawn to teenage sex in your movies?

I hope there's a reason for it in my films. In Ken Park, the kids aren't being fulfilled by their families—the parents are just using the kids to fulfill their own needs, and the kids are getting nothing. But the kids have their friends, and that keeps them from committing suicide. So they have sex in the best possible light. It's a temporary redemption—some kind of hope.

Is there something especially appealing about 14-year-old boys?

That age is that moment in time that happens to all of us: We're growing up, but we're still kids. What goes on then is really important for the rest of our lives.

What do your children and grandchildren think of your films?

They like them.

Did you worry about your kids when they were teens?

I'm worried about them right now—I'm worried about them crossing the street. It never stops.

 

Wassup Rockers opens June 23.

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