Larry Clark 101: Teenagers Doing Very Bad Things

Check out our informational piece on director, Larry Clark. 

Larry Clark has made a career out of directing controversial coming-of-age movies about young adults. While some might say he is exploitive and sleazy, others find his work to be provocative and truthful. I am personally in the latter camp of critics and find a lot of his filmography to be intriguing and shocking. Whether you think Clark is an artist or merely a pornographer, it cannot be said that any of his films are uninteresting.

Kids (1995)

Kids is Larry Clark's most infamous film and the one that has garnered him the most praise and criticism. The film centers around a day in the lives of several teenagers who live in NYC and who also engage in unsavory activities such as underage sex and drug use. It's a raw and unflinching look at the lifestyle of unsupervised urban youth of all races and genders who are giving in to all of their hedonistic desires and impulses. These are not your typical honor roll students as they spend their day wandering the streets aimlessly, doing drugs, having casual sex, getting into fights and vandalizing public property.

The screenplay was written by Harmony Korine (of Gummo fame) and to date is probably one of the most naturalistic depictions of disaffected youth in a film. Many uncomfortable subjects are covered: STDs (to include HIV), rape, terrible parenting, random acts of violence, and drug use. Kids is filmed documentary style which lends to the film feeling like a voyeuristic peek into the teenager's lives. The film was highly controversial when it was first released and it received an NC-17 rating (which was later changed to Unrated). What sets Kids apart from other films is the pervasive nihilism that permeates the entire movie. At the end of the film one of the characters turns to the camera and says "Jesus Christ, what happened?!" which has most likely been echoing in the mind of the viewer as well.

Ken Park (2002)

If Kids can be considered a study of urban youth, then Ken Park is the flip side of that coin--it focuses on bored suburban teens. This film has a lot more sexually explicit content that borders on pornographic even. The screenplay was again penned by Harmony Korine though the ending was rewritten by Clark. Ken Park has a much more disturbing streak running through it in the form of the sociopathic character Tate (James Ransone) who systematically abuses his grandparents and engages in disturbing sexual acts. The film starts off with the suicide of a youth named Ken Park and is one of the most shocking openings to a film that I have ever seen.

Ken Park isn't as tightly edited as Kids and the narrative can be hard to follow at times. The side plots don't intersect for most of the film and play more like self-contained stories than one cohesive story. It does come together somewhat in the third act, but not in the most satisfactory manner. All of the sex scenes are shot realistically and it can be argued they are meant to be arousing and titillating. This can be considered to be problematic because the actors are depicted as being underage. In fact, the film hasn't ever been released commercially in the US and has only been shown once at the 2002 Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. All this being said, Ken Park is an interesting look into what goes on beneath the supposedly wholesome exterior of suburban life.

Teenage Cavemen (2002)

And now for something completely different! After making several harrowing true-to-life films Clark took a crack at directing a direct-to-TV homage to B movies called Teenage Cavemen. It's a remake of an old film Teenage Cave Man (1958) but updated with a whole bunch of gore and Clark's patented teenage sexual escapades. Honestly, I don't even know how to process this film as it's so off-the-wall and a complete departure from Clark's previous filmography. However, as a schlocky B movie aficionado I can't help but be amused by how absolutely ridiculous this movie is. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic future were the general populace lives like Neanderthals. A few of these so-called "teenage cavemen" run away and get taken in by a group of genetically engineered mutant teens who have the ability to live forever.

While Kids and Ken Park have substance to back up the sexual content, Teenage Cavemen just comes off as pure exploitation fare and shock cinema. The orgy scenes and constant nudity seem sleazy and out of place. It doesn't help that the acting and writing are terrible and the special effects are cheap and ugly. For someone who is into these kind of low-budget affairs, it can be a guilty pleasure, but it just ends up being a weird footnote in Clark's film career.

-Michelle Kisner

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