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Discussion with Larry Clark

by Michael Cohen

Larry Clark's film, "Kids" features a seductive and harrowing, 24-hour dose of loose sex, drugs and random violence in the lives of New York City teenagers; Telly, the virgin surgeon, his friend Casper, Jennie, his former conquest, and their shifting, multi-ethnic clan. Michael Cohen caught up with Clark in his Limo to talk about the making of "Kids", the ensuing controversy, future projects and its relation to his classic photo works "Tulsa", and "Teenage Lust".

How has "Kids" extended themes from your previous art projects?

You can do more with movement in film. You're very limited that way doing photography and books. in the 35 years I've been working, I've always been a storyteller. I was never interested so much in single images on their own, but how they fit into the context of the story. So being able to do a film is, for me, a more complete, or at least different, way to tell a story.

"Kids" has a more linear narrative than the art projects you've been doing lately.

It's a straight-ahead narrative, because that was the best way to tell this story, which I wanted to be realistic. I wanted to, as I did in "Tulsa", blur the line between fiction and documentary. "Tulsa" was straight documentary but it had a fictive quality to it. "Kids" is fiction but it has a documentary quality to it. So I did exactly the same thing I did in Tulsa, but I just turned it around.

How is working in the film world as opposed to working in the art world?

In the artworld you're pretty much on your own. You're in your studio working, you're not really dealing with a lot of people. In the film world you're collaborating with a lot of people. All of a sudden you can't do everything yourself, you're hiring 40 to 50 people to work with you and they all have their jobs to do and you have to place a lot of trust in them, but at the same time I had to be aware of everything each of them was doing. Because if you don't, you'll fuck up.

Let me put it this way, is working with a studio different from working with a gallery?

Well, I wasn't working with a studio, it was an independent film with independent financing. I made sure that I was in control, that I had final cut, that I had final everything, that nothing could be done without my say. That's the major difference, artists are in charge. They make their work and no one tells them how to do it or what to do. And if an artist goes into a situation making films where he's going to give this control away and he thinks that it's going to come out the way that he would envision it, and that it will still be his, he's afool.

Then what do you think about David Salle giving up the final cut on his Search & Destroy?

Well, he's a fool. If I had done that with "Kids", it would have been ripped apart, and become totally something else that was no good. Because in the film industry there's too many other business issues, and too many people who would never take any kind of chances on anything that wasn't conventional or hard for them to understand. If that's the deal that was offered to me, I'm smart enough to just say "forget it, keep your fucking money and I won't make the film." Let me give this advice to any artist who reads this: No matter how bad you want to make a film, if you don't have control you might as well forget it.

Scene from the Film
But you did have a very prestigious distribution company.

They bought the film. But it was my film they couldn't change it.

Then what did you think about Disney not wanting to release "Kids"?

Luckily for me the guys at Miramax, Harvey and Bob Weinstien liked the film. And they're real film people, they really love cinema. And even though they're hard-nosed business men, even under my conditions that the film could not be changed, they stuck with me and started their own company to release the film. Which I thought was amazing. Because basically they went into competition with themselves at Miramax and their own bosses at Disney had to let them do it.

Why do you think "Kids" received an NC-17 rating, even though there's very little graphic sex or violence in the movie?

I always said I was going to make an R movie, and I made an R movie and the MPAA wouldn't give me an R. It's ridiculous, I mean you have a movie like Basic Instinct where everybody's fucking, nudity and fucking ... while they're stabbing each other! I mean come on, that's an R movie? In "Kids" there's sex but you don't really see anything, it's just that I make it look real.

I think the MPAA is afraid to piss off the conservatives in Washington. This is all speculation. Maybe it's because "Kids" is not some fantasy bullshit ... And every fucking movie now, has this sex scene in it, you know the guy's laying on his back and the girl's wiggling slowly on top of him, he's got her breasts ... and it's this stylized fake shit. But they're not NC-17.

Scene from the Film
Maybe they don't want ... I keep saying they, (laughs) I don't know who the hell "they" are ... to see our little innocent little angels, you know, having sex, smoking pot, drinking beer, having fun. We don't want to see how these kids really are. I just saw that movie "Clueless". Everything which is in that movie, which is not NC-17, is in my film. It's about a teenage girl who's looking to lose her virginity. There's pot-smoking and drinking and a scene where she walks out of a party and she's stepping over bodies everywhere and people are throwing up in the swimming pool. It's a lot of the same stuff that's in Kids, but it's done in the stupidest way and everybody just finds it so fucking funny because it's so cute. Nobody puts that movie up to the standards that they're putting me up to. People say they find "Kids" depressing. I find something as fake as "Clueless" depressing.

So the MPAA never gave you any specific reason for the rating?

They don't give you any reason ... they hit us with everything: explicit sex, drugs, violence and language involving children. That's the whole ball of wax right? Did they ask for cuts? No, what could you cut? I mean I could say, Man everybody's great because no one held a gun to my head and said you've gotta cut this. But it wasn't about cutting a little nudity here or there. We got the rating on overall content. You could've made this movie any way and they'd say it's NC-17 because you can't show this stuff about kids as it is. It's really bullshit.

"Over the Edge" which seems to be the predecessor to "Kids", didn't get that type of rating, did it?

"Over the Edge" is one of my favorite teen movies. The reason I wanted to make The Great American Teen-Age Movie, like The Great American Novel, right, was because I saw all these teenage movies when I was a kid, where they always used older actors to play teenagers. I would be with my friends and look up at the screen and say man you don't look like that you look like old grown-ups. So "Over the Edge" was one of the few movies that used real actual kids, the right age.

Remember the last scene when the kids lock all the adults in the school and burn down the school? The distributors were afraid kids would riot in the malls. So they couldn't get distribution and the film died. So that was something about kids that was made a long time ago that the distributors were already afraid of.

What's your next project?

I'm making a second film, which I hope to start at the end of the year, called "Ken Park" which was going to be my first film, and then "Kids" came up. It's a companion piece. People ask me where the parents are in "Kids", I say they're in the next movie. So we're gonna go inside the suburbs and meet Kids and their parents and see what's happening in the family. Hopefully we'll be using real kids and parents as the actors again. This time it's set in California -- we'll be shooting on-location somewhere between Bakersfield and Fresno. I have a screenplay that Harmony Korine, from "Kids", wrote. It looks like we have financing now, though there's always problems getting these things off the ground.

Tell me more about your artistic approach to "Kids".

You know, I wanted to present the way kids see things, but without all this baggage, this morality that these old middle aged Hollywood guys bring to it. Kids don't think that way. You know, living for the moment ... Man, I just have to see this concert and I've just got to smoke this joint, go to this party. They're living in the moment not thinking about anything beyond that and that's what I wanted to catch. And I wanted the viewer to feel like you're there with them, you can be there fucking, smoking dope, having sex, you can be there in the movie and have it all too.

I wanted to make a 24-hour movie, 'cause I wanted to show everything possible a kid might do in 24 hours. I always liked Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" which is a 24-hour movie. It's a very Catholic film. It starts from the daytime and goes all night long, with killing and debauchery. But it all ends on the beach the next morning when Marcello Mastrionni meets a young virgin girl -- it's like the clean, clear light of day washes away Marcelo's sin, and everything's okay again. But in my movie, it starts in the day and goes through the night and ends with the morning light -- but it's just another day. These kids will get up and life will go on.

More Interviews:

Introduction | Larry Clark Interview | Robert Longo Interview | Kerry Brougher

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