Copied over from my Facebook on inception of the blog. Originally written 29/8/2010.
What’s the deal? Sex. Lots and lots of sex.
Still banned? Yep.
WARNING: Spoilers and some maybe-NSFW imagery contained within.
Larry Clark is a dirty old man. A diiirty old man. I have no reluctance to call him an outright ephebophile. With funding. There is a simple recipe to making a Larry Clark film: Take some kids. Make sure they don’t like their parents. Make sure they don’t do much. Make them take drugs. Make them fuck – a lot. Film some scenes. Spend as much time as you can get away with filming the kids’ crotches, or chests. Add a dash of violence now and then, and hope that the resulting movie has some drama.
Clark rose to critical acclaim in 1995 with Kids, a story about two skaters who go about their day pretty much being as sexually promiscuous as they can, while two girls pursue them trying to tell one of the boys he has HIV. It was a controversial film, but adored by critics (and the audiences who bothered to see it) who praised it for being unflinching in its “honest” portrayal of teenage life. I’ve come to love how anything “honest” in a film really just means that the characters do bad things and no one pulls them up on it. Some occasional voices said that the sexual content was uncomfortable, as it heavily focussed on kids, but that it was merited in such an “honest” film. It is, however, a good movie.
Another Day In Paradise
He followed Kids up with Another Day in Paradise in 1998, which I must admit I haven’t seen, but the IMDb tells me the plot is:
“In the hope of a big score, two junkie couples team up to commit various drug robberies which go disastrously wrong leading to dissent, violence and murder.”
I’m sure this is a very “honest” movie.
But let’s see here, we’ve got James Woods and Melanie Griffith, who have chalked up their fair share of reprehensible characters in their time (“Melanie Griffith?!” I hear you asked, stunned, only for me to answer with “Milk Money”.) and Vincent Kartheiser has excelled in the past at playing people I’ve wanted to punch in the face…
In 2001, Clark made his best film to date, which is possibly me praising it with faint damns. Bully is yet another film dealing with teenagers who do drugs, have lots of sex and not much else. The difference here is that this is a true story. The plot is actually about a group of teenagers who get fed up with one Incredibly domineering kid (the titular bully) and murder him. The cast are all very good, and it’s a reasonably well-made move. But Clark films it in his true style – nigh-pornographic. There is one shot in particular the rings out. Bijou Phillips’ character is getting a pedicure and talking on the phone. In the middle of this, Clark films a shot directly at her crotch (and, well, the character is not one to wear underwear…). Clark can often justify (or try to, anway) his crotch-lingering, chest-hovering camera shots in that they often occur in, before or after a sex scene and it represents the characters state of mind, and incidentally Larry Clark’s obvious lust. There’s no justification for it here – it’s just proof that he’s a lecherous perve.
The late (and criminally underrated) Brad Renfro put it best on a refreshingly honest – and I mean that literally this time – making of featurette that ‘Larry Clark isn’t a good director – he assembles a good cast and lets them do the work for him.’ Bully is a good movie because of its cast – not its direction.
Then comes Teenage Caveman in 2002. I’m just going to take a break and say that this is one of the worst movies ever made. I don’t mean that in a “it’s so bad it’s go
od way” – I mean that this is the kind of movie that’s so bad you get pissed off with yourself for watching it. The plot is this – in a post-apocalyptic world, humans have resorted to a tribal lifestyle, basic hunter-and-gatherers with time off to reflect on relics of “the old world” of LA in 2001.
Kind of a good premise right? It’s basic and you could work with it. But wait, this is a Larry Clark film. A bunch of teenagers get jack of their parents and wander off to a far off land (which the film, in its shitness, portrays as being just over a hill) to a city (an abandoned LA) where a bunch of other immortal teenagers are living a life where not much happens and they do drugs and have lots of sex. Here is the trailer:
It’s not being ironic at all. It’s not sending up b-movies. It’s just shit. It’s not a b-movie. It’s not a z-movie. It’s not even the-most-worthless-rudimentary-rune-of-some-forgotten-archaic-language-movie. It’s just terrible and I hate it.
Ken Park was banned in 2003 and it created a shitstorm. Margaret Pomeranz, she of the big earrings from At the Movies held a protest screening of the film in Sydney that was famously shut down by the police. Campaigns started all over the web to get it released, decrying censorship, supporting Larry Clark etc. In the UK, the film was denied distribution, not because of it’s content, but because Larry Clark punched and choked the distributor.
It was banned here because of its sexual content which the censors considered excessive. There’s quite a lot of sex in the movie, but hey it’s Larry Clark. Unlike his other movies, sex is pretty much the plot of the film. Don’t get me wrong – this film has no plot. It’s just that sex is as close as it comes to it. Don’t believe me? These are the promotional images for it:
“Gee, Honey, do you think there might be some sex in this movie?”
We open to shots of a guy named Ken Park skating around the town. He goes to a crowded skate-park, sets up a video camera, smiles, and shoots himself in the head. It’s admittedly pretty graphic. You might think something will be made of the fact that he smiled before putting a bullet in his mind. It doesn’t.
Then we get treated to 4 character introductions, each narrated by one of the other characters about the other characters. This, I have to admit, is a pretty interesting way of introducing the characters. It’s about the only thing you can call inventive in the film.
First is Shawn, introduced by Claude. We see Shawn first as he is wrestling with his little brother. He seems to think it’s a game. His brother however, says that he hates him before he rides off to school. Then his mother asks Shawn for a cigarette, which Shawn denies. That’s all we see of his homelife. It doesn’t get brought up again, it doesn’t serve anything, and other than knowing Shawn has a mother and brother, it doesn’t tell us anything about his character or serve his development.
Shawn rides away from home and stops in at another house. He sees a young girl named Chloe watching up-close G-string-clad arses on TV (can they be clad in a G-string?). Why is she watching these arses? No one will ever know.
Shawn asks her where her mother is, then goes upstairs to see her. She is folding laundry. Their dialogue is as follows.
“Hey…can I eat you out?”
“Not now, I’m folding. Lend a hand.”
Larry Clark has truly captured domestic life.
Next is Claude, introduced by Peaches. She tells us he is a big Teddy Bear. This is character establishment that actually serves his character. This is also helped that Stephen Jasso who plays Claude is by far the best actor in the film. We meet Claude as he is spotting his father’s weight-lifting. His dad berates him for not trying to build up his muscles, and then tells him that he sometimes feels sickened at the sight of him. If you don’t pick it up subtly, Claude’s dad is an arsehole. But there’s no chance you won’t pick it up, because the film is about as subtle as having an anvil dropped on your head.
Then there is Peaches, introduced by Tate. She is the angelic-character of the four, which, in a Larry Clark film, means that she smiles without drugs being present. She is introduced by bringing her father a glass of water. Her father is deeply religious, so much so that she has to interfere with his bible-reading by ringing a bell. We are to understand that she has a boy coming over. He’s from her bible study class.
Then there is Tate, introduced by Shawn. Tate is the resident psycho of the film. He lives with his grandparents, and in the first scene, hits then threatens to rip a leg off his already-three-legged dog, then verbally abuses his grandmother when she comes into his room (Without knocking! The horror!) and offers him some fruit. You’d feel bad for the Granny if she wasn’t so clichéd as the sweet-and-adorable Grandmother. So sweet it tastes like diabetes.
Once they’re introduced, they all follow plot that is intersected with the others. Shawn succeeds in his cunnilingual desires, and it turns out this woman is his girlfriend’s mother. Then she has a bath, she gives him a handjob and they talk about…well not much. Later he goes to school and meets up with his girlfriend, her daughter, and they talk…about not much. Then he goes over for lunch with her entire family, meaning the dad is home. You’re expecting it to be tense, the two of them keeping the husband and girlfriend from finding out about them. It’s not. Not a lot happens.
Claude gets into a few more arguments with his dad, who drinks and smokes heavily (but then again, so does everyone in this movie, including Claude’s pregnant mother) and constantly puts Claude down. His dad snaps Claude’s skateboard in half (with his foot) and just in case you didn’t remember from before, the film reminds you that Claude’s dad is an arsehole. His dad goes out one night with a drunk friend (who is played by that guy who is always the pathetically-dirty-old-man in movies) and they shop for hookers.
Claude’s dad decides he’s disgusted with the hookers and drives home. When he gets there, drunk, he then goes into Claude’s room and tries to give him a headjob. There’s been no foreshadowing of his incestuous desires, it just comes out of nowhere. Claude kicks him in the head, several times, before his dad complains that “nobody loves me!” – as we all know, trying to blow your son when you’re drunk is the absolute best way to determine if people love you.
Peaches has Curtis, the boy from bible-study over. Her dad sits with them while they eat, and the kids are very wholesome and polite. Then her dad goes to visit her mother’s grave, and they remember they’re in a Larry Clark film. She ties Curtis to her bed, then proceeds to tease him, rubbing her crotch on his, and all kinds of finger-sucking. Her dad comes back and walks in on them, and proceeds to beat the shit out of Curtis (including biting his armpit – go figure) and then marries Peaches. I don’t mean that as in he marries her off or forces Curtis to become her husband. I mean he marries her – because the most practical way of cleansing your daughter’s sins is to marry her, just like all those people do in real life.
Tate gets some more psychotic time. He raves at his grandfather for cheating at scrabble, plays jump rope with the neighbourhood kids (not in a psycho way – he just does) then goes for some autoerotic asphyxiation (where you strangle yourself and beat off) while watching the tennis. Then he stabs his grandparents in their sleep, and gets an erection, before losing it when the dog barks. Tate then says he murdered his grandfather for cheating at scrabble, and his grandmother for not respecting his privacy.
The film ends with an out-of-nowhere threesome between Claude, Shawn and Peaches. Other than the characters introducing themselves, you forget that these characters haveanything to do with one another. But they have their sex, and Shawn plays a game of “who am I?” making Claude and Peaches guess that he is Ken Park. And all of a sudden you’re like “Oh that’s right, there was that kid at the beginning of the movie who must have some significance to the plot…” only he doesn’t. We find out that Ken Park got a girl pregnant and she decided to keep it, and he killed himself. It doesn’t explain what this has to do with the rest of the movie.
This is not a good movie. It’s not an actively terrible one, but it’s just not good. There is no plot, and every single character is underwritten, or chock-a-block full of clichés. Shawn is the horny teen shagging an older woman. Claude is the nice guy with an abusive dad. Peaches is a sexually-active girl from a religious home. And Tate is just a “troubled” teen.
You think that something is going to be said, but it’s not. This isn’t like Clark’s other films, which, exploitative sex aside, often showed how kids can be left to their own self-destructive vices and how it affects kids who are often bored. Sure, this film shows kids doing their own thing and being bored, but with no underlying significance to it. Kids and Bully had something to say about it. From what I’ve read, Another Day in Paradise does too. But here, the kids are just horny, with opportunity to have sex. They also have parents, but oh well.
It’s full of sex to a point where I would not be surprised if the film exists just so Larry Clark can sit at home fapping to the dailies. It’s also very graphic, but purely for the sake of being graphic. When Tate rubs one out to the tennis, we see everything – there is no possible way to simulate it – we see him go from being flaccid, right up to his ejaculation, and a lingering shot of a string of jizz hanging from his hand. Boners abound in the film, as do breasts, though with not as much attention payed to them, as the fact that these girls are having sex. The sex scenes are shot with no intimacy and no eroticism, but it’s not like the sex scenes in David Cronenberg’s Crash which are deliberately cold and detached and emotionless. The sex in Ken Park is not meant to be detached or emotionless – it may be a result of the characters’ boredom but surely then the sex should be a highlight for them. It’s just there because it’s a Larry Clark film and he equates sex with drama.
Where the film suffers most is Tate. He’s meant to be a psycho, but it’s just laughable. Those familiar with tvtropes.org will know of the concept of ‘Narm,’ wherein a scene or a line of dialogue is meant to be dramatic but is acted poorly and becomes unintentionally hilarious. Tate is Narmtastic. When he decides to have a turn at the jump-rope game with the neighbourhood girls, it’s hilarious, but not meant to be. Other narmy scenes include Claude’s Dad’s “Nobody loves me line” which had me guffawing, and the scene where Peaches’ Dad walks in on her and Curtis – this is meant to be upsetting and disturbing, but it is hilarious. And of course, for realistic reactions, when Tate’s grandmother wakes to see Tate, naked on her bed having just stabbed her husband in the neck, her first words are “I love you Tate. I love you grandson!” Not something more realistic like, I don’t know – “Aaaahhh!!!”
And the way the film ends, suddenly reminding you of Ken Park, is stupid. The threesome scene comes out of nowhere (like literally, the scene cuts in with the three of them going at it) and isn’t justified in the context of the film. There’s no scene that shows the three characters resorting to having sex out of escapism from their fucked up lives or anything, it’s just there so Larry can have a three-way in his film. Then reminding everyone of Ken Park in their afterglow seems – odd. There’s also just no reason for the Ken Park character to exist. His suicide, and the last-minute revelation that he knocked up his girlfriend doesn’t affect the characters or their actions, it informs nothing in the movie, and it’s just pointless.
The film is not plotted, or connected. Scenes happen so that something dramatic can happen in them, and the drama is random, like Larry Clark spun the wheel of fortune and selected a random plot-device. “Oh, okay, in this scene, Claude’s dad will…” *spins* “…try and give his son a blowjob. I can work with that!”
I will admit that the sex in this film is the kind of sex that the censors can legitimately complain about it – it’s gratuitous and exploitative and not really necessary, other than the film not being anything much more than sex scenes. It’s easy to see why they banned it, but I don’t think that it’s actually objectionable. It’s a film that’s made to be full of sex, and that’s hardly a new thing. Other than Tate’s masturbation scene, there’s no sexual perversion shown, or anything which is offensive more than normal sex can offend, and Tate is definitely not meant to be a normal character. Clearly it’s not a film with a wide appeal, but it wouldn’t shock or abhor those who are used to controversial dramas.
I think that the OFLC banned it due to their generally puritanical attitude to sex; so no, it’s not an understandable ban. Films like Last Tango in Paris or Intimacy arguably have similar levels of sexual content, but with a bit more artistic merit to them. Ken Park doesn’t have as much artistic merit to it as those films, but being a film full of sex that also happens to be a bad film is not a reason to ban it.
Banning it also created so much more publicity than it could have ever gained had it been released with an R18+. It means that a film that would have been released, panned and forgotten has now achieved a semi-mythical status as a film to track down, to be talked about and discussed – because it was banned. It’s reputation far outweighs the quality of the film.
It’s a movie that is worth seeing only to see why the censors banned it, and there’s not much else on offer here.