Fo­re­ver Young

One might have thought that at the ripe old age of 70, the di­rec­tor of Kids and Ken Park would have cal­med down a bit. But the scan­da­lous Lar­ry Clark conti­nues to dis­con­cert with his new film The Smell of Us.

Numéro Homme - - English Text - In­ter­view by Olivier Joyard, por­trait by So­fia San­chez and Mau­ro Mon­giel­lo

One might have thought that at the ripe old age of 70, the di­rec­tor of Kids and Ken Park would have cal­med down a bit. But the scan­da­lous Lar­ry Clark conti­nues to dis­con­cert with his new film

The Smell of Us. In­ter­view by Olivier Joyard, por­trait by So­fia San­chez and Mau­ro Mon­giel­lo

When Lar­ry Clark’s first film, Kids, came out in 1995, he rea­ched a much wi­der pu­blic than had pre­vious­ly fol­lo­wed his pho­to­gra­phic work, such as Tul­sa (1971) or Tee­nage Lust (1983). Set in New York’s skate parks, Kids was a sty­lis­tic tour de force thanks to Clark’s raw yet sen­ti­men­tal take on the tor­ments of youth and his ex­tra­or­di­na­ry ins­tinct for fin­ding new faces on the un­der­ground scene. Har­mo­ny Ko­rine, the script­wri­ter who was then aged 22, Ch­loë Se­vi­gny, Ro­sa­rio Daw­son and other mem­bers of the cast and crew all went on to have ma­jor ca­reers af­ter this first try-out. For his part, Clark spent the fol­lo­wing two de­cades cat­ching up on lost time, ma­king six new fea­ture films, among which the ma­gni­ficent Ken Park (2003) and Was­sup Ro­ckers (2006). To­day aged 70, he still hasn’t slo­wed down and this sum­mer was fil­ming his first mo­vie in Pa­ris, The Smell of Us (part­ly fi­nan­ced by crowd­fun­ding), which was writ­ten by Ma­thieu Lan­dais, alias Scribe, a 23-year-old poet from Nantes. And just be­fore, Clark had made Mar­fa Girl ex­clu­si­ve­ly for his in­ter­net site. In a dif­fi­cult cli­mate for au­teur films, Clark is for­ging ahead with all the fu­ry of a sur­vi­vor. His pro­jects in­clude two films he would like to make next year, one in Texas and the other in Ita­ly. Nu­mé­ro met him near his tem­po­ra­ry Pa­ri­sian home, just af­ter he’d step­ped off a plane from L. A.

Nu­mé­ro Homme: You’ve just got back from L.A. – what were you doing over there?

Lar­ry Clark :

I was ta­king part in a shoot for a Ja­pa­nese firm. Usual­ly I don’t do that kind of work, but the mo­dels were ac­tors from my film Was­sup Ro­ckers. They were being paid, which will help them go on tour with their band. They’re all bet­ween 22 and 26 now. I’ve known them for exact­ly ten years. Most of them still live in the same neigh­bou­rhood in South L. A. Jo­na­than still plays gui­tar and Ed­die is the drum­mer. Their style is a mix­ture of rock and blues that’s dif­ferent from the punk rock you heard in my film, and it sounds great. Around their houses, things have been re­no­va­ted. Lots of young Blacks have been coming to ska­te­board with them for the past three or four years. In the neigh­bou­rhood, the Blacks and La­ti­nos are sup­po­sed to hate each other; it was even the sub­ject of Was­sup Ro­ckers. To­day they co­exist. So­cial­ly, it’s great. The cops let them have their way be­cause they know they’re ha­ving fun. They smoke a lot of grass, that’s all. [Laughs.]

Staying in touch with street culture has al­ways been your cre­do?

Near­ly all my films are ba­sed on this idea. My new fea­ture, The Smell of Us, was ins­pi­red by this me­thod. Du­ring my pho­to re­tros­pec­tive at the Mu­sée d’Art Mo­derne de la Ville de Pa­ris in 2010, I met Scribe, a young poet, at the Tro­ca­dé­ro, which is a Pa­ri­sian ska­te­boar­ding mec­ca. What was going on there re­min­ded me of the at­mos­phere of Wa­shing­ton Square Park in New York in 1992, where I filmed Kids. There were tee­na­gers from all over the world…

Did the idea for your new film come from wat­ching them?

Ab­so­lu­te­ly. But wan­ting to shoot in France goes back fur­ther. It all star­ted in 1995, on a beach, du­ring the Cannes Fes­ti­val. I was wal­king along with Har­mo­ny Ko­rine, when we ran in­to a bunch of tee­na­gers car­rying ska­te­boards and in­vi­ted them to the sho­wing of Kids in the of­fi­cial com­pe­ti­tion. Mas­sed around the red car­pet were all these well- dres­sed people wai­ting, while these ska­te­boar­ders went up the steps. It was great. It gave me the idea of ma­king a film about French tee­na­gers, the way they grow up in so­cie­ty… I men­tio­ned it to the pro­du­cer Vincent Maraval, but he was convin­ced it wouldn’t work be­cause I’m not French. The pro­blem is, I’m not the kind of guy you should “chal­lenge” like that: here I am mo­ther­fu­cker, in France 18 years la­ter, rea­dy to shoot!

Will there be a thea­tri­cal re­lease for The Smell of Us?

Yes.

I’m as­king be­cause your last film,

Mar­fa Girl, came out ex­clu­si­ve­ly on­line.

Mar­fa Girl was made for my web­site lar­ry­clark.com. I wan­ted to make a film on­ly for the in­ter­net, to get clo­ser to the ge­ne­ra­tion that watches mo­vies and T.V. se­ries in that way. The other rea­son was that I wan­ted to work to­tal­ly in­de­pen­dent­ly, wi­thout the res­tric­tions you get with the unions. The film cost around $800,000, whe­reas it would have been near­ly $3 mil­lion if I’d wan­ted to do it the tra­di­tio­nal way. My sa­la­ry would have had to be much hi­gher, for example. But there is a draw­back: I can’t re­lease Mar­fa Girl on DVD.

Did the shoot take place in gue­rilla mode?

Mar­fa Girl is ra­ther unu­sual in my fil­mo­gra­phy. I real­ly made it with my own hands, it was en­ti­re­ly writ­ten and shot wi­thout out­side help. Eve­ry­thing came to me when I spent time in this ama­zing Texan town. It’s my fa­vou­rite of the films I’ve made, the best I think. I put all my life in­to the cha­rac­ters. I star­ted by jot­ting down ideas in a notebook, which be­came 20 pages of a ba­sic script. Du­ring pro­duc­tion I would get up at 5.00 in the mor­ning to write out the day’s scenes in more de­tail. Things took shape ac­cor­ding to my mood. I’m more ef­fi­cient in urgent si­tua­tions. So­me­times a scene I’d ima­gi­ned fell apart on the shoot and had to be com­ple­te­ly re­done be­cause it didn’t work. But I don’t let my­self get

over-whel­med. I like being for­ced to find a so­lu­tion on the spot. I get stuck in a cor­ner and try to get out – it gives me ex­tra free­dom.

Does to­tal in­de­pen­dence make you a bet­ter di­rec­tor?

As a di­rec­tor, I in­sist on ha­ving the fi­nal cut. I re­mem­ber that with

Ken Park Vincent Maraval ex­plai­ned to me that if I wan­ted to find a dis­tri­bu­tor I’d have to ac­cept his cuts. But I held fast be­cause I knew there was a pu­blic for this film, a pu­blic des­pe­rate for good ci­ne­ma. In the end, Ken Park was se­lec­ted by the Venice Film Fes­ti­val and sold in ma­ny coun­tries – Ita­ly, which is ve­ry Ca­tho­lic, fol­lo­wed by Rus­sia and France, where the film did well, even if the ra­ting cer­ti­fi­cate meant that un­der-16s we­ren’t al­lo­wed to see it.

The sto­ry’s not over…

A month af­ter it came out, a far-right ex­tre­mist fi­led a com­plaint, chal­len­ging the film’s clas­si­fi­ca­tion. It was gi­ven a new ra­ting, and all of a sud­den you had to be over 18 to go see Ken Park be­cause of its sexual content. Does that hap­pen of­ten?

I’ve ne­ver heard of any­thing like it.

And how of­ten here in France have you heard about an ex­hi­bi­tion being pro­hi­bi­ted to un­der-18-year-olds like mine was in 2010?

It’s ve­ry rare.

All the fuss about this re­tros­pec­tive at the Mu­sée d’Art Mo­derne in Pa­ris was hard to take. I make films and pho­tos in­ten­ded for people who are the age of my cha­rac­ters. They un­ders­tand them. So if you ban them from seeing them…

Why was there such a long gap bet­ween Was­sup Ro­ckers, which came out

in 2004, and Mar­fa Girl last year?

So­me­times my films take years to get made be­cause they’re not ea­sy to fi­nance. When a di­rec­tor makes a suc­cess­ful film he’s al­ways as­ked to re­make the same thing all the time. But I don’t work like that. My films are all dif­ferent and un­pre­dic­table, at least I hope they are. I don’t give anyone the chance to spoil them. The French pro­du­cer of Was­sup Was­sup Ro­ckers Ro­ckers as­ked me to cut some of the ska­te­board scenes and to add a sex scene. As if I had that up my sleeve! As if it wasn’t my film! I told him to get lost. I don’t make films for mo­ney, I’m not rich, I think like an ar­tist. The conces­sions that I do make have to do with the le­gal is­sues of re­lea­sing a film. If I can avoid them, so much the bet­ter. One of the rea­sons I made

Mar­fa Mar­fa Girl Girl for the web was that I didn’t want to deal with the cen­sors again and find my­self X-ra­ted for some harm­less lit­tle scene.

Your first book of pho­tos, Tul­sa, was a shock for a lot of people.

The book came out in 1971, but the first ex­hi­bi­tion was held in New York in 1979. No one wan­ted to show those pho­tos.

Where were you du­ring those eight years?

I was far away, man… I went in­to a spi­ral, like a cra­zy, drug­ged-up nut­case. I was ta­king pho­tos but I was still a jun­kie. I sank ve­ry low. I spent some time in jail. Then I mo­ved to New York, where I fi­nal­ly ma­na­ged to get an ex­hi­bi­tion. Since then I’ve been wor­king and not as­king my­self too ma­ny ques­tions. People can take or leave my work, I’ve ne­ver sold my­self. I have the im­pres­sion that to­day ar­tists are trying to sell their souls, as though it we­ren’t a pro­blem.

It’s a dif­ferent world.

I was born in the 1950s and I grew up with beat­nik culture. The youth slo­gan was: “Don’t sell your soul!” To­day the op­po­site seems na­tu­ral. Be­fore the eco­no­mic crash and the cri­sis, most 15-year-old Ame­ri­cans thought that be­fore they’d rea­ched 22 they’d all have be­come fa­mous or mil­lio­naires.

How did you ima­gine the fu­ture when you were 15?

I didn’t think I’d live long. I’m sho­cked to have rea­ched this age, sho­cked to still be alive at 70. For a long time I thought my pu­nish­ment would come ear­ly, like it did for my friends who died of over­doses. But here I am, still stan­ding. I’m pret­ty hap­py. The on­ly ad­vice I can give is that you must keep figh­ting, ne­ver give in, even when you’re bea­ten down by de­pres­sion. Last win­ter I was sup­po­sed to start shoo­ting my new film but at the last minute there wasn’t quite en­ough mo­ney. I star­ted ha­ting my­self and ha­ving sui­ci­dal thoughts. The de­pres­sion just hit me: I ha­ted who I was and no lon­ger had the strength to work. I didn’t leave home for weeks and I star­ted drin­king. But I’ve been through en­ough to know that if you can get along wi­thout com­ple­te­ly sin­king, things will get bet­ter. You hang on to life by your fin­ger­tips, and the cri­sis ends up going away. I’m still an­gry to hear that friends or tee­na­gers killed them­selves. Look at me: four months ago I was in the se­venth circle of hell, and now I feel in great shape.

The fact that you’re wor­king in France isn’t an ac­ci­dent. Ma­ny fo­rei­gn

di­rec­tors come to the land of the “cultu­ral ex­cep­tion” be­cause the most

am­bi­tious films can’t be fi­nan­ced el­sew­here. There are Asians, Ame­ri­cans…

What hap­pens is that eve­ry­thing is a ques­tion of mo­ney. Most people in the film in­dus­try no lon­ger make mo­vies but in­ter­chan­geable pro­ducts for pro­fit. Un­der those condi­tions, dis­cus­sion can be over pret­ty qui­ck­ly… In the U.S., high-school kids go to the mo­vies on the wee­kend so they can talk about them at school on Mon­day – they consume films like fast food. Ex­pe­ri­men­tal and art-house ci­ne­mas have al­most di­sap­pea­red. The stu­dios bought up in­de­pendent ci­ne­ma. In an in­dus­try like that, my free­dom is a pro­blem. I’ve been of­fe­red a lot of mo­ney to work in Hol­ly­wood. If I thought I could do it, per­haps I would. But I don’t think I’d be good at it.

Still, I would have been cu­rious to see one of the Twilight films di­rec­ted by you.

Me too. The wo­man who wrote the books [Ste­phe­nie Meyer] is a Mor­mon who’s a bit em­bar­ras­sed by sex. I know some of the ac­tors who were in the films. They told me that she’d come on set and com­plain if they spoke bad­ly bet­ween scenes, she couldn’t stand it if they used bad lan­guage. The un­der­lying is­sue in the Twilight sa­ga is sexual re­pres­sion.

Some di­rec­tors of your ge­ne­ra­tion have ma­na­ged to work wi­thin the

sys­tem wi­thout lo­sing their soul. I’m thin­king of Gus Van Sant, who was one

of the pro­du­cers of Kids.

He ac­cepts com­mis­sions and ma­nages to make good mo­vies. I like him a lot. There are still good people in show bu­si­ness, even if I don’t have ma­ny friends there. I know pain­ters and sculp­tors in New York, but I don’t real­ly hang out with pho­to­gra­phers or di­rec­tors be­cause I al­most ne­ver go to pre­mieres. My on­ly hap­pi­ness is in my work. La­te­ly I’ve been wor­king in my stu­dio on some fair­ly ex­treme, ve­ry large-for­mat pho­tos and col­lages that I’ll be sho­wing soon.

Your new film,

The Smell of Us,

is about tee­na­gers and the in­ter­net...

When Scribe star­ted wri­ting the script, we spoke about kids who are around 18 years old to­day in France. He him­self is a bit over 20. I ex­plai­ned to him that I wan­ted to make a film about the in­ter­net and the way tech­no­lo­gy in­fluences our lives. Young people do­cu­ment their dai­ly lives them­selves, on Fa­ce­book, they be­come friends with people they don’t know. I wan­ted to ex­plore this rea­li­ty by ha­ving people of dif­ferent ge­ne­ra­tions in­vol­ved. Eve­ry day you read sto­ries about kids who get in­to trouble be­cause of an image they pos­ted on­line or so­meone they met. With the in­ter­net, you can find your­self in a weird si­tua­tion in a mouse click. Scribe wrote the whole thing in a year, I just sug­ges­ted ideas. I’m hap­py, be­cause it didn’t drag on too much. I make films about par­ti­cu­lar mo­ments, and I’m al­ways afraid those mo­ments will eva­po­rate.

Will Pete Do­her­ty be in the film, as was an­noun­ced?

No, not in the end. We were sup­po­sed to have din­ner to­ge­ther one eve­ning and he didn’t show up. We were sup­po­sed to have din­ner to­ge­ther ano­ther night and he didn’t come, and so on. I didn’t fire him for the simple rea­son that I ne­ver hi­red him. It’s hard to work with so­meone who doesn’t show up. But there is a rock-star cha­rac­ter in The Smell of Us. [Af­ter the in­ter­view took place, Mi­chael Pitt was cast in the role.]

To­day, would you say you’re more a di­rec­tor or a pho­to­gra­pher?

I don’t feel that I’m ei­ther a pho­to­gra­pher or a di­rec­tor, I’m an ar­tist who takes pho­tos and makes films. La­bels bo­ther me. If you go in­to a bar in New York to­day and ask eve­ryone what they do, 75% will say that they’re pho­to­gra­phers. Eve­ryone’s a pho­to­gra­pher no­wa­days! If my films are vi­sual­ly ex­ci­ting it’s per­haps be­cause I was a pho­to­gra­pher, but even in my pho­to­gra­phic work it was ne­ver a ques­tion of sim­ply pro­du­cing stri­king images. My pri­ma­ry goal was to tell sto­ries. Tul­sa was concei­ved like a film, I fol­lo­wed people over the long term…

You star­ted ma­king films quite late.

I was 51 when I made Kids.

Why did you wait so long?

It’s simple, man. In the 1970s, no sane per­son would have gi­ven me mo­ney to make a film, be­cause I was an out­law. But I wan­ted to di­rect when I was a tee­na­ger. I saw Sha­dows by John Cas­sa­vetes in 1961 in Mil­wau­kee. I’d left Tul­sa to stu­dy pho­to­gra­phy, at the time I on­ly knew John Ford’s films with John Wayne, or Doris Day’s co­me­dies. It was then that I dis­co­ve­red Ing­mar Berg­man, Fran­çois Truf­faut, Louis Malle and Jean-Luc Go­dard. But it was on seeing the first Cas­sa­vetes that I got it. One of those mo­ments that make eve­ry­thing clear. I had the im­pres­sion that I saw the world like him. My fa­vou­rite film of his is The Killing of a Chinese Boo­kie. I al­ways in­sist that my chief ca­me­ra­men see it.

Do you so­me­times hold the ca­me­ra on your films?

My ope­ra­tor sorts out the fra­ming, but I al­ways look through the lens be­fore the clap. I al­ways ask that we get clo­ser to the ac­tors; I want to get as close as pos­sible. What, for others, is a me­dium shot is a long shot for me. I’m a di­rec­tor of in­ti­ma­cy.

Be­fore ma­king Kids, did you try to make it in Hol­ly­wood?

Not at all. I star­ted the re­search that went in­to Kids to­wards the end of the 80s. At 47 I learnt how to ska­te­board. I got real­ly in­to it and sma­shed my­self up quite a lot. What a bru­tal sport! But it was fun, be­cause the world I was ex­plo­ring wasn’t mine. My pho­tos had al­ways had an au­to­bio­gra­phic ele­ment and I was be­co­ming sick of them as a re­sult. I star­ted ma­king films in or­der to get some dis­tance. Ska­te­boar­ding in­ter­es­ted me be­cause, from a pic­to­rial point of view, it’s ma­gni­ficent, and be­cause the kids who were ska­te­boar­ding at the time were real punks. They came from mes­sed-up fa­mi­lies, and ska­ting sa­ved their lives, like rock ’n’ roll sa­ved mine in the 50s. They were rich, poor, Black, White, Brown, Asian. They frigh­te­ned the middle classes like the Hells An­gels did and li­ved on ve­ry lit­tle mo­ney, ea­ting a bur­ri­to from Ta­co Bell. People didn’t un­ders­tand their free­dom. To­day, kids who’ve ne­ver put a foot on a ska­te­board can dress like ska­ters.

Your films ne­ver por­tray youth in a nos­tal­gic way. Did you start fil­ming other

people’s people’s ado­les­cence ado­les­cence to to for­get for­get your your own? own?

I didn’t have a hap­py child­hood. Had I had a choice, I would have be­come a wri­ter, a pain­ter, or a sculp­tor… But my mo­ther was a ba­by pho­to­gra­pher and put a ca­me­ra in my hands. It’s the on­ly le­ga­cy I re­cei­ved from my pa­rents. But yes, my films re­ject nos­tal­gia, you’re right. That doesn’t have any­thing to do with my own ado­les­cence, even if I might have thought so for a long time. The real rea­son is that I like to film in the present. My cha­rac­ters live in the mo­ment, wi­thout past or fu­ture. Be­cause to my eyes, kids will al­ways be in­nocent.

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