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The Films of Larry Clarke: The Overlooked, Psychotic Genius

Kids: The Beginning

1995. Summertime in The Big Apple. Urban youth, skateboarding and a lack of adult supervision. This could either be someone's worst nightmare or the setting for Larry Clarke's debut film, "Kids." After spending several years as a photographer, Larry Clarke burst onto the film scene with his explosive debut feature film. A raw and realistic look at the youth of New York City's underground neighborhoods. At first glance, the film often goes overlooked because of its frank depiction of sex, drugs and violence, all involving teenagers. However, the realism that Mr. Clarke brings to the visual medium is a reality check for all of us fortunate enough to find his films. We often think of films as a way to escape from reality but Larry Clarke takes all of the traditional ideas of filmmaking and stabs them right through the heart. He pulls back all the safe layers we use as protection from ourselves and cuts right to the raw, bloody heart of the matter. Aside from the controversial content, "Kids" also serves another unique purpose. As the debut performances of both, Leo Fitzpatrick and Rosario Dawson. Written by Harmony Korine (also in his debut writing performance) it also stars Oscar nominee, Chloe Sevigny.

Another Day In Paradise: The Follow Up

Despite a whirlwind start that saw his debut end up on Entertainment Weekly's "Top 25 Most Controversial Movies of All Time." Larry moved right along with his next piece, 1998's, "Another Day In Paradise." Starring industry vets, James Woods and Melanie Griffith, team up with talented, young stars, Vincent Kartheiser and Natasha Gregson-Wagner as two, junkie couples looking for a big score. Despite having traditional Larry Clarke themes throughout, the director shows he can not only attract top talent in a uniquely different environment but can handle the deeper themes that are necessary to see the story through to completion.

Bully: Crime and Youth

It was a few years before Larry's next film. 2001's "Bully" starring, seasoned actors, Brad Renfro and Nick Stahl. "Bully" follows 7 Florida youths who plan a revenge and murder plot against one of their mutual friends because of his mistreatment of all of them for several years. Larry took another turn with this one as it was his first foray into material that was based on true events. "Bully" is based on, "Bully" A True Story of High School Revenge" by Jim Schutze. Many of ,Larry's traditional themes continue to run strong through this particular piece but there is a certain amount of brevity and honesty that gets lost against the visceral and violent landscape. "Bully" is brought to life by its uniquely talented cast. Many of them veteran actors including, Bijou Phillips, Michael Pitt, Rachel Miner and Larry Clarke alum, Leo Fitzpatrick. "Bully" however does serve as the debut of actor, Daniel Franzese, which, many of you will know from the widely popular, "Mean Girls."

Ken Park: The Lost Film

He quickly followed it up with his next film, 2002's "Ken Park." If you've never heard of this film, don't panic. Not many American audiences have. It takes a little detective work to find out about this one, as it hasn't been shown in the United States since its initial UK debut. Sharing similar themes and subject matter as its predecessor, "Ken Park" takes a similar look at the issues of the youth of America, this time in Los Angeles. If you're looking for a plot summery, there's not really a way to sum anything up. Everything takes place in a non-linear format, involving several characters with overlapping scenes that have no connection to the previous one. All of this culminates with a fairly infamous and graphic three-way sex scene between the three lead actors. This is a, "take-it or leave-it" kind of piece. Not everyone will be satisfied.

Wassup Rockers: An Overlooked Unknown

In 2005, Larry came out with his next production, "Wassup Rockers." A look at Latino youth trying not to conform to the hip-hop culture of their gang-infested Los Angeles neighborhood and opt in to more diverse and rebellious situation in Beverly Hills. As with many of his films, "Wassup Rockers" displays a combination cast of professional and non-professional actors. This one often goes overlooked in the Larry Clarke library because it doesn't offer much in the way of transition or change. Same themes, violence, drugs, sex, youth. All very common throughout his catalogue but many of Larry Clarke's films offer something in the way of a lesson or back-door theme we can all discover with enough thought. This one unfortunately falls short of any, "message" to adhere to.

Marfa Girl: Back To The Roots

It took nearly 6 years to get Larry's next film. 2012's "Marfa Girl." A story about a directionless 16 year old living in a small, Texas town and his relationship with his girlfriend and family and power hungry deputy. We're not hit with much from the Larry Clarke train on this one but more sex, drugs, violence, depravity and scandalous material, all involving teens. One of the themes that has remained consistent throughout his career is, Larry likes to not only push the envelope but rip is open, seal it back up and then shove it right through your face. For some, it's just the shock of seeing the material visually for the first time and with others, it's not enough to just throw a few naked bodies on the screen, simply just for skin time. One thing that can be said is, Larry shows us the reality of youth in America and it's not what most people expect.

The Smell of Us: Coming Back Around

2014 saw Larry's 7th feature film. The French produced, "The Smell of Us." Once again, being a foreign production, this one is hard to come across but you're not missing much. Larry shows what he knows best, the destructive and brutish behavior of young, skateboarding youths in a run down economic environment and how they pass the time to survive. This time, he takes his ideas to the romance of Paris but the backdrop can't do anything to take away from the overwhelmingly common themes that rule nearly all of his films.

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Despite many of his films sharing very similar themes and despite him never shying away from the raw underbelly of society, Larry Clarke has proven himself a competent and devoted director, who never conformed to a traditional filmmaking process. He makes the films he wants to make and many of them are about topics he knows very well. With Larry Clarke, you get no fluff, no dishonesty. You get the real deal and many of us, are too scared to cross that bridge. So, it's very refreshing when someone is willing to do so. There are rumors that well-respected directors such as, Gus Van Sant and Martin Scorsese were influenced by Clarke's early work. Nobody can fault a guy for producing material that he knows best. He may have never shied away from the same material but he does it better then anyone else and you can believe, we will never see another Larry Clarke as long as we live!

Wither you know him now or just learned about him, do any of his films interest you?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Jimmy Cenci

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