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The Reeler Blog

BAM, Clark Toast Lachman with Rare Ken Park Screening

By S.T. VanAirsdale

The Reeler dropped by BAM Friday for the opening night of its retrospective celebrating cinematographer Ed Lachman, who was on hand to introduce his and co-director Larry Clark's controversial, rarely screened 2002 directing debut Ken Park. Aside from at least one elderly patron's vocal indignance and another viewer's "OK, thank you!" as Lachman's camera lingered a few frames extra on ejaculating and/or urinating penises, the film seems to have retained an almost mythically hypnotic shock; its permutations of sexually active skaters, predatory parents and harrowing ennui in Visalia, Calif., (further distorted by the cracked lens of screenwriter Harmony Korine) seem at once transgressive and wholly conventional, as though protracted takes of autoerotic asphyxiation and attempted molestation were mere curios, like holdovers from the silent era.

For that matter, Ken Park may as well be a silent film; visual narrative coruscating off the screen, words melting in mouths, lives lived in details flung far into the margins. The title character, a skateboarder with hair the color of red apple skin and who's dead by suicide within minutes of his introduction, gives way to his surrogate family of friends: Shawn, who's sleeping with his girlfriend's mother; Peaches, whose Bible-parsing father fancies her reincarnation as her late mother; Tate, a lanky sociopath (still an understatement); and Claude, the product of parents knotted in a bleak, beer-swilling idyll. They fall into a slow orbit around happiness, eclipse in bed, then go around for another loveless pass. Lachman, Clark and their camera do the majority of the talking themselves with discipline and stillness.

"We didn't want to do kind of a hand-held, emotional realism, but more like Eastern European films," Lachman said after the film. "We'd use a longer lens, so it's more like a portrait of the people. The camera is the eye. If you come into the room and you're observing something, it makes choices about what you're seeing. We felt that gave the development of your belief in the performance -- you're not cutting the performance to belief the credibility of what they're going through."

Not that that'll make it any easier to literally see Ken Park, which had screened only once previously in New York (in the 2003 edition of Film Comment Selects), never obtained US distribution and is available only via online bootlegs and foreign-region DVD. An admittedly disapponted Clark countered the popular theory that its explicit subject matter was responsible. "It wasn't censorship," he said. "That wasn't the issue. I'll just tell this quickly, because I don't even wanna talk about it, but we had a producer who didn't pay for the music rights. Over a year period, he told us everything had been cleared and paid for. Some of the music -- like the country music from estates like Lefty Frizzell's? That song 'Mom and Dad's Waltz'? There are a couple of other songs, but they're very conservative estates, and it took us like a year and a half to get those tunes cleared. Then the producer didn't pay for them. We found out way after the fact. So there are more big problems now, but maybe some day we'll be able to do that. ... They only come after you in England and America."

Follow the jump for more background about Ken Park as well as the relationship between Clark and Lachman, the latter of whom will be in attendance at several more screenings featured in the BAM program -- including David Byrne's directing effort True Stories on Sunday, May 11, at which the ex-Talking Heads leader will join Lachman for a discussion. Check out BAM's site for more information.

ON THEIR FIRST MEETING: LC: "We met in Austria, right?"

EL: "In Graz, Austria."

LC: "Graz, Austria. I had a show there of my photographs, and at the dinner afterward, Ed was there. Were you shooting something?"

EL: "I actually came to this art fair with a friend, and I had a chance to sit next to Larry Clark. And Larry Clark and Robert Frank were the two photographers who influenced me to become a photographer. It's interesting that we show this as the first film in the retrospective, because he was really the influence for me to become a photographer. When I met him, I told him that his two books -- Tulsa and Teenage Lust -- were like movies for me. Not only did they tell a story in the images, but I also felt there was a story between the pages. I asked Larry at that time if he'd ever wanted to make a film, and he said he had. So this is the film we got to make. And in the interim he made Kids."

LC: "This was going to be my first film. And then Ed and I made a deal then over dinner; we got back to the States and met up and took my diaries, and I wanted the film to be about these characters whom I'd known through my life. A lot of them are based on real people I knew. And it took a while, so while we were waiting to gt the film together and get the script written, I made Kids. Ken Park was supposed to be the second film, but I couldn't get anyone to give us money for it. It was always going to be explicit, but it was always going to be about art. I'd come from the art world, and it didn't occur to me that you couldn't do all this -- that you would have to censor yourself for ratings, or that there would be all these things you couldn't do. I got a good education; it took years and years. We finally got it made. It looks like a $12 million film, and we did it for $1.3."

CLARK ON KEN PARK'S RECEPTION: "We were told that if we didn't make an R-version of the movie that it would never be shown; it would only be shown here at BAM or something -- once every 10 years. And we were told that it couldn't be released in France or in any country. I think the first country that bought it was Italy. And it was a gigantic hit in France, so they were wrong and we were right. Ed and I said, 'If we can just get this film to an audience, we can prove we're right.' And luckily they took it at Venice, and we were right."


Ken Park co-directors Ed Lachman and Larry Clark at the Venice Film Festival in 2002 (Photo: WireImage)

CLARK ON HARMONY KORINE: "We had a falling out but not over this film. By the way, Harmony had nothing to do with the film. He wrote the screenplay from my stories, but then we didn't see him. He went off somewhere, and I didn't see him for years. I haven't seen him for years. He went off on an adventure, and it took him a while to come back. But I'm very happy for him -- no hard feelings at all. ... I knew the stories I wanted to tell, but it took us a long time to find a writer who we thought could handle it. Finally Ed found a writer -- a really good writer, and a really good guy. We went out to California and talked to him. I gave him all my diaries and told him what it was about and the way it should be structured. Then I thought of Harmony, because he'd written Kids. I told Ed, 'You know, we should give Harmony a shot at this. Which meant that we had to ask the other guy to give us our stuff back after we got him all ready. I made Ed do that. But then we gave it to Harmony, and he did a brilliant job of structuring the film. It's brilliant what he did. He wrote Kids and Ken Park back-to-back. This is before he'd ever done drugs -- he had a pure brain. He was great back then."

ON FILMING INTIMACY: LC: "[Tate's masturbation scene] was one take. It was Ed, a focus puller and myself in the room with the actor."

EL: "Most of the scenes were one or two takes. Like the emotional scene with Maeve Quinlan and [Shawn, played by James Bullard], where she cried? That was kind of the style we were trying to approach."

LC: "Tate's scene was obviously one of the bravest pieces of acting I've ever seen. James Ransone was the actor. It was devastating for him. Everything came out -- not just that, but emotionally he was completely spent and collapsed after that. He gave it all."

ON WORKING TOGETHER: LC: "It was probably the most enjoyable time making a film. I mean, working with Ed, it was really the most pleasant experience."

EL: "Me also. It was great. We'd drive in a car together every morning and get our Jamba Juice and say, 'How are we getting by the producers today? What do we have to look out for?' It was like having four eyes and two heads to make a film. And I also think because we're both photographers, so much of the film is about observation, and that's always the way I wanted to make a film -- through observation."

CLARK ON THE FILM'S ADULT CHARACTERS: "The adults in this film arent giving any of the kids anything they need emotionally. They're satisfying themselves. And when you're a kid, and you're not getting any of your needs fulfilled by the adults around you, you'd probably kill yourself if you didn't have your friends. That's what keeps you alive. So I had this idea that at the end of the film, they come together and have sex in kind of the purest way -- a temporary redemption or salvation or something. The trick is to make it work. And it does work. A lot of people who've seen it come up to us and tell us that's probably the cleanest scene in the film. The real pornography is the way the adults are using the children. It was an idea that somehow we made work."

ON THEIR AGES AND UNSIMULATED SEX: LC: [Shakes his head when asked if the actors were underage.] "No, no, you can't do that. I don't wanna go to the penitentiary. And I don't think Ed wants to go to the penitentiary, either. Everybody has to be 18; you just get people who look really young. Which is a long search. Everyone that age wants to do it. ... You say they were really having sex, but I don't know if they were or not. I can't remember."

EL: "There's CGI and special effects."

Posted at May 10, 2008 11:39 AM

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