Larry Clark first became acquainted with documenting teenage misdemeanours as a juveline himself. His photography book Tulsa documented his amphetamine-injecting pursuits with his friends between 1963 and 71 in black and white at his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The town was hereto famed for the 1960 Gene Pitney song, all feel-good values and a rosy all-American outlook on life; Clark's version turned that on it's head, portraying imless drug use, violence, and sex activities. He followed it up with Teenage Lust, documenting young love through portaits of others, in 1983. Fast forward to '93, and we find Clark photographing skateboarders and getting inspired for his feature film, Kids, which centred on many of the same drug-taking, full-frontal-snogging themes of his previous work, with ollies and kick-flips thrown in. Recently, he participated in New York exhibition NYC 1993: EXPERIMENTAL JET SET, TRASH AND NO STAR, intended as a time capsule, to which he contributed decks, artwork and photographs relating to Kids. For our 1993 takeover, Dazed we asked Larry about his latest film, Marfa Girl, and how he has continued the lessons and legacies of Kids.
DD: Let’s talk about your new movie Marfa Girl and how about the script came together.
Larry Clark: The internet is the key to everything now. I was in Paris the end of 2010, for a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art at the city of Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne, next to the Palais de Tokyo. When I was hanging the exhibition I would work late, and the museum would be closed, so we would have to walk around the back. There’s this big shallow pond, a kind of reflecting pond, and graffiti and all these skaters, and I would get hung up watching them. It reminded me of Washington Square Park in 1993, 1992. And that was when Kids was written—written in ’93 and shot in ’94’ and came out in ’95—but ’93 was the year, and so it reminded me of 1993. And so I said, I wonder where all these kids go when they’re done skating, because there were all kinds of different ethnic kids, you know...
DD: Kids from the suburbs and from the inner-city?
Larry Clark: Yeah, you know, everywhere, you know all these different kinds of kids, all different ethnicities. So I had this idea, ‘Gee, you know it would be really interesting to follow these kids and to see what happened.’ And at the opening of my museum, I met this kid who was a French poet, kid about twenty. He introduces himself and so I tell him about my idea, and I say, ‘do you want to write the screenplay?’ We started talking and we hung around. He had friends in Paris, and they’re like 18, 19, 20 years old. They took me with them on the Paris nightlife and told me their stories, and he wrote this incredible screenplay… Mathieu Landais.
DD: So it’s like a real-life narrative that literally unfolded in front of you?
Larry Clark: Exactly. I wanted to make a film that was of the moment. I hate to compare it to Kids, but kind of like that, you know. This film is about what’s happening now and I was very interested in the new generation and the internet and how easily kids can get in trouble using the internet. There are four main kids, girls and boys, and then there’s a bunch of other young people – all the young people are pretty much first time actors and a lot of them have never acted before. And it’s in Paris and in French, so it’s really… I’m having fun.
DD: The one parallel to Kids which is obvious is that you are able to identify a secret everyday reality that people would just walk past - like in ’93 at Astor Place or at Washington Square Park, and now you’re identifying that again in Paris in 2013 and taking these unseen narratives to the movie screen.
Larry Clark: I was just interested in what is going. I have kids who are grown now — my daughter, I just married her off last summer, she’s 26 and my son’s 29 now — they were 12 years old and 9 years old when I did Kids, so I was curious about the brave new world then.
DD: The coming journey for them in their lives, right?
Larry Clark: The internet thing, I started really noticing back when she was 6, and now she’s 26 and you see what’s happened in the last 20 years. It’s just like you and I Skyping now. I cast Ms Burnette over Skype! I couldn’t find Marfa Girl. Jim Lewis who did the story with me for Kids, saw me in Marfa, Texas trying to find the Marfa Girl and I hadn’t, and I went to Austin. I couldn’t find the Marfa Girl and so Jim is telling me about Kaylan Burnette, who is going by the name Drake Burnette in the movie, so he’s telling me about it saying she’s perfect. Finally, like a few days before we’re gonna shoot, I don’t have the Marfa Girl, and so I call her up. We skyped for 2 and half hours and I said ‘you’re it’. She got in the car with a girlfriend and drove straight to Marfa, from Louisiana.
DD: When you started doing the screenplay for The Smell Of Us, was it the same relationship between your notebook and the screenwriter as you did on Marfa Girl and to an extent on Kids?
Larry Clark: Mathieu Landais wrote the screenplay, it’s his screenplay. I told him some things I wanted in it, because he’s French and he’s that age, it just all fit but I have to give credit to Mathieu for the screenplay. We talked a lot and hung out a lot and went to different places, and he would email me drafts—Internet again—back and forth, so we collaborated, but he wrote it. So if people are upset about certain things, it’s his fault and I can blame him (laughs).
I started exploring it because it was a world I didn’t know
DD: Do you think your insight into the inner emotional landscape of the adolescent has changed between now and 1993? Was it different when you were putting together ‘Tulsa’ or when you were shooting ‘Teenage Lust’ in New York?
Larry Clark: Well ‘Tulsa’ and ‘Teenage Lust’ were autobiographical. I figured I had done everything I could do with photography, and I always wanted to be a filmmaker and to make a film that wasn’t about me, and that’s when I started exploring the adolescent world - ’89, ’90, ’91, ’92, ’93 - that’s when I started exploring it because it was a world I didn’t know. The reason I picked skateboarders was because I’m a photographer and they were the most visually exciting kids.
DD: They're advanced kids too.
Larry Clark: Back then they were really outlaws, skateboarding was very different then and they were really outlaws. I wanted to do work that wasn’t about me, so Kids, and A Smell Of Us, is not about me at all which I enjoy. I’m discovering a new world and what’s going today. You have kids and you have a teenage girl and you have a boy in his very early 20s, so you know how the world has changed. Kids are the same, kids will always be kids and will always be innocent despite however much they know until they experience things, make mistakes… I feel very happy that I’m 70 years old and I’m trying to make new work about new lives and I’m not living off my fucking arse i.e. my reputation.
DD: No, you’re working like a motherfucker.
Larry Clark: I’m happy when I’m challenging myself and to come to France, and make a movie in French seemed like and is a big challenge but it’s what I wanted to do.
DD: The other thing is you’re like William Blake, exploring the songs of innocence and the songs of experience and how the two actually interrelate, because it’s in the tension between innocence and experience that the adolescent mind turns into the adult mind and that’s fascinating.
Larry Clark: Yeah, I reckon.
"Larry Clark Stuff in Tokyo" is at United Arrows Tokyo, Sept. 7 - 19, 2013.