The film provocateur on falling in love with good Catholic girls and why if he lived anywhere else he would have been executed years ago
As part of our States of Independence summer takeover, 50 American indie icons have volunteered to take the Dazed Pop Quiz; a quick-fire Q&A about what they love and loathe about life in the USA. Check back here every day for more from the series.
In 1995, when Larry Clark released his first feature film Kids, he’d set out to “make the great American teenage movie, like the great American novel.” Criticised and revered for its unrestrained and candid portrayal of urban youth doing everything harder – drugs, fucking, masturbating – it captured a whole new side to American adolescence. Written by a then 21-year-old Harmony Korine (who Clark met at a skate park) it featured street cast actors including Leo Fitzpatrick (who played a sex obsessed teen preying on virgins) and Chloë Sevigny. For Clark, it began a cinematic odyssey that completely altered the landscape of American cinema.
Today the 71-year-old director is preparing to “go on the run” to Marfa, Texas where he will shoot the sequel to his 2012 film Marfa Girl. “It’s going to be one of the better films of the decade I think,” he jokes in his deep New York drawl. Back in London, the art world is still in shock after his £100 snapshot exhibition at the Simon Lee Gallery, where he sold rare archive images taken on the sets of his films like Ken Park (2002), Bully (2001) and Kids (1995). “I photographed the skate kids so much in the early 90s and it’s almost embarrassing to tell them how much work goes for,” he reveals. “It was important for me to do this show so that the kids can have a souvenir.” Later this year, Clark will release his first foreign language film The Smell of Us, which captures a gang of self-destructive skate kids in Paris. We spoke to the cult artist about his teenage crushes, love of painting and how America has given him creative freedom.
Where did you first fall in love?
Larry Clark: When I was a kid in Tulsa, that’s when I first fell in love. I remember her name was Mary Garcia and she was a very good Catholic girl! I was sixteen or seventeen and one day we got very close but she stopped me. I said, “why?” She said, “Because the pope wouldn’t like it.” I turned around and told her “Actually I beg to differ. I beg to differ with the Pope!”
Does the American Dream still exist?
Larry Clark: Absolutely. I always say that if I had lived anywhere else I would have been shot or executed forty years ago. But in America I’ve been able to have that freedom to do what I want and say what I want, to observe and document the world as I see it. I feel very blessed to be an American and have that freedom.
If you lost it all tomorrow, what would you do the day after?
Larry Clark: I would just soldier on and keep going. I’ve never thought about things in terms of what I accumulate, I just keep working. Everything turns into work for me. No matter what's happened to me, or what I’m doing or what the circumstances are – or what the consequences are – I just keep working and try and make art. It’s always about moving forward. That attitude has served me well. I mean I’m still here. I’m alive and kicking and about to make the sequel to Marfa Girl. It's interesting because I’m still writing it now and we start shooting in about five weeks. The characters had all of these things that were going to happen to them and in this film we find out what actually happened. It’s fun for me to write them. I’m bringing in a couple of new characters like Jonathan Velasquez who started out in my film Wassup Rockers . I’m also bringing in Leo Fitzpatrick who stared in Kids.
When + where you the most happiest?
Larry Clark: New York City. I feel very grounded here, very safe here.
What's the best road trip you've ever been on?
Larry Clark: Every Christmas during the 60s I would go to Mexico. We would drive up into the mountains and it would always be such a great trip. I was asked to go back a couple of years ago as a judge for a film festival, and I did it. So I went back to San Miguel and I saw the old bits and good bits that I haven't seen in 25 years; it was great.
What would make you leave America forever?
Larry Clark: I can’t imagine that ever happening. I mean, I think I could probably live in Paris. As a matter of fact, I lived there all of last year because I was shooting a new film The Smell of Us there. It comes out in September. It’s completely in French, with a French cast and crew. There’s going to be a big launch party in Paris – it’s going to be fantastic.
Where in the States would you ride out the apocalypse?
Larry Clark: I don't know if you can ride out the apocalypse! I don't think that’s possible! If I could it would be with my friends, wherever they happen to be – that would be the place.
What will America look like in 2050?
Larry Clark: I just can’t think that way. Every day there is something going on. I’m probably busier than I’ve ever been in my whole life! I've been working without a stop, without taking a breath, hardly, for three years now. I've been churning out work and books and films and now paintings. I have a show on at the Luhring Augustine gallery in Chelsea right now, it’s called They thought I were but I aren’t anymore....It opened a couple of weeks ago and I’ve got three large-scale paintings in the show. I’ve never really shown paintings before. I actually sold one, so I’m pretty rocked out by that! It was a real challenge. I would like to just paint now. That’s my new goal. I want to make a little bit of money so I can get a little place – a studio or a piece of land – in the country and just stay there and paint. It’s so freeing. Once you start you block the whole world out. It’s funny, I made my first film when I was fifteen and my first painting when I was seventy – what am I going to do when I’m ninety?
Who gave you your first break? Do you still talk?
Larry Clark: Now, that is a question. I really have to think about that one…actually, I think I’ve always made my own breaks. If I look back at my life, I’m pretty satisfied that nobody ever gave me anything. Everything I’ve done, I’ve done myself. That makes me feel really good. I guess there is a self-satisfaction thing there.
Ultimate American film?
Larry Clark: Let me give you a couple – The Killing of a Chinese Bookie by John Cassavetes and Godfather 2.
What smell do you associate with the city of your birth?
Larry Clark: I remember my grandmother would make these rolls with yeast and leave them in the kitchen to rise overnight covered in a damp tea towel. It was that wonderful smell of yeast – it brings back so many memories whenever I smell it. I guess that’s very seldom now of course, because who makes bread with yeast anymore?