Dir: Larry Clark and Ed Lachman. US-Neth-France. 2002. 92mins.
Every film festival needs its succes de scandale, and who better than Larry Clark to lay on the controversy at Venice 2002' Ken Park - co-directed by Clark and cinematographer Ed Lachman - contains scenes of graphic, uncut sexual activity between what look like consenting minors, not to mention sex between minors and majors. It would be a shame, though, to get stuck on a fuck or two. Ken Park, the second script Harmony Korine wrote for Clark before they stopped speaking to each other, is a thought-provoking study of mixed-up youth and mixed-up parents in turn-of-the-millennium America, which moves between deadpan farce, emotional and physical violence and moments of surprising tenderness. Though it is likely to run into severe certificate problems in many territories, including, of course, the US, this will not prevent more adventurous distributors from taking it on. As with Clark's 1995 debut, kids, buzz will generate demand, and demand will force the market to find ways of getting this seen, censors or no censors.
Korine wrote the script for Ken Park in 1995, before kids had even gone into production. Although that film suddenly made Clark bankable, few US producers wanted to touch a picture that was always going to be unrated, and the project lay fallow until Dutch producer Kees Kasander (the Greenaway man) came on board with French colleague Jean-Louis Piel to greenlight what is, in production terms, an almost entirely European movie. It explains why Ken Park has a lot more in common with kids than with Clark's two intervening films. This is kids Two, in fact, without the hard drugs but with parents, grandparents, sex, and more sex. The male organ, that shy beast of the cinematic jungle, is coaxed into a clearing and persuaded to jump up and down and get excited, and over-excited, all in full graphic detail. And the mating ceremony of the three high school friends (two boys, one girl) is captured with exemplary clarity and resolution, as if this were a National Geographic documentary.
Ken Park is not a place: it's the name of the freckly skateboarder who blows his brains out to jump-start the film. He's one of five teenage denizens of the middle-class suburban hell of Visalia, California, whose lives provide the film's narrative backbone. Tate lives with his grandparents and a three-legged dog called Legs; like most healthy teenage boys, he likes to strangle himself, then masturbate while watching grunting female tennis players on TV. Claude lives with a pregnant mother (Plummer, one of only a handful of pros in a convincing cast) and an abusive father who pumps iron, but who harbours secret erotic feelings for his son. Peaches is a peaches-and-cream girl who lives alone with a father so religious he kneels through lunch and dinner; she likes to tie her boyfriend Curtis to the bed and do things to him. Shawn, a skateboard punk, can't decide whether he prefers screwing his girlfriend or his girlfriend's mother.
And yet, in some weird way, this is a moral film, with some of the feel of those old Russian novels that combine nihilism and sentiment, farce and retribution. These kids (with the possible exception of the unredeemable Tate) are trying to make a go of things in a world where everything doesn't mean less than zero: parental abuse, as suffered by Claude at the hands of his father (an excellent Williams) really hurts, and sex between schoolmates actually comes across as a tender refuge from the emotional barfight that's going on outside the room. Except that Clark, being Clark, pushes things a little too far; so a not entirely constructive tension is set up between the need to show and the desire to shock.
Co-director Lachman has worked as cinematographer on films from True Stories to Erin Brockovich, and his more classical style suits this material well. Dogme wobble would have fudged the point, and made all that flesh difficult to focus on.
Prod co: Kasander Film Company
Co-prod: Marathon Int'l
Int'l sales: Fortissimo Film Sales
Exec prods: Olivier Bremond, Pascal Breton
Prods: Kees Kasander, Jean-Louis Piel
Co prod: Wang Wei
Scr: Harmony Korine, based on characters by Larry Clark
Cinematography: Ed Lachman, Larry Clark
Prod des: John de Meo
Ed: Andrew Hafitz
Music: Howard Paar
Main cast: James Ransome, Tiffany Limos, Stephen Jasso, James Bullard, Mike Apaletegui, Adam Chubbuck, Wade Andrew Williams, Amanda Plummer, Zara McDowell