DIRECTED BY LARRY CLARK and ED LACHMAN
STARRING: JAMES BULLARD, JAMES RANSONE, STEPHEN JASSO, TIFFANY LIMOS, AMANDA PLUMMER, WADE ANDREW WILLIAMS, JULIO OSCAR MOCHOSO and MAEVE QUINLAN
Let me not worry about spoilers because you’re probably not going to watch this film anyway. ‘Ken Park’ begins with Ken Park killing himself at a skate-park by blowing his brains out with a smile on his face. The film then goes a full circle to get back to the point where it explains ‘Why’. He is what is called a ‘plot device’ – he does not go beyond the title, but he serves to explain it. He’s like the ‘Amy’ in ‘Chasing Amy’, a working metaphor for the film in itself. In this case, he’s representative of the pointlessness of the film, an experiment that’s futile as it’s meant to be. Larry Clark knows it and perhaps that’s why he called his film ‘Ken Park’ and not something like ‘Restless Teenagers in search for Joy’. It’s like a deeper, scarier, more explicit version of ‘Kids’ that speaks of its maker’s experience in the years that followed.
Larry Clark is an intriguing filmmaker. His boldness knows no barriers, his conception more on experience (‘Ken Park’ is based on his journal, we’re told) than an attempt to incriminate. He doesn’t point fingers. He situates himself in the middle of his characters in a wild-eyed man’s effort to find beauty in their dysfunction. Even his overtly controversial, yet-to-come-of-age film ‘Kids’, a juxtapose of clubbing, consumption and underage sexuality, served to shine some light of awe on a thing as emotionally destructive as date-rape, where (I felt) he gives the viewer the boy’s pleasure in executing it despite the dry irony of the whole situation in plain sight. Teenagers aren’t subject materials for Larry Clark. They’re objects of his fascination, his films as cocky as the people it’s about. The man was about 50 years of age when he started making films. ‘Ken Park’ had come about in his 60th year, but the man relates to teenagers like he’s one himself – in fronts of both innocence as well as dangerous perversion.
Roger Ebert, in his review of ‘Wassup Rockers’ (Larry Clarks subsequent film), inquires as to whether it makes Larry Clark a pervert. I felt that the filmmaker answers that question in ‘Ken Park’, in a scene where one of the branches of a tree hides the frame partially as we look into Claude’s household from the skateboard confrontation to the Father’s (Wade Williams) guilt at having been rough on his son. We wait till he breaks down, moved to tears, and we proceed to the next scene. I thought I heard the statement loud and clear – the man is unafraid of his perversion and he hands the apple duly to the audience, with the air of one who always shares his things to the most intimate detail.
His characters come in a wide variety, ranging from ‘explainable’ to ‘eye-popping drastic’. While Shawn (James Bullard) can be thought of as a guy who takes lessons from his girlfriend’s mother (Maeve Quinlan) on how he could keep her ‘happy’, Rhonda, the woman in question, is an accommodating mentor if you had to explain. The key here is you shouldn’t want to. I felt something similar when I watched Lee Daniels’ even more powerful ‘Precious’, a film where I was as lost for words as the counselor towards the end. I simply couldn’t absorb its premise, as brilliantly as it could have been offered to me. Same with ‘Ken Park’. There are emotions in it which, even if not relatable, could be understood. There are those who elude, and then there are those which I could not tolerate. Like Rhonda’s little girl often in focus, dressing her Barbie watching Lingerie Models on TV. I pitied the girl who actually played that part – it is an age where curiosity can’t even be acknowledged, let alone entertained. And I asked myself who the bad parent was. Is it Rhonda, or her actual mother?
Forced Incest, Gay abuse, promiscuity – there’s so much going on in this ‘journal’ that it looks more like a travelogue on the underbellies of the USA. It looks assembled, not like it’s written from experience. I liked how the characters both acted their ages as well as strayed out of them occasionally, be it above or below (as in the case of Tate). The best part of the film is around an unnamed character who tells us about the trauma in his Father’s death, dewy-eyed; the rest is indifference. Our teenagers are very resistant, but each story succeeds in breaking into their little worlds, giving us glimpses of who they really are. And yet, ironically, it didn’t break into mine. I didn’t know if I liked this film, but I felt it was sound. And I don’t know what that qualifies as.