Collyrium – The controversial cinema of Larry Clark

Andrea Jean Varraud · 4 years ago
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In this new article, we will take a close look at one of the directors, but in general, one of the most controversial criticized but at the same time loved and closely followed personalities: Larry Clark.

For the unfamiliar, Larry Clark is one of the founding fathers of the independent star-striped cinema having previously been a revolutionary photographer. Indeed, success came first with his photographic works; firstly with Tulsa, an uncensored book published in 1971 about the nefarious youth of a group of adolescents (Clark’s closest friends), where drugs, explicit sex, and violence were the real protagonists. It’s worth to spend a few lines on this first photographic project as it is from here that everything starts. All of Larry Clark’s subsequent endeavors, both cinematographic and photographic, will be focused on the same themes: drugs, adolescence, sex, America, and skateboarding. Tulsa, as we have just seen, was released in 1971, but the book relates a much longer story. The American artist,  inseparable from his camera, depicts, in fact, his life from 1963 until 1971 with a black and white raw which critics have recognized as giving birth to contemporary street photography, along with the work of Nan Goldin and other artists. But Tulsa was not a gigantic work, it only laid the foundations for Clark’s opera, Tulsa also inspired numerous directors, from the most underground Gus Van Sant or Harmony Korine to the more acclaimed and mainstream ones such as Martin Scorsese.

But let’s proceed orderly. Larry Clark was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1943, his a mother, photographer, father a sale assistant. It is thanks to his mother’s profession that young Larry embraces photography so much that, after graduating from the University of Milwaukee, he moved to New York to start a freelance career. Unfortunately, after only a few months he will be conscripted to serve his country in Vietnam. After his return from war, the young photographer will deeply commit to his passion, closely documenting the skater and punk subcultures so dear to him. It is precisely his interest in the American borderline society that will lead to Tulsa’s birth. In the years to follow his subsequent work will, as previously mentioned, revolve around the same themes, in fact, Clark will produce the light volumes Teenage Lust (1983) and A Perfect Childhood (1992).

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Shortly after, in 1993, Larry Clark will enthusiastically test the camera, shooting Chris Isaak’s Solitary Man music video. Interested in the creative possibilities of this new medium, in 1995 Larry directs Kids, also written by Harmony Korine. Today we remember Clark as a pillar of cinema, but at his time, even though he had been nominated for prize money as the Palme d’Or in Cannes, he did not have much success, whereas he indeed was at the center of numerous controversies for his no-filter reality and crude descriptions. The film is about a group of young New York skaters struggling with their daily lives. There is no real plot, it is in fact considered a sort of more mature and complex continuation of the photographic work reported in his previous books.

In Kids star actors who in the following years will become true icons of mainstream and independent cinema such as Rosario Dawson (Grindhouse-A trial of death, DareDevil the series, Men in Black, Sin City, and many others) and Chloe Sevigny (American Psycho, Gummo, Dogville, Zodiac).

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After this first cinematographic experience, the director decides to pursue the previously undertaken path, creating works always focused on subcultures (in particular the skater one) and never ceasing to raise controversy, sometimes even going against censorship. In fact, despite Larry Clark was quickly able to earn the respect of the most avant-garde cinephiles, he has repeatedly been accused of proposing pedo-pornography in theaters; in particular with Ken Park (a 2002 film showing in a very clear and uncensored manner a boy in the act of masturbation).

However, the constant criticism and censorship have only increased Larry Clark’s popularity turning him into an icon director of our generation and bringing international awards and numerous nominations, with films such as Marfa Girl, The Smell of Us, Kids, Another Day in Paradise and Ken Park.

You will see that after watching some films by Larry Clark, Noé’s Love will seem like Hamtaro.

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Collyrium – The controversial cinema of Larry Clark
Collyrium – The controversial cinema of Larry Clark
Collyrium – The controversial cinema of Larry Clark
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