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Larry Clark: Punk Picasso
March 31, 2005 6:24 AM   Subscribe

The Cheerful Transgressive Ever since 1971, when Larry Clark published Tulsa, an austere series chronicling his meth-shooting pals in sixties Oklahoma, Clark has made it his mission to document teenagers at their most deviant, their most vulnerable, their most sexually unhinged (possibly NSFW). And now “Larry Clark” the first American retrospective of Clark’s work, currently on display at the International Center of Photography, demonstrates the richness with which he’s mined this single subject (NSFW). More inside.
posted by matteo (48 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Clark, after all these years, still has the power to make critics nervous.

From the main link:
At its rawest and best, Clark’s work reveals a Lord of the Flies vision of being young in America—parentless kids fending for themselves, doing what they can to deny their own existences—one that’s often a few steps ahead of the news cycle. Nothing seems to make Clark prouder. “I don’t want to toot my own horn, because that’s stupid, but I’m just saying that I got there early,” he says. “When I did Tulsa, people thought that drugs couldn’t be happening with crew-cut kids in Oklahoma. Look now! Meth is the scourge of the Southwest! And when Kids came out, they said it was all about Larry, that it was the fantasies of an old man. Then suddenly the news was filled with school shootings, sex, AIDS—all the headlines were what you saw in the movie!”.
posted by matteo at 6:25 AM on March 31, 2005


While Clark's work is definitely honest about the dark side of adolescence, and is visually stunning, I find myself having concerns about it's impact. Not so much on what Clark is trying to get across, but what people looking at it take away. That kids see the squalor and desperation depicited as sexy and enticingly "dark." Or that older veiwers see it as some kind of voyeuristic entertainment, a decadent reality show "Dope & AIDS Survivor," maybe.
posted by jonmc at 6:38 AM on March 31, 2005


Or as Roberta Smith has written: (NYTimes reg req) of a past Clark exhibit:

If you want a sustained view of the self-indulgent venality that can lurk within the human heart, take in "Punk Picasso," the latest exhibition of the filmmaker and photographer Larry Clark....

As for Mr. Clark's pain, it's hard to say. He reveals little about his relationships but includes a heart-rending letter from one of his children begging him for love and attention... recounts having sex with a drunken teenage runaway whom he then dumped back on the road; and explains the suicide of Jason Pierce, one of the teenage actors in "Kids," all with a chilling lack of connection...

Clearly, you are supposed to equate the heartlessness and outlaw status of drug addicts and artists. But self-revelation is not self-reflection. It seems likely that Mr. Clark has caused far more pain than he has felt, much less transformed into art.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:46 AM on March 31, 2005


I found myself feeling sick, over the years, at the number of people I've known who saw Kids and said solemn variation of oh what kids are like these days. BS, pure and simple. The movie was Larry Clark's vision of kids these days, as little jaded sexxxxy pervs with coal-black hearts. Fuck him.

As for his apologia: Then suddenly the news was filled with school shootings, sex, AIDS—all the headlines were what you saw in the movie! Yes, Larry. And all the headlines suffered from the same sensationalist bias as your movie.
posted by argybarg at 7:00 AM on March 31, 2005


I have to agree with jonmc and R. Mutt.

This is deviance presented as normal.... I'm not sure what the point is.....and I'm not sure the impact is positive

I found it distasteful...YMMV.....
posted by HuronBob at 7:03 AM on March 31, 2005


I have to agree with jonmc and R. Mutt.

This is deviance presented as normal....


Well, that's not what I was saying. I was more pointing to Clark's audience using his work as what Johnny Rotten called "a cheap holiday in other people's misery..."
posted by jonmc at 7:06 AM on March 31, 2005


I saw the ICP exhibit, and let me tell you I've never seen that many penises in one place in my entire life. That said, I do like his photography, but I shrug at his movies, and lost tons of esteem for him when I got to the part of the exhibit that consisted of . . . bulletin boards. That's right, just like you have in your office or kitchen: assemblages of photos ripped from magazines, newspaper clippings, T-shirt slogans, etc. That ain't art, if you define art as something that makes you view the subject in a different way. At ICP the area that had the bulletin boards also had monitors set up that appeared to be looping clips from talk shows with fucked-up kids as the special guests. Also not art. Feh.

On preview, jonmc's Rotten quote is perfect.
posted by scratch at 7:08 AM on March 31, 2005


I was more pointing to Clark's audience using his work as what Johnny Rotten called "a cheap holiday in other people's misery..."

I think that is a better description of Clark himself.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:13 AM on March 31, 2005


Ouch. Tulsa - come for the meth, stay for the race riots.

As a Tulsa resident, I feel compelled to point out something positive. How about something related to the aforementioned Johnny Rotten... the Pistols played Tulsa in '78? (take THAT, Shelbyville!)
posted by theFlyingSquirrel at 7:16 AM on March 31, 2005


"...If it’s titillating? Well, sometimes I’m dealing with good-looking people having sex, sure, but that’s not the point. It’s the consequences."

"I never do anything just to shock, to get attention, to titillate," Clark swears, though it’s a hard claim to take at face value. Clark may fit the mold of the transgressive artist, but he’s disconcertingly eager to argue that he’s not aiming at self-expression at all -- his goal is more wholesome that that: "social commentary."


I wasn't aware that the scourges of teen suicide, pregnancy, violence, and drug use so disproportionately affected the baby-faced, the tight-muscled, the butch, and the astonishingly hung. Quelle tragedie! Thank goodness Mr. Clark doesn't allow the physical attributes of his subjects to distract him from putting across his socially significant message.
posted by digaman at 7:17 AM on March 31, 2005


about a million years ago when I was getting my photography degree, I was a big fan of his book "Tulsa". Hearing he had a new show up, I went up to midtown to see it. Imagine my suprise when it was all pictures he had taken from the tv and magazines of Ricky Schroeder.

"Okay, that's f'd up", I thought and chalked him up as another artist who had collapsed under the weight of his own obsessions.

Much later 'Kids' came out while I was doing a film degree, and people were raving about it, so I though "cool, he's back to form". Then I saw it and felt kind of ill.

Don't get me wrong, I like watching people get it on as much as the next red-blooded American pervert, but the whole tone of this movie made me sick. First of all, I like my porn to be porn and not half-assed porn passed off as art. Second, the whole 'look at them fall' theme made me think of Reefer Madness. While Reefer Madness might be fun to watch as kitsch now, it must have been pretty scary to people who were living through that era and liked the occasional joint.

Kids sucked, and only people who think art film begins and ends with David Lynch thought otherwise. His photography since Tulsa has been disturbing in the worst way, and really lacking in craft. I really wish people would stop giving him money.
posted by lumpenprole at 7:18 AM on March 31, 2005


jonmc..

sorry, didn't mean to imply i was restating what you said...

it was.. "i agree with..."

"and...in addition..."
posted by HuronBob at 7:35 AM on March 31, 2005


He's a fantastic photographer and a shitty film maker (though a great cinematographer). Kids blew, but Tulsa's great.
posted by klangklangston at 7:45 AM on March 31, 2005


Cool. Despite all the flak he's gotten, I've really liked the films I've seen by him (especially "Bully").
posted by jimmy at 7:47 AM on March 31, 2005


Larry Clark is a God. Good things will come to those who check out some other articles about him, here, here and here.
posted by JPowers at 7:47 AM on March 31, 2005


Two other things...

(1) That NY Times article by Roberta Smith talks about Jason Pierce? His name was Justin Pierce. I know it was the article who used the wrong name and not you R. Mutt, but just an FYI.

(2) And Scratch, thanks for defining what is and isn't art for us? I've been looking for someone to set that straight for some time now.

If you don't like Larry Clark's work, that is perfectly fine, and I encourage you and everyone else to explain why. But don't say that it isn't art just because you don't like it. That's absurd.
posted by JPowers at 8:03 AM on March 31, 2005


I adore Clark's work. I remember seeing KIDS in the theatre on a similarly hot summer afternoon in Chicago. No one in that film was a recognizable face yet, and it really got into my head. I think the power of the film is that he held the camera exactly like he must hold a normal still camera shooting subjects for photography. The whole film feels "photographed" instead of "filmed" if that makes any sense. I felt like I was in the room with the story. When I saw it I was still in my early twenties and it was one of those films that stayed with me for years, with a new viewing every year or so, up until a few years ago when I finally stopped watching the thing. But it still fascinates me.

BULLY is fucking brilliant (I know a friend who couldn't talk for a day after seeing it), and while flawed (mostly through its use of actual stars) ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE is excellent, as well. Though a lot of people I know bitch about the main character's acting. Didn't bother me much, but maybe I was too busy looking at Natasha Gregson Wagner. Hee.

As for Clark's books, they were ALWAYS stolen out of any library I looked for them in (even the art institute of chicago's copies) so I snatched up TULSA immediately once it became available as a reprint.

Unfortunately, I've approached his artwork backwards, film to photo, so I don't think it's possible to see his photos without hearing Daniel Johnston or Sebadoh. I love Clark's work incredibly, though. KIDS really mattered to me when it came out. And I think he's largely responsible for giving an aesthetic to Harmony Korine, or at the very least a start.
posted by Peter H at 9:12 AM on March 31, 2005


As a further aside, the KIDS soundtrack produced by Lou Barlow, is essential. The best recorded version of "Casper", too. Yip!

(and rest in peace to the actor who played that role, Justin Pierce, who hung himself at age 25, and who was, I think Chloë Sevigny's boyfriend during the time of KIDS, but that might be misheard gossip)
posted by Peter H at 9:16 AM on March 31, 2005


I think that jonmc makes a good point about this stuff being a form of "Belsen was a gas" bourgeois adventurism. But I don't see how that is any more relevant as a critique of Clark than of any other artist. If anything, that is a wholesale critique of the entire art establishment. Also, when did it become valid to criticize a work of art based on the way a particular audience looked at it?

I don't know if you guys saw American Psycho or not, but one of the things that really upset me when it came out was how many critics called it misogynistic. Personally, I thought it was a critique of, among other things, misogyny (if you want to see the most misogynistic thing ever, watch season one of the TV show 24). Now it may have been heavyhanded or lacking in nuance, but it really wasn't misogynistic unless you were a literalminded fool or a disciple of Andrea Dworkin. I think something very similar is at play in the criticisms of Larry Clark's work. If you watch his movies and look at his pitchers it seems like they speak for themselves as critiques of precisely the things critics attack them for allegedly celebrating.

So that said, I really like Larry Clark's stuff, photos and movies both. Maybe that is the wrong way to put it. I think Clark's works are important and relevant. They are also troubling and unpleasant, and very difficult to like or enjoy. But, for me at least, that is the point. Sometimes it is good to feel uncomfortable. I don't like it when people reduce art to a celebration of beauty, or to some abstract notion of composition or "craft." Clark makes such a reduction very difficult. His work is not about some sort of aesthetic enjoyment of beauty, but something more like an examination of the ugliness of beauty or the beauty of ugliness. In that way it sort of parallels Milton's Satan, whose evil is obviously the more attractive and the more persuasive of two alternatives. A similar artist who seems to get similar criticism, if slightly less of it, is Richard Misrach. As many critics have pointed out, one of the chief problems with photography is that it makes ugliness and horror look beautiful. Even as artists like Clark and Misrach partake in this, they are also forcing their audience to confront and examine this problem.

So I have seen Kids two or three times and I have been disturbed each time and sworn never to see it again. But I don't think it can be easily dismissed as "trash" or "porno." It is a pretty well made movie about exploitation and about good and evil. I also think that the camerawork is completely brilliant. Bully and Another Day in Paradise were very good and very watchable probably because neither made me feel as disturbed as Kids did. If you look at his work over the course of his career you can see a very clear artistic ethos/aesthetic. He is interested in youth, desire, and evil. Those are all interesting subjects and they are also pretty common ones, but few artists approach them in the same way as Clark. His works aren't safe or sterile and provide no easy answers or phony moralizing; they are ambiguous without being either facile or obscure. He probably isn't the best artist in the world, but it is unfair to dismiss him because his work makes you feel uncomfortable or because you have fears about how it will impact the children. Personally, I am far more concerned with the potential effects on our youth of the musical style known as "Crunk."

Of course I think Yoko Ono's first two albums, Fly and Plastic Ono Band (NOT the John Lennon one, the other one!) are masterpieces and that Harmony Korine's Gummo might be the greatest film ever made, so what do I know.
posted by mokujin at 9:21 AM on March 31, 2005


JPowers, thanks for catching the mistake in the NYTimes article. I had missed that.

As for Clark's work, I must say that years ago, when I first saw the Tulsa photos, I was blown away (like everyone else I knew). Until the 2003 "Punk Picasso" show at Luhring Augustine, my attention to Clark's career was fairly haphazard. I did, however, go to the Luhring show twice. I remember being excited to see the work and had heard that the it was more like a small museum retrospective than a gallery show. As I worked my way through the show, my feelings about Clark and his work began to change. I began to feel that there was a deep underlying meanness of spirit in the work that bothered me.

My second visit to the show was mainly to see if this meanness that I had sensed was simply of the work (art about meanness) or generative of the work. Unfortunately I think that the sense of meanness that I felt was/is central to creation of Clark's later work. I think that the reason Roberta Smith's review stuck in my mind was that she managed to put into words what I had felt, esp her sentence: It seems likely that Mr. Clark has caused far more pain than he has felt, much less transformed into art.

I try not to dismiss work that I don't like, but I also have no desire to support an artist who seems to generate such extreme pain.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:43 AM on March 31, 2005


I think it's really funny that R.Mutt posts this. He created toilet art!
posted by Peter H at 9:47 AM on March 31, 2005


I have a friend who's really into this stuff-- her favorite movie used to be "Gummo," another, somewhat similar, Harmony Korine thing. That was until she saw another movie in London--I can't remember for the life of me what it was called, though she said they probably wouldn't show it over her in the US.

She said it devastated her. It was so horrifying that she sat outside the theatre crying for an hour, and couldn't talk to another person for three. She also said she loved it, and that what she wanted from a movie is that it make her "feel something."

I can't but feel that there's something wrong with this scenario; I believe it has something to do with the masochism that "cool postmodernism" encourages. People nowadays think that anything is interesting if it shocks them like that. This is the only real justification I've ever heard for Mr. Clark's or Mr. Korine's work.

Individual preferences aside, however, I guess I can't judge that work on the basis of whether it's "art," as there will always be contrarians who insist that art is whatever we want it to be. Fine, I don't need so subjective a term: "Kids" was socially irresponsible. jonmc made a really good point up above; aside from all those who enjoy this stuff merely as some kind of personal satisfaction, who will be watching this? Is it going to encourage children to do terrible things? Is it going to encourage adults to do terrible things? I know, yeah, it's not meant to do those things, but it probably will. So there's absolutely no point in throwing this stuff out there.

R. Mutt's comment about there being an "underlying meanness of spirit" is right on; if he's encouraging kids or adults to do horrible things to themselves or others, Larry Clark either doesn't know it or doesn't care. The intelligence of this work, the time he seems to have put into it, seems to suggest the latter.

So, what exactly do you have to say to all this, JPowers and Peter H, besides "Larry Clark is a God" and "R. Mutt is a funny screen name"? Can you offer a justification for Mr. Clark putting all this stuff out there in public? I'd really like to hear one; sadly, no fan of this stuff that I've met has been able to say coherently why exactly they approve of it.
posted by koeselitz at 11:11 AM on March 31, 2005


no fan of this stuff that I've met has been able to say coherently why exactly they approve of it.

you really need to separate his "stuff": photography and film.

photography

many people consider it brilliant (especially his early to middle work) because it's great photojournalism (documenting drug culture), flawlessly executed. the composition, the use of light. in a word, the eye makes Clark an extraordinary photographer. he makes money off of poor people's lives? war photographers do, too, jon et al. so, fuck Nachtwey, fuck Salgado, etc? only because they make money taking pics of people in bad shape?
if you look at Clark's image of the pregnant girl who shoots up and you want to do smack, well, it's an IQ test, don't blame Clark. Clark's photography is a massive anti-drug act -- you see the disaster the drugs create.
a more rational argument against Clark would be the Reefer Madness argument -- Clark's work as reactionary fearmongering. but it doesn't cut it, either. you see reality, and in the real world drugs make you feel good (Clark never denied that, he is an honest artist), but the'll fuck you up real bad. if anything, he is a deeply moral artist.


film

"Kids" may very well be cynical. it is certainly shocking. but I'd rather see Kids than all the other pap American cinema is trying to sell as "youth culture". Buffy? Beverly Hills 90210? that Beverly Hills rich-girl Amy Heckerling movie with the blonde actress who propmptly disappeared from the radar?
give me a break.
Bully is really scary. see school shootings -- Columbine is Clark's fault, like Marilyn Manson's? bah.
I have seen Ken Park, 3 years ago, most Americans still haven't. there's graphic sex, cum shots, etc. there's also nice suburban daddies who, at night, drunk, try to suck off their kids. fundy religious widower daddies who mock-marry their daughters. I don't really consider it an ad for sex, if anything the movie is a major turn-off. it also makes you think, unusual for American movies.

Clark's film work is exploiting of youth and sexuality? maybe. most of his actors are nonprofessionals, and models like Bijou Phillips are an exception. I'd rather take its harshness (kids catch AIDS, die, get the shit kicked out of them, etc -- nothing cute ever happens in Clark's cinema) than your average slick Hollywood movie (Pearl Harbor, etc) or slick perfume commercial.

but I concede that Clark's kids fuck. in Puritan America, that's a big no-no. after all, MetaFilter had a real funny mutiny over smal thumbnail ads of Suicide Girls. I love it here, but we are hardly a blasé community when it comes to evaluate sex in a mature way.

Clark is a hack? well, if he wanted to seel out to CK commercials he would have done it years ago. with his visual skills he'd be shooting Bruckheimer movies, making tons of cash. instead, he shoots little-seen low-budget downers. so much for exploiting sex, huh? Bruce Weber's A&F work, anybody?
posted by matteo at 11:38 AM on March 31, 2005 [1 favorite]


"...is a massive anti-drug act ad"

my bad
posted by matteo at 11:39 AM on March 31, 2005


Can you offer a justification for Mr. Clark putting all this stuff out there in public?

I didn't say he was a God, I just said the work moves me.

I would also say he "puts" nothing out there. His work is a response to a world already making this stuff, albeit in waking life and not in film or photography. That's the truth to it. You see what you otherwise wouldn't be able to be a witness to, and he does it in a way that makes you feel you're there. He's responding to these things and changing them through the way he presents them, granted in a fascinated personally biased (probably sexually motivated) way -- but the work wouldn't exist without the world that made it. If you're interested in the value to watching stuff like then we just like other kinds of things.

I don't want to actively be bummed out by a film, I actually resent some films for their effect on me (21 GRAMS is an example, I hated that fucking thing) but, oddly, IRREVERSIBLE or something to that effect, while not something I'd want to revisit, was an amazing film to experience. It comes down to the mind of the director or eye behind the camera. I think Larry Clark has a beautiful eye, too, so I love what he puts on film.

I also didn't say R.Mutt was a funny screen name. Man, such assumptions! I was only joking that it's funny for Marcel Duchamp to be critical of another artist, as he was the original voyeur/provacateur.

I thought GUMMO was shit, btw, if that's useful.

(on preview, sorry for stumbling on top of your post, matteo -- and obviously I'm slanted towards his filmmaking)
posted by Peter H at 11:43 AM on March 31, 2005


(2) And Scratch, thanks for defining what is and isn't art for us? I've been looking for someone to set that straight for some time now.

Piss off, JPowers, I was expressing an opinion. If you took it as a grand statement of fact, that's your problem. Anyway, you got a better definition?
posted by scratch at 11:49 AM on March 31, 2005


you got a better definition?

this guy does.

;)
posted by matteo at 11:55 AM on March 31, 2005


when I saw Kids, I was 16, heard it was excellent, and therefore was overdefensive about it immediately afterward with my mom who thought it was a piece of crap. Not to long after, however, I realized that it was a glorified JD film, and at that, a piece of crap one. Argybarg and lumpenprole articulate my feelings well, in regards to it feeling like Reefer Madness and feeling that it was definitely Clark's vision of what kids are like.

My feelings against it weren't that it was socially irresponsible, at least in the way koselitz says it was, but that it was fucking implausible, simply for the magical amount of shit that happens in one day, and the totally unnuanced and one-dimensional portrayal of teenagers, as argybarg says, "...as little jaded sexxxxy pervs with coal-black hearts.." There's an absolutely huge voyeuristic aspect to the movie, but beyond what jonmc and others say about it, I think there's another aspect tied into it, which is the shock value aimed at parent's and other adults in similar roles/outlooks, a kind of "Watch out! Your kids are being amoral little thugs and pervs right now! This is their real life, man! Raw, and uncensored!" In that regard, the film is fundamentally conservative. On second thought, reactionary.
posted by Snyder at 11:56 AM on March 31, 2005


Watch out! Your kids are being amoral little thugs and pervs right now!

I frankly think that this is Clark overcorrecting for the fact that he's clearly entranced by the sexuality of teenagers and the deeper theme of innocence corrupted, but feels he must beef up the social relevance to stake a claim to higher artistic grounds.

I'm not condemning Clark for what turns him on. If you look around at the gazillions of fashion spreads, TV ads, and music videos for the likes of the Olson twins and barely-legal Britney Spears, it's obvious that the entire culture shares his obsessions, though it goes to great lengths to deny it. I wish his particular trip didn't involve putting pistols in the hands of guys he thinks are hot as he ogles -- oh sorry, makes socially relevant art out of -- the bulges in their briefs, but artists should be free to pursue their inspirations, up to a point.

What I condemn Clark for is his quote above about the "titillation" not being the point, but instead some Judeo-Christian meditation on "consequences" being his primary intention. Please, sir: find more average-looking teenagers if a dour meditation on consequences is your point. It's obvious that the frisson of titillation is part of Clark's (AHEM!) package, and I resent his hypocrisy in insisting otherwise, though I will grant that it's a small hypocrisy nested into a much larger societal one.
posted by digaman at 12:33 PM on March 31, 2005


digaman, I hear you, and i understand your concern. but again: Clark's actors are not A&F / CK models. did you see Ken Park? these kids are hardly Marky Mark. on the other hand, did you check out Bruce Weber's work?

if Clark = Bad then Weber = ???
posted by matteo at 1:00 PM on March 31, 2005


Weird. People who normally otherwise would die before sounding like Tipper Gore suddenly trot out the moralizing when the subject turns to Larry Clark. I think most people who think seriously about art long ago agreed that the question of an artwork's morality is separate from its question of quality.

Kids was bad because the sequence of events in one day was implausible? Oh, good thing that almost all fictional narrative doesn't suffer from that same sort of implausibility. I find the indignation about Kids regarding the depiction of teenagers strange. I've known people that act like all of those kids did. If you want to see a happy-shiny movie about well-behaved and conscientious children, hook up with progandists. They've plenty. If you were a teenager at the time (or recently were) and suffered from people's (your parents?) suspicions about you and were appalled to see Kids validating those fears and suspicions...well, that's your problem, not Clark's.

And aren't some of you the same who also would otherwise be trotting out an assertion of the "intentionalist fallacy"? (Well, if you're not, then I forget I said anything.)

Larry Clark may be a bad man, who contributes to the misery of others with his artistic creations, both in their nature and in their execution. That's a moral criticism and a moral argument. It's not an aesthetics argument. If you want your art to be all about reshaping the world into a better place, go spend time with Socialist Realism. It'll be uplifting, I promise.

A lot of artists can have very interesting, worthwhile, brilliant things to say completely in spite of themselves. In fact, quite a few do a damn good job of sabotaging themselves.

Clark, Solondz, and von Trier are the three popular filmmakers most often accused of being sadistic and morally bankrupt and that their films are, at best, voyeuristic. I now have a pretty dim view of von Trier and what he does and is trying to do when he makes his films, and I do think he's sadistic and misogynist, and deeply manipulative. Still, I think his films are quite good.

If you're going to take a utilitarian view on aesthetics, then what of value do you think "art" creates? On the intellectualism side, do you think it should make you think about difficult issues? Well, Clark does that. On the emotional side, do you think it should take you to emotional places you might otherwise not go? Clark does that. Or is it all about craft? Then Spielberg is the greatest filmmaker, ever.

Ebert says all the time that the quality of a film isn't about what it says, but about how it says what it says. Clark and Solondz and von Trier all have very definite points of view, and they're not pleasant points of view. And each of their points of view are unmistakable. They say what they're trying to say very, very well. Why is Breaking the Waves compelling and American Pie 2 forgettable when they're both, arguably hackworks? Well, von Trier manages to be a hack in a some very interesting ways. Assembly-line Hollywood comedy filmmakers usually don't.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:40 PM on March 31, 2005



Kids was bad because the sequence of events in one day was implausible?


EB - funny, my connection to KIDS is because it actually mirrors the events of one day in my life, summer, age 17. Not the plot, but the sense of this-to this-to this. It might be my memory, but that sort of summer day was my highschool, hanging out downtown, going dancing, taking drugs. Of course, no AIDS, living room rape and all that; but it wasn't without it's drama or violence along similar lines. I have no doubt that this is a plausible day to a typical NYC teen (I grew up in Denver, much slower pace)

Also, with Solondz - I saw Palindromes at SXSW this year and it's magnificent. Word to the wise - AVOID ALL WRITING, TRAILERS, REVIEWS, WEBSITES, EVERYTHING before you see it, though. I got that treat. It's a great film to figure out.
posted by Peter H at 2:08 PM on March 31, 2005


"...plausible day to a typical NYC teen"

I don't know about "typical", but plausible for some teens, yes.

Yeah, a review of a movie named "palindrome" might well give away the ending, huh? :)
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:10 PM on March 31, 2005


matteo, i'm afraid you skated over a point there.

I wasn't saying hot = bad. I was saying hot + "I never do anything... to titillate" + social relevance = social relevance + hypocrisy.

Bruce Weber doesn't pretend that his fashion spreads present the unexpurgated truth about the awful trials and tribulations of growing up rich, white, cleft-chinned, and hyperendowed. His stuff is pure titillation at every level -- physical, symbolic, and class-conscious -- and I've never seen him pretend otherwise.

As I say, I don't judge Clark's work on its inherent values, though I personally believe that eroticizing teen suicide is pretty fucked up. I judge Clark on his denial that he is being titillating, which is patently false.
posted by digaman at 3:16 PM on March 31, 2005


To put an even finer point on it, I think it's pretty obvious that Clark intentionally employs titillation in a highly subversive way. To deny the boner factor would be like Picasso -- to borrow a metaphor from the title of this thread -- denying that he was doing anything unusual with perspective in his cubist paintings.
posted by digaman at 3:22 PM on March 31, 2005


There's a photo in Tulsa, I believe, of a totally wacked-out tripping teenage girl, her eyes rolling around in her head, getting fucked by one kid as another waits in the wings for his turn, stroking his anatomically astounding dick, which is the most prominent object in the frame other than the girl's zombified face.

I mean, come on! Is that photo supposed to represent the dangers of substance abuse or something? It's obvious that Clark wants it all: both the horror and the titillation.
posted by digaman at 3:27 PM on March 31, 2005


Wow, this thread got contentious.

I never meant to imply that Clark's work was without merit. I was transfixed by it like anyother teenager, but like any other controversial art it brings up controversial issues, like people finding titillation in other people's misery. So, in that sense it's a success.

I haven't seen Kids or Ken Park so I cant really comment, but my general impressionis taht it seems like a more "sophisticated" desperate Housewives.
posted by jonmc at 5:23 PM on March 31, 2005


Ethereal Bligh: If you were a teenager at the time (or recently were) and suffered from people's (your parents?) suspicions about you and were appalled to see Kids validating those fears and suspicions...well, that's your problem, not Clark's.

No adult I was aware of took Kids seriously as either a movie or a warning about the dangers of youth.
posted by Snyder at 6:02 PM on March 31, 2005


Ethereal: "Larry Clark may be a bad man, who contributes to the misery of others with his artistic creations, both in their nature and in their execution. That's a moral criticism and a moral argument. It's not an aesthetics argument. If you want your art to be all about reshaping the world into a better place, go spend time with Socialist Realism. It'll be uplifting, I promise."

I'm no expert on this Clark guy, and I probably shouldn't fly too far off the handle here. But, even though this distinction between "aesthetic worth" and "moral worth" is a popular one to draw in these times, I think it's a false one.

In short: art is about the impact it has on the audience. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be what it is: a medium, a connection between people. An artist who hasn't thought about that, who doesn't know what the impact on the audience will be, isn't a good artist; it's that simple.

We've all had this experience of seeing art that was "good for what it was" and yet was bad. But such art stems from a fundamental failure on the artist's part. Art is about what it will do to people; the kindest things, the gentlest things, the noblest things, and the most just things--in short, the things that will cause the greatest good--are the things that make good art. If art has a bad effect on society, if it hurts someone, then either the artist doesn't know it, or they think it's not important. Either way, they're ignorant of the truth about art.

I don't know if that's a "utilitarian view of art," and I don't know what "value" art "creates." (I like Nietzsche a lot, but I'm trying to be a greater friend of truth here; that's why I'm still tenaciously refusing to adopt his "values" language as everybody else seems to have done.) But I think that the impact we have on society, and the care which we take for the good of others, isn't so much a question of duty as of necessity; those who don't take these into account are, as you call it, sabotaging themselves. And the more time I spend looking at the problem, the more I feel as though this intelligence, smartness, and coolness that we look up to in these days-- the aesthetic value, the thing we can't describe that draws us to movies, music, and books-- doesn't mean anything in the face of true wisdom.
posted by koeselitz at 6:05 PM on March 31, 2005


Yes, well, in the larger context I think a lot more like you than you'd expect given that I'm politically left and academically-oriented and stuff. The relativism/absolutism argument is always a Pain in the Ass, so I don't want to start it, but I only want to orient myself in this territory for purposes of the discussion that follows: as a purely rigorous intellectual matter, I'm definitely a "relativist". But on most practical levels, I'm a lot more like an "absolutist". That's why you'll see me using moralistic language far, far more often than most leftists. So, I think about and have the same concerns as you do.

But with regard to art, I cannot take the position that the definition or even the value in art is the positive effect it has on the viewer's mind/soul (whichever language you prefer). It's a nice position to take on its surface, but it leads to a bunch of conclusions about art that I strongly disagree with. It's funny that you think that there's this enormous lack of moral focus in contemporary art, but I'd say that you're oddly and surprisingly very, very wrong about that.

Most artists today, certainly most conceptual artists, are political in some sense because they're actually very concerned with the world outside their art and their art is a way of interacting with it. It's at its worse when it's very preachy and making a statement about some injustice or whatnot. In this sense it's very like socialist realism and so I make that comparison (since most people agree that socialist realism is horrid) to demonstrate that point. I'm not happy with this trend. Anyway, it's probably not your particular values and politics, but it's in its essence this contemporary, common view of art is every bit as concerned with "the ennobling nature of art" as you are.

My position is that is a perversion of art. It's still art, but it's impoverished. I don't think that art should be defined as being functional in this sense.

A peculiar thing about the aesthetics and politics of people on the left side of the spectrum is that they are pretty willing to embrace the idea that art can change people and things for the better, but they typically shy away from claiming that it can change people and things for the worse. This is because the liberal instinctively fears censorship. (Correctly, in my opinion.) But of course when someone on the left thinks that art might be harmful to certain core values of the left—anti-sexism, anti-racism or the like—they're perfectly willing to say that "X is a bad influence on people".

Myself, I wholeheartedly agree that art can be ennobling. It can be a force for moral good. And because of this, I'm quite sure that it similarly and equivalently can be a force for evil.

But art really can't be defined in terms of its effect on people because, if it were, a bunch of things would have to be included in that category that I think no one would be willing to accept as "art". (Excepting those that truly and wholeheartedly accept the "anything is art" idea.)

My definition of art is that it's a subtle and complex communication of an authentic human perspective which is technically restricted in some fashion. That's a value-neutral definition of art. What's communicated, the perspective that is transmitted, may be something that is evil. In my mind, that doesn't make it any less "art", any less than an evil man is less of a man.

But see, we're wading into deep waters. I don't have any special expertise in aesthetics, but I do in foundational philosophy and these are all ideas that everyone has struggled with right back to the Greeks (and before and elsewhere, of course). Because, for example, Plato argues, in a sense, that an evil man is less of a man. My view is a functional view of art; yours is a value-related functional view of art (and since the function is increasing goodness, I think it's probably best described as "utilitarian", although that's only a convenience and shouldn't be confused with "utilitarianism" as a moral philosophy and so my choice of that term may be misleading).

Because I do care about "values", and I am perfectly willing to think in relatively (heh!) non-relativistic terms, restricting immoral art is on the table for consideration for me. Dealing with the sorts of concerns you have is something we should do; but I'm very unwilling to define in "art' in those terms.

digiman writes: "[Clark] intentionally employs titillation in a highly subversive way..."

...and I think that's very insightful of digaman and agree. But it's important to note that I don't think the word "subversive" in this example has the political and positive connotations that it often does in the context of critical evaluation. I don't think digiman meant it that way, but many people would read it that way. But this is "subversion" in the most literal sense. Clark is titillating you in a way that you don't want to be titillated and takes you to a place you don't want to go. Maybe it's better that we don't go there—a good argument can be made for that. But that he's successful at implicating the audience in a dystopic exploitation signifies, to me, that this is successful (which I would largely equate to "good") "art".

You'll notice that whether I think it's morally good or not, or whether I enjoyed it or not, has no bearing on that determination.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:02 PM on March 31, 2005 [1 favorite]


"Wow, this thread got contentious."

Yeah, and that's me and it's my fault. I apologize to everyone here. I went to that snarky place I try not to go to and usually manage to avoid these days.

I'm impatient and tired of the dissing of Clark because I obviously don't share that opinion. But also, I really sorta think that much of this comes from people who don't normally take that sort of aesthetic position and only do so because, well, they're morally repulsed. koeslitz is arguing that moral disgust is a critical signpost, and I disagree but it doesn't particularly upset me. But I think a lot of people that don't like Clark would find a moralist denunciation of a film that they, personally, don't find immoral to be, in a word, wrong. Then, it's other people trying to impose their values on them and into a domain that values don't belong. Convenient, that. (Whoops, I'm getting snarky. It's really hard not to, this is one of my hot buttons.)

I wrote this in the Ebert thread, but my aesthetics is obviously quite opposed to subjective, moralist response to a film to be a guide to its artistic merit. This is why I really disgaree with a lot of David Edelstein's and Charles Taylor's reviews. Ebert, in contrast, thinks a lot more like I do. He's perfectly willing to agree that a film is morally reprehensible and yet very, very good. Edelstein is hypocritical. See his review of Sin City for that to be as blatant as it possibly could. In that case, he's quite aware that the film sets off all his alarm bells, and yet since he enjoyed it so much, he thinks it's good. Well, how convenient for him, huh?

"No adult I was aware of took Kids seriously as either a movie or a warning about the dangers of youth."

I know a lot of adults, informed people with good taste, that took/take Kids seriously as a movie. There seems to be a context here where it was some sort of teenage underground phenomenon. I have no experience or even knowledge of that, so the film isn't tainted by the sense that it's juvenile as might arise from such a context.

I didn't and don't know anyone that takes it that seriously as a warning about the dangers of "today's youth". I think some people, including myself, think it illustrates a variety of fucked-up youth; but I don't think it's an epidemic or unique to this place and time.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:21 PM on March 31, 2005


I have always admired the chiaroscuro of his photos from the 60s, but I've never been a fan of his movies...or really of much of his recent work. I recognize the talent inherent in his work, I just don't like it very much.
posted by dejah420 at 8:24 PM on March 31, 2005


Ethereal Bligh: I know a lot of adults, informed people with good taste, that took/take Kids seriously as a movie. There seems to be a context here where it was some sort of teenage underground phenomenon. I have no experience or even knowledge of that, so the film isn't tainted by the sense that it's juvenile as might arise from such a context.

No, there is no context like that, at least from my end. As I said in my first post, I saw it with my mom,saw ads on TV for it, and I'm fairly certain that other adults I interacted with on a fairly decent level saw it to, although I didn't quiz them or anything. It wasn't, and still isn't, a focal point in my life or anything. My problem is less a moral critique of it, (although my new knowledge of Clark's apparent actions in regards to Kids and his other works and life I think can face a valid moral condemnation or critique,) then that I found it overblown, vapid and boring.

It seemed a series of setpieces that while, not unrealistic or necessarily unshocking in the first place, as a whole, were laughable in their ham-handedness, especially in the film's cinema veriete style. What moral problems I have with it are aimed at the characters, and how Clark (and to my eye, some viewers, although I'm not accusing anyone on this thread,) seemed to want to have his cake and eat it too, and less with the work as a whole.

I think the movie was a huge piece of crap, and just really cannot fathom anyone actually liking it, and in fact, would be curious as to why people still enjoy it, as it were, 10 years later.
posted by Snyder at 3:42 AM on April 1, 2005


I just remember another thought I had from that time: Upon reading the Clark associated with various skaters in New York, and got story inspiration from their lives and stories, I told a friend of mine with the same opinion of the film that it seemed that Clark got taken for a ride, Margaret Meade style.

This is not to say that any one event or action, or even a combination of such as were depicted in the movie were implausible, but that the totality of what was shown as being a more-or-less "average" day for these subjects was only the product of deliberate exaggeration.
posted by Snyder at 3:48 AM on April 1, 2005


I thought Kids jibed pretty well with my memories of being a teenager in NYC in the late 70s. The complete absence of parents, clueless experimenting with sex and drugs, and wandering from place to place against a background of general boredom all looked perfectly real to me. The 16-year-olds hitting on 12-year-old virgins and the rape scene rang true to the first experiences of far too many girls I knew back then. AIDS wasn't around, but I doubt it changed much for kids that young and unaware of the consequences of their actions.

Of course, real life isn't that dramatic, compressed, or tragic every day, but Kids is still a scripted movie despite its verité look. Every other movie about high school kids that I can think of seems much, much further off into romantic fantasyland.
posted by fuzz at 6:37 AM on April 1, 2005


Thank you fuzz, that's exactly how I view KIDS, too. Of course everything is subjective with how you respond to a film, but for me KIDS was the right film at the right time in my life and it not only hit the right buttons, it helped ground me in a troubled time where I needed to remember my past, or at least feel connected to a time I couldn't return to. I think of Clark as someone communicating to a select group of troubled people that speak the same language of his problems, and are also included in the humor of that situation as well as the violence. If you don't see the truth in his work you're not living in that world, that's all, really. I have never seen Clark as someone important for breaking down any walls, so much as someone important for telling stories that other people don't know exist as films or photos elsewhere (ie the significance of the work of Diane Arbus or Ken Loach).

That said, I enthusiastically rented KEN PARK last night on the way home from work, and was thoroughly dissappointed, let down and a little angered. The film was really unbelievable shit at points, and lacked the soul of anything I've ever seen from Clark. I'm feeling initially the criticism lies in Korine's script, which felt like Solondz without the humor or sympathy, or lacking the experimentation of Korine's earlier writing. Just very vulgar. It felt like it was scraping off the very end of an already empty 1998 peanut butter jar of taboo subjects, only able to find crusty ridiculous cartoonish bullshit. Every film before this (by both Clark and Korine, with the exception of GUMMO) has had a powerful chord of believability to it, but I have no idea what the point of this film is (particularly with two characters stories ruin the whole thing) .. I was really dissapointed and let down. I hate it when I feel let down by people whose work I otherwise deeply regard and respect.

It was better than other Clark rip-offs of previous years, like that awfully hackneyed THIRTEEN film, but barely. I'm still very fond of Clark's films and look forward to his next project, but I feel working with Korine again was an unfortunate mistake.

Thanks to matteo though, for letting me know the film existed! I completely missed news of it when it came out.
posted by Peter H at 9:21 AM on April 1, 2005


E. Bligh: "But art really can't be defined in terms of its effect on people because, if it were, a bunch of things would have to be included in that category that I think no one would be willing to accept as "art"... My definition of art is that it's a subtle and complex communication of an authentic human perspective which is technically restricted in some fashion. That's a value-neutral definition of art. What's communicated, the perspective that is transmitted, may be something that is evil. In my mind, that doesn't make it any less "art", any less than an evil man is less of a man."

I agree with this completely. Art is only a thing that is made in order to communicate. The impact on the audience is important in determining the goodness or badness of the art, but not in determining whether it's art. Bad art is still art. Plato would agree with this.

In fact, the more I think about what you say here, the more I think that the only difference between us is that I disagree with Nietszche. Of course, that's a big difference, but there are a lot of common things. I think I can pinpoint the difference by restating my argument thus:

The only standard for "good" is the highest good, happiness, and for the greatest number of people. (Even individual happiness requires the happiness of many surrounding the individual.) Knowing how to bring this about is a matter for reason and intellingence, not moral uprightness. So, not only is it false to say that a piece of art is evil or bad, but very good; it's even false to say that a piece of art is evil or bad, but very smart.

Those who impress us with their intelligence but let us down when it comes to being "morally" good don't deserve moral reprehension. Rather, they deserve correction, because this "immorality" we observe in their work comes only from ignorance, and not from malice, as no one does evil willingly.

I'm mostly restating what I understand of Plato here; that's the line I most agree with. Our disagreement centers on this: it seems to me that "values" demand to be forced on others. Otherwise, there would be no such thing as justice, the good that is common to all. You seem to say that values don't belong in the realm of art; but I say that thought about what is right action and wrong action most belongs in the interactions between people.

I think you want to preserve a distinction between what is well-done and what is truly good because

I don't think that "moral disgust is a critical signpost." My stance is more like this: moral disgust isn't such a bad thing. The world was better off when moral disgust would've caused people to dismiss this kind of thing. I would not have been one of those people-- I'm not much of a moralist when it comes down to it-- but, like you, I see the worth of moralism in the public sphere. I don't think Terry Clark does; that's our loss as much as it's his.
posted by koeselitz at 11:03 AM on April 1, 2005


whoops, delete "I think you want... good because" before that last paragraph there...
posted by koeselitz at 11:04 AM on April 1, 2005


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