Larry Clark is a legend. He started photographing the darker side of society when he was just a teenager, and later in his career turned his attention to film, making seminal movies like Kids, Bully, and Wassup Rockers (to name only three). His work has won more awards and been shown in more places than we can count. He is also simultaneously a really nice guy and a total bad ass. His new film, Marfa Girl, was just released on his website and can be streamed in high definition for around $6, completely sidestepping the suffocating and stupid theater circuit and ratings bureaucracy. The film follows a loose group of friends in Marfa, Texas while they have sex, take drugs, play in bands, and get harrassed by malicious border patrolmen. You should definitely watch it. Last week, I met up with Larry and celebrated the end of his recent juice cleanse by eating some pasta.
VICE: I saw the film as soon as it came out. I went to our little screening room in our office and watched it there.
Larry Clark: You projected it from the computer? That's cool, man. They did that in Marfa. They projected it at a bar and over a hundred people came to see it. If someone buys it, that's fine, they can do whatever they want with it. I don't care.
What were their reactions to it?
Someone called me and said that when Chachi, who's a bass player in the movie, is fucking the Marfa girl, his relatives all started cheering, “Fuck that white girl!” The mother of Adam Mediano, the star of Marfa Girl, texted me and said that it was my best movie yet. She said, “Go get 'em.” I teared up at that text. People are having really positive reactions to the film. The critics are saying that I'm evolving, which is kind of funny.
Do you think that's true?
I think I am getting freer. I just kind of wrote it and made it up as I went along. I'm not going to use any kind of devices to drive the plot. If there's a scene with people just talking and it slows down, it slows down. If it speeds up, it speeds up. I just thought that I'm only going to put in this movie what I cared about, and nothing else.
And by releasing it online, you can do whatever you want.
I can do whatever I want anyway. I have final cut. But usually you have to give up the vision so you'll get an R rating. So you have to cut it to an R and then you can do the other version on DVD. This one doesn't have another version with more nudity or more anything. The best thing about going online is that you don't have to deal with the MPAA and the censorship board. Who needs these people, anyway? I don't need them. My films do great business in Europe and in France, and there's no problem. Things are changing. The world is getting more conservative, especially America. And everybody under 35 or 40 watches all their media on their laptops. Older, even!
I think you realizing the power of film on the internet is another example of you being really in touch with youth culture.
I try to pay attention. I was out in LA and Jonathan Velasquez, of Wassup Rockers. He came to visit me in my motel one afternoon. He walks in and sits on the couch and takes out his cell phone. And for three hours he doesn't even talk to me. He's on his cell phone doing emails and on YouTube and setting up a date for Saturday night and finding out where the parties are and or talking about his gig, because he has a band. I didn't say anything to him, I just watched him. I said to myself, “Oh, this is what's happening.” Kids watch movies on their phones, which to me is the strangest thing in the world, but if that's the way it's going, I'm interested.
In my acceptance speech, when I won the prize in Rome, the Marc'Aurelio statue, I said, “To all us old farts and everybody who is crying about the end of 35mm film, well, die with it or move forward. I'm moving forward.” An old friend, who is older than I am, emailed me and said, “That was a great speech, but I remember six or seven years ago you were saying just the opposite. You said you were only going to shoot 35mm and fuck this new digital shit.” Apparently, I've smartened up.
Adam and Mercedes, from Marfa Girl
How much input do your actors give you when you’re writing the script? Did you talk to Adam a lot about his life?
Adam has God’s gift, something that really can’t be taught. He’s just there. He’s very quiet and I’ve noticed him with all his friends, they’re all bubbly and he’s very quiet. When he opens his mouth and says something, it’s very smart, so you can see that he’s a funny, intelligent character. So, on camera, he doesn’t really do a lot. He’s kind of like Marlon Brando in that way, or James Dean. When you look at them, maybe you don’t think they’re doing anything, but when you see them on film you can see what’s going on inside of them. Adam has that quality.
The opening scene, where he gets tackled by the border patrol, actually happened to him. It was him and this other kid, and the other kid got tackled and handcuffed because they split up. And all they were doing was hagning out past curfew a little bit. Adam tried to go over a fence, and the border guy pulled him off and pulled him to the ground and pinned him there and hit him a couple of times. These border patrol guys think that they’ve got nothing to do there anyways, and they think can stop anybody that’s brown, throw them to the ground, and ask them for their papers.
How do you find kids like Adam?
When I was casting in Austin, the professional actors and the people with me both said they’d never seen anything like it. I never mention the role, and I just ask the people about themselves. “OK, what do you do when you’re not acting?” And they tell me about their life. It’s almost like seeing a psychiatrist, they said. The way that I work with actors is, I collaborate with them, and I have to like them, they have to like me, and I have to trust them, and they have to trust me. That's how I get the kind of performances I get.
I think when you’re working with less experienced actors, you’re going to get a better performance out of them if they’re playing people who are similar to themselves. Adam, for example, is kind of playing himself, right?
Actually, he’s playing the role of this ingénue who walks through and everything happens to him. The things that happen to him in the movie with girls, that hasn’t happened to him that I know of. I don’t know. One thing that I do with kids, with teenagers, is that I never ask them about their sex life. I never bring it up, because I think it’s creepy for an old guy to be asking kids about their sex life. So if they don’t mention it, I never mention it. I don’t know if the guy has fucked ten girls or is a virgin. I have no idea.
All the characters are composites, but they’re all based on people, because anything you can possibly imagine happening, or anything you read about in the papers, any thing that’s possible for a human being to do, they do it. They’ve done it. There’s nothing so far out that it hasn’t been done by humans. We’re fucking animals, we’ll do anything.
I’ve always followed people for years. I see Leo Fitzpatrick and Chloe and Rosario. I don’t see them often, but we’re friends. There are a couple of people from Tulsa who are still alive and I keep in touch with them. The long-haired Indian kid in the Tulsa book, who’s fifty, with twelve kids, all Indian. And another kid from Tulsa, the blonde kid with a big dick, I talk to him. His daddy died of a heart attack at about 30. He had a bad ticker. Another kid is kind of out of it, kind of always sedated now. That’s what happens with sniffing all that paint.
It’s good to see that brought to light and portrayed, sometimes.
I’m coming out of the 50s, where everything’s very conservative and Eisenhower’s president and we’re supposed to be nice, and there’s not supposed to be any of this shit going on. But it’s going on all around me! I said, “Why can’t you photograph this? Why can’t you photograph everything?” So I started taking pictures of stuff that I saw all around me that was my life, and other people’s lives that you never saw in photographs. It wasn’t supposed to be happening. It was supposed to be secret. And, in my house, the only rule, the only thing my parents told me over and over again was that “Whatever goes on in here, stays in here. You never mention it outside.” And I had a secret life of drugs and secrets about myself. So I started photographing things. If someone else had photographed it, I wouldn’t have done it. I did the same thing with the films. If someone else was making films like this, I wouldn’t make them.
Nobody is, really.
Yeah, I’m not interested in making films or making images that someone else makes. So no one can really copy me. The advertising world and the fashion world, they’ll look at my pictures and then they’ll start making pictures to sell shit doing things that I have done. Which is OK, it’s not my world, it’s not my business, and they can do what the fuck they want to do because I’ll do it anyways. But nobody can really copy me, because I’m ahead of you, man. I’m only doing what I want to see. Catch up.
How'd you get the idea of starting LarryClark.com?
I wanted to do it for a 22-minute film of Jonathan that nobody would touch. People said, “You can’t do this, you can’t put this out. It’ll never come out.” And I said, “Well, I’ll start a website just for this one 23-minute film. I’ll put it out.” They said, “You can’t, you’ll get in trouble,” and I said, “Yes I can, watch me.”
Have you ever heard of the comedian Louis CK? He did something similar to your model.
Oh yeah. When I was told that a comic did a show and put it online himself and made $8 million, I said “Whoa! This is smart!” And, of course, I knew about Radiohead putting out their record a few years ago, and saying, “Pay what you want,” and they actually made money. I said, “Gee, this is the future, this is what’s happening.”
I’ll be 70 in January, and I have no time to waste. If I’m going to make five or six more films, I’m going to put them out on the web. I’m working on a film now which keeps getting delayed, and I told them, “Now or never, motherfuckers. I ain’t got time to waste no more.” I became a vegan to get more energy. I’m working 20 to 21 hours a day, every day, so I have to adjust my body to sleep three to four hours a night, max. And I’ve done it. So here I am, talking to you. How’s that for a fucking interview?
You can stream Larry Clark's new movie, Marfa Girl, here.