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Filmmaker Larry Clark Talks About the Future and Shooting in French

"I don't speak any French, but it was OK, since the language and the emotion of the film are close to English, I think."

by John Tuite
Mar 18 2015, 4:00am


Portrait by Michael Marcelle

A punk like Larry Clark never really grows up, but now he's 72, and his work is starting to show signs of his secret maturity. Clark's recent film Marfa Girl, which was released on his website in 2012 before being acquired for theatrical distribution last year, is a coming-of-age story about Adam, a Mexican-American teen who lives in the desolate border town of Marfa, Texas. The movie has the sex-and-drugs brutality of Clark's early classics Kids and Bully, but it also addresses subjects like spirituality, belonging, and parenthood with a tenderness foreign to that work. In anticipation of the film's (re)release, I had dinner with Clark near his Tribeca home to discuss the shift Marfa Girl represents and his plans for a sequel.

VICE: What led to the acquisition of Marfa Girl after its online-only release?
Larry Clark:
My idea was to put Marfa Girl online and cut out all the producers and distributors—the crooks, I call them. I put it on my website, and it was online about a year. It did OK, but I guess there's something hard about convincing people to charge their credit card $5.99 on someone's website. It was an experiment, and I'm glad I did it. But I don't plan on having any more major releases online—probably just short projects that I've done for fun. Anyway, people approached my producer, Adam Sherman, about a theatrical release, so we're doing it now. And since the movie's release, I've gone back to Texas and shot Marfa Girl 2, so sometime soon we'll be able to do double features of the movies.

You've kept active since Marfa Girl's release and sold thousands of your archival photographs. What else have you been up to?
I'm just back from Paris, where I made a film in French called The Smell of Us, which is about teen skaters who hustle on the side. I spent a year in Paris, and it was interesting for me to make a film in a different language with an all-French cast and crew. I don't speak any French, but it was OK, since the language and the emotion of the film are close to English, I think. I've had the idea of making a French movie for a long time, and after I met Mathieu [Landis, the screenwriter] in Paris in 2010, we developed the project together for over a year. It was originally somewhat autobiographical for him, but halfway through shooting I threw out the script and changed it. So I guess it's not really his story anymore. We have a book coming out that's going to include stills from the film as well as the screenplay. So if you read French, you can read the script and see how the movie itself is totally different.

What attracted you to making a movie set in Marfa? In your film it's depicted as a place of total desolation, but the town also has a reputation for being a hub for young artists.
When I first went, I was visiting my friend Christopher Wool, the great American painter, and I was just fascinated by the town. There's nothing there. There are no jobs—all the kids' ambition is to get the hell out of Marfa. It truly is in the middle of nowhere, and even though they're 70 miles from the border, there are hundreds of border patrolmen who have nothing to do except fuck with the locals, and they're stopping the Hispanics who were born and raised there. So there's a real racist aspect to the town. While I was there, I kept a notebook where I kind of wrote a script, and day by day I was just making the film up while I was shooting it, just flying by the seat of my pants. I had some basic ideas so that I could schedule the actors and the crew by the day, but I kept adding ideas as I went along. I kept making the bad guy worse and worse... like that scene where he sexually abuses Adam—I told the actors about it 20 minutes before we shot it. They just sort of had to go along with it. I lost a couple of crew members over that.

That part of the movie was really unexpected for me. What made you put that in there?
There was this cop in Oklahoma who busted a friend of mine when I was a kid, and he said that he'd let him go if the kid let the cop blow him. So the cop blew the kid and let him go! I just wanted to make Tom as disturbed as I could, so I thought about every crazy person I've ever known and every crazy thing that had ever happened and put it all in this one character, so that was fun for me to make happen. It was a lifetime of stories that I was able to draw upon and put in these characters.

Your work has always focused on certain subjects, most noticeably adolescence and young people. Why is it that you've never had a protagonist who's an adult, even one in his or her 20s?
The way I see it, The Smell of Us is a story about all ages, but it's still told through the perspective of youth. It's just what I've always done. It's like a bottomless pit for me. It's my own territory. No one else seems to be doing it as well as me.

What's different about French teenagers compared with Americans?
They're a bunch of mama's boys, so they're weaker in that way. I like them a lot, but there's a certain toughness here that's not there.

Do you feel any differently now about young people than you did when you started making art about them?
Yeah, I'm sure I do. I think I have much more insight, of course. I think that the consequences are a lot more apparent to me now. Whatever one does in one's life, there are certainly going to be consequences. I see them more as an old guy. I kind of know what's going to happen—I can tell what's going to happen to people, and it's very disconcerting. That's part of the reason I always wanted to go back [to Marfa] and make a second movie, and even a third one. It's the same characters, same story. I just felt like there were so many unanswered questions at the end of the film. So it was interesting to go back and pick up the loose threads and see what could happen next.

Marfa Girl comes out in New York and Los Angeles on March 27.