PRINT May 2006


Larry Clark and Destricted

THE PROVERBIAL casting couch is the central object in Larry Clark’s Impaled, the most compelling of the seven short films in the “art-porn” compilation Destricted (screening May 13 and 17 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music). The other contributors to this not-altogether-novel omnibus are Marina Abramović, Matthew Barney, Marco Brambilla, Gaspar Noé, Richard Prince, and Sam Taylor-Wood. Barney’s deluxe depiction of his cherished subject—the hydraulics of male sexuality—is his most succinct and therefore hilarious cinematic work to date. Abramović’s ribald, Slavic fertility rite is notable for being the only segment in which women are presented as more than helpmates. The other four pieces are relatively hapless, although Brambilla’s supersonic found-footage collage at least satisfies the basic requirement of the genre; judging, that is, by the sound of viewers crossing and uncrossing their legs—a surefire sign of arousal in an audience unaccustomed to watching pornography in a public situation, such as the one in which Destricted premiered at Sundance ’06.

Which brings me back to that casting couch (lime green leather, set against an ochre painted-wood wall) and the thesis Clark pursues thereon: that people born post-1980 grew up in an environment where porn movies are ubiquitous as home entertainment and that therefore teens and young adults today have radically different sexual mores and customs than older folk like Clark, for whom porn was unavailable. “It’s not a real porno,” explains Clark from behind a camera to a young man who has responded to the filmmaker/photographer’s online adult “help-wanted” ad. “There will be sex with a real hot porno girl, but it is more than that.” And indeed it is. A hybrid of process art and ethnographic documentary with a hard-core climax (a more appropriate title might have been—in a nod to Margaret Mead—Coming of Age in SoCal), it’s Clark’s strongest film since his debut feature, Kids (1995), and no less so for raising the same vexing problems of prurience and exploitation with regard to both filmmaker and spectator.

After the Sundance screening, Clark joked that he had broken the only rule the producers gave the Destricted participants, by making Impaled nearly double the allowable maximum running time. At thirty-eight minutes, the piece operates as a comedy of manners in three acts. The first is composed of a series of audition tapes Clark made of ten young men, all in their very late teens or early twenties. The subjects sit on the couch facing the camera as they respond to Clark’s offscreen questions about their sexual experiences and fantasies, their interest in pornography, and what they fantasize about doing in the movie should they be chosen. One young man sweetly answers that he has never had sex and doesn’t fantasize about it, either. Needless to say, he doesn’t get a lot more screen time. No one is comfortable stripping for the camera, which picks up every defensive gesture. One guy waves his hands frantically back and forth in front of his penis. Another sheepishly admits, as he takes down his pants, “I’m not too secure with my body ’cause I don’t have a big dick.” “Your dick’s fine,” says Clark, his voice as sensible as Mary Poppins, and you know that kid will go home feeling better about himself, because if Larry Clark says your dick is fine, that probably means it is. The camera takes note of tattoos, piercings, and the shaved groins of several of the boys, who cite the influence of porn stars on their grooming as well as on their preference for pulling out before they climax. “I like to come on a girl’s belly,” one reports. “Sometimes girls don’t like it, but I don’t care.”

Those familiar with Clark’s work will not be surprised that he chooses Daniel, an angular twenty-one-year-old with heavy-lashed, heavy-lidded blue eyes, pronounced cheekbones, an aquiline nose, a choked-back voice, a high-strung yet spaced-out manner, and a package that’s finer than fine. In act two, Daniel interviews a series of professional porn actresses, who sit beside him on the couch, answering questions, flirting, stripping, posing. The women are less self-conscious than the men had been, but their professional manner insures that they reveal nothing except flesh. Since Daniel has made it known that he’s hoping to have anal sex for the first time, maybe with an older woman who knows how, it’s a foregone conclusion that he will choose forty-year-old Nancy Vee rather than any of the beauties his own age, who in any case seem less interested in him than in the offscreen Clark. Nancy is clever enough to climb all over Daniel and show him she can take charge. In act three, this very odd couple gets down. It’s a bit like watching a method actor with an old-fashioned ham. Daniel doesn’t even seem to notice when Nancy switches from feigning passion to signaling for more lube or giggling apologetically for the kind of leakage that would be off-limits in commercial porn. Here, however, it is evidence that Impaled, as Clark asserted, is not merely a porno but a work of art that reveals the process, however unappealing, behind the image. In any event, the ecstatic expression on Daniel’s face suggests that he, at least, has had a good time. “It was different from what I expected,” he whispers, “but nonetheless it was . . . amazing.” As for Nancy, she’s last seen scrubbing the floor with Windex.

Amy Taubin is a contributing editor of Film Comment and Sight & Sound.