New York

Larry Clark

Anyone who thought Larry Clark’s Kids was a movie concerned with verité or réalité needs to brush up on his French. The film may have employed aspects of documentary in trying to capture the look of now, but, as with Clark’s photographic work, assemblages, books, and videos, no one thinking clearly could possibly mistake the film’s style for anything but his hysterical, complicated esthetic. One of Clark’s gifts is that his eye is so daring, rapacious, and thoroughly fixated that the boytown he continually contemplates seems to belong to him alone. Like any time period, now has a look and a feel; to get it down on film you need as much wit and esthetic stylization (absence of style, antistyle, is still a style) as you do in a 19th-century weepie or futuristic thriller.

So exactly what is to be made of Clark’s color shots of skateboarders, photos that scout the territory and velocity of what would become Kids, as well as other photos contemporaneous with or immediately following the film—one of Clark with Sharon Stone and, is that Cannes in the background? (A number of these photos, or ones like them, are even reproduced in the Grove Press Kids book.) The first thing to be said is that, like Clark’s other work, they overflow with the rowdy athleticism and sexuality of boys doing boy things, sometimes alone, but more often within arm’s length of other guys—the spunk Clark manages to release into all his shots despite photography’s stillness and inviolable silence—in other words, exactly what made Kids a meditation both on masculinity’s speed (the wildness of boys in motion) and on what only movies (as opposed to photography) can do. At their best, the photos even manage to scope out new streets for Clark rather than, as one might initially think, retrace familiar byways. Clark knows the shock that only repetition can reveal. Untitled, 1992, nine similar shots of the same blue boy, tongue in cheek, eyes empty or full, mussed hair, thick eyebrows, ticks like a time bomb. Who knows what will come next; who he is and who he will be; who, if anyone, he will take with him? The thrill and mystery, shifting with each shot, is intense anticipation, like boarding a rollercoaster that could jump the tracks.

Hung shot after shot in a line, the color pictures of skaters in action or resting between runs build up a rhythm only to screw with it. In Untitled, 1992, a green-eyed kiddo in a Spitfire Wheels T-shirt and backward cap, kicking back, drinking a Bud, triggers a fucked-up syncopation as his open zipper exposes the slit in his boxers and his spitfire balls. As with the tour de force of Untitled, 1993, a grid of 12 photos of boys just about to kiss—well, actually shot-gunning (leaning into one another, one blows marijuana smoke into his buddy’s waiting mouth)—questions abound; but the amazing collage of newspaper clips (photos of Miles Davis performing with Charlie Parker, teen criminals, tabloid shots of 16-year-old Eddie Furlong with his 30-year-old amour, Jackie Dimac, ads for Consolidated that show hot rod Jesse Paez nude, obits for Sam Kinison and River Phoenix), all spiked by a copy of the lab results for Clark’s recent HIV screening (“non-reactive”), offered no “clues,” as one critic suggested, about what is going on here.

“What is this?” is a necessary question to start with when confronting anything interesting. Critics have pinpointed the confusing power of Clark’s work, but by aiming at the work’s genre and disavowing its homoeroticism they may have missed the question’s bull’s-eye. I couldn’t give a damn whether or not Clark’s work is judged “homoerotic,” because thinking what it would possibly mean for it not to be considered so only returns the mind all the more quickly to what this is: something that leaves me wondering what homosexuality is, whether masculinity is separable from the desire for the masculine, leaves me with no words for what is going on, which is why Clark’s visual investigations—accidents and obsession machines—of masculine perplexity, doubt, and fucking-up are so important, endless, and always fascinating.

Bruce Hainley