Los Angeles

Larry Clark

MOCA Pacific Design Center

THE SHARPEST PARTS OF LARRY CLARK'S MOVIES are nonnarrative moments of disconnect and strange drift. His 1998 film Another Day in Paradise, for instance, was lackluster except for the opening sequence: a hypnotic, ten-minute stare at skinny, droopy-jeaned Vincent Kartheiser in the act of a heist, which would have made a dazzling film projection on its own, without the ensuing baggage of two hours of narration. And in his latest effort, Bully, a high Mike Pitt frolicks with his dog while Bijou Phillips, a girlfriend on the make, slowly approaches. Clark's movies excel in the photographic, while his photographs have always been filled with filmic intensity.

Straightforwardly but elegantly curated by Rebecca Morse, “Outtakes and Additions” offered the opportunity to consider Clark's photographs from the '60s, '70s, and '80s in light of his six-year-old film career. Many of the outtakes were related to his well-known “Tulsa” and “Teenage Lust” images; two later series, “42nd Street,” shot in 1978-80, and the resonantly titled “Children of Alcoholics,” from the mid-'80s, evince no slackening in the force of Clark's obsessions. The power of the photographs points up the weakness of the movies, which, lacking a poetic script, paradoxically appear static and unrisky, blandly “shocking” rather than truly disturbing. Even stranger, Clark makes a cameo appearance in Bully as paterfamilias to a house of boys, taking the brief role as an opportunity to moralize, something he never does in his photographs. Look at Outtake, 1973: A nude couple on a mattress faces two framed mirrors that reflect a third one leaning against the wall in the background; at the far left edge, Clark can be glimpsed on the bed next to the couple, holding up his camera to take the shot, another body behind him revealing only a hand. Fracturing and expanding the space, the mirrors allow Clark to show himself amid all the dissolution; in his trademarked ambient no-flash light, his appearance is as strange as, if not stranger than, anyone else's. Circa 1973, Clark had no interest in moralizing—he was just trying to figure out himself and his situation and the strange glamour of those who provided him with an aesthetic fix, one equaled only by Warhol in his films, with their complicatedly uncanny combination of rawness, considered artificiality, and vicious, disarticulating beauty.

A kid in a tight short-sleeved shirt with a delicate placket stands on the street in 42nd Street, 1978–80. Behind him the marquee of the “Roxy Burlesk” announces “ALL NUDE / GIRLS / 3 MOVIES.” Triple X for a quarter. As in a Richard Estes painting, the signage should contain and qualify the lad's own availability, yet because he's still negotiating his body and what's left of manhood, the correlations fail, instead becoming suggestive and sad. In the same series, another kid is caught smoking and glaring, “pina” tattooed on his right bicep, his head a mop of black curls, his tight athletic shorts bulging, tube socks pulled all the way up. He leans against a Buick, whose model name is spelled out in cursive metal on the fender: “Special.” With these photographs, it becomes clear that as much as Clark is figuring out masculinity's elusiveness, he's studying the body as an object involved with the technologies of vision and representation (TV, mirrors, film, even the camera itself), an objectification as self-induced as it is corporate.

In one of the “Children of Alcoholics” images, there's a kid naked in his bathroom. The sink is cleaner than anyone ever feels. He isn't looking at himself in the mirror—yet. He's all sinew and hard life, his cock not much smaller than the can of Bud he holds in his hand. It's heartbreaking and sexy and some kind of test case for masculinity and all the mess it inherits and rarely escapes passing on. The photo offers proof of erotic drives and abysses there aren't words for, which lasts for more than the length of a movie.

Bruce Hainley