Catching Up With Larry Clark

The director weighs in on the perils of Marfa, Texas, and the legacy of free love.

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Larry Clark’s first feature film was Kids back in 1995. What’s remarkable is that not only was the film nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature, but that it’s still considered a milestone in cinema today. Nominated for the Venice Golden Lion, Bully followed in 2001, examining teenagers planning to murder another who has bullied them.

Clark is known for revealing the interior angst as much as the exterior grotesque and beautiful nature of youth. His films are simple, yet complex, courageous and also utterly palpable. Ten years after Kids, Clark captures the same spirit of adolescence with Marfa Girl which opens March 27th in theaters and on VOD. Instead of the NYC backdrop, Clark moves his portrait to Marfa, Texas, where cops are crooked and sexual energy runs like whiskey.

The story sets its lens on Adam (Adam Mediano), a 16-year-old waif of a kid, who seems as aimless as the land around him. He’s our vehicle through Marfa, introducing us to pregnant teachers, naked girls and demented Border Patrol officers. The film isn’t determined in its speed or plot, but instead lets us wander alongside its subjects, thirsty and perplexed.

Paste had a chance to chat with Clark about the film while he was in France promoting his latest film, The Smell of Us. He wrote back, answering our burning questions about sex, setting the film in Marfa and the future of free love. We also asked about a particular line in the film, “If people fucked more there would be less war.” Does he believe in this theory like one of his young characters? Spending so much time with his focus on youth, we wondered where Clark stands on it all.

Paste: I’m from Dallas, so I’ve heard many stories about Marfa, although I’ve never been. People say it’s stuck in the past, sort of a few decades behind. How does this effect youth living there, specifically their views of modern relationships and intimacy?
Clark: Some of the kids are stuck (because of pressure from parents and the Catholic church), but most know how backwards and dead-end the town is and can’t wait to turn 18 so they can get the fuck out of West Texas…

Paste: How did you use the backdrop of Marfa, particularly the abandoned warehouses and rundown homes to tell your story?
Clark: I wanted to avoid filming in the Picture Postcard area and show “the real Marfa” where people live…

Paste: You stayed away from classic structure with this script. How can abiding by rules, as a writer, create problems?
Clark: Abiding by rules, as far as I’m concerned, is a Death Knell for creativity… I didn’t really have a script and worked from notes in my pocket diaries and made up the film day by day … really flying by the seat of my pants!

Paste: Without the typical point A to B format, how did you find Marfa Girl’s shape? In the editing room? On set?
Clark: On set … every film I’ve made I’m always editing the film in my head … really important to be able to visualize this…

Paste: The character of Marfa girl opens up about her father encouraging sex as a child, something that attributes to her multiple sexual experiences in the film. Is this type of free love still beneficial or is the age of free love over?
Clark: I would hope its over… We ruined this in the ’60s with all the diseases free love and the byproduct group sex caused, etc., etc. … Genital Herpes, HIV, new strains of gonorrhea penicillin doesn’t kill, Hepatitis, on and on…

Paste: There is a short scene where Mary and Tina discuss their attachment to their birds and cat. It feels like somehow this talk, and also your frequent shots of chicken and animals, relates to the teens in the film. Was this an intentional parallel?
Clark: Yes, I thought it worked well…

Paste: One of the girls has a line in the film, “If people fucked more there would be less war.” Do you believe this or is this a skewed theory?
Clark: I think it makes sense… Look at the French…

Paste: How does a town that has cops constantly in search of illegal immigrants affect the youth culture?
Clark: A main Border Patrol station is incongruously located in Marfa, 68 miles from the Mexican Border, so Border Patrol agents are swarming this little town of 1900 people… Consequently, they have little to do but harass the Mexican Americans who were born in Marfa and stop them, asking for their papers … also there is a curfew for teenagers who the border patrol will chase and tackle if they see them on the streets after 10pm on school nights… You can imagine how the kids feel about these huckleberries…

Paste: Were the traumatic experiences with the cops taken from real stories or direct experiences you had in Marfa?
Clark: The villain, Tom Perry, I made up to form a composite using real Border Patrol agent stories and cops I have had encounters with in my life…

Paste: Does sex become more violent with age?
Clark: Only “make up” sex…

Paste: Recently you collaborated with Eugène Riconneaus on “New Work” in Paris. In what ways have you been able to explore wasted youth in this partnership that you haven’t in your films?
Clark: We didn’t really collaborate… This guy met me and has been obsessively photographing (around 40,000) skid marks a skateboarder makes and he had taken some of my images off the Internet and made prints and superimposed them on my photographs… I found them visually pleasing and gave him permission to make one print each and we both signed them and had a little five-day exhibition in Paris … very funny show…

Paste: You’ve been vocal in previous interviews about having vices and faults. Do you find similarities with the vices that exist in the youth of today? Differences?
Clark: Millions and millions more kids take drugs now then when I was a kid…

Paste: How do you deal with criticism, especially recently in France with The Smell of Us? Do you listen, take specs of opinion that will help you evolve or do you ignore it all together?
Clark: I never read reviews anymore for a long time… So many reviews never talk about the films they just attack me, personal attacks…

Paste: Is there a particular aspect of teenage sexuality you’d still like to explore and in any particular art form?
Clark: No.


Meredith Alloway is a Texas native and a freelance contributor for Paste, Flaunt, Complex, Nylon, CraveOnline, Press Play on Indiewire and The Script Lab. She writes for both TV and film and will always be an unabashed Shakespeare nerd. You can follow her on Twitter.

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