That’s not true, but I feel like I need to defend his most recent movie Marfa Girl (streaming on Netflix as we speak). It’s fantastic, but the critical response to it has been tepid at best. For a few decades now it seems like any praise given to Larry Clark – and he’s gotten a lot of it, to be sure – is conditional, because, well, I dunno. Because he finds teenage sex fascinating and has the gall to show it? (Even though prepackaged, sanitized teenage sex is sold to us on an hourly basis.)
I mean we all know the story when it comes to entertainment: fucking is bad, killing is whatever. Marfa Girl may explode this fascination with sex and violence and splatter it all over the screen, but it is always on the side of what brings pleasure, what gives life rather than what takes it away. Yeah, our teen hero might impregnate two different girls through the course of the film, but there are much more dangerous things afoot. What people seem to be missing about this and Clark’s last movie, Wassup Rockers, is how profoundly goofy they are at the core – over the top, campy, and melodramatic. That is to say they’re tons o’ fun, and the actors (many of whom are amateurs) seem like they’re in on it.
There is horror to be found. The villain – a disturbed Texas border patrol officer – is the most loathsome character Clark has come up with yet (which is saying something if you remember the asphyxiophilia kid from Ken Park). I was full-on shouting at the screen, horror-movie style- “Don’t go in that house, girl!” – and the violence can be a little hard to take given how naturalistic the production is. In other words: all the trigger warnings.
I loved how engaged this movie was with racism. At one point I thought Clark was making a direct reference to Trayvon Martin – but it came out in 2012, the year Trayvon Martin was murdered, and must have been produced around the same time if not beforehand. That says as much about how long we’ve been letting brown people get murdered and not caring about it as it does about the fact that so few movies choose to talk about the issue.
I’m going to tread lightly across the problematic (how I’m starting to hate that word) elements, of which I’m sure there’s more than a few. There’s a fucking wonderful scene where the titular girl, an artist-in-residence/tourist who, okay, fetishizes race a bit and walks awfully close to being a white savior stereotype, talks to two border-patrol officers, one of whom calls her out on her privilege. They trade barbs and it’s like listening to heinous-if-reasonably-pitched internet comments thread, until they finally drop their guard and find some common ground, some understanding. Then they eat mushrooms and have an orgy and it’s completely insane and made me laugh out loud.
Then there’s the movie’s central image, two beautiful Latino kids canoodling in a windswept-desert landscape. It looks just like a Ralph Lauren ad, pure kitsch Americana – Clark even has someone ride a horse behind them. The message is clear and wonderfully subversive: This is America now, and these are its cowboys. What were minorities will soon be majorities, and a tenuously-ruling class is going to become increasingly insane and violent as they try to hold on to their power. Fighting back is one way to go. But to win hearts and minds we might also give fucking a try.