Since Bully opens with a close-up of a young man asserting I want you
to suck my big dick, (closely followed by the first female-spoken
line of dialogue: His cock is beautiful, and he ate me out
for, like, an hour), it should be no surprise where the
film progresses from there. We are soon introduced to a barrage
of full-frontal nudity, graphic sex, a brutal rape, intimations of
pedophilia, gay porn, a boy savagely pummeling his best friend
and a girl beaten with a leather belt during intercourse. And
this is all within the first half-hour. Welcome to the world of
Larry Clark has made a career of boldly exploring teenage sexuality,
and the lives of those living on the fringes of American society.
As a result, Clark has weathered a considerable degree of controversy,
though Bully would appear to be his most provocative work
to date, and one which will undoubtedly initiate another firestorm
of cultural debate. Clark began as a photographer, and his 1971
collection Tulsa, a study of addicts in Clarks native
Oklahoma town, would heavily influence director Gus Van Sants
Drugstore Cowboy. Van Sant would subsequently repay the favor
by co-producing Clarks belated directing debut, Kids (1995), the salacious subject matter of which actually has more
affinity with Clarks second monograph Teenage Lust (1983).
With its candid dissection of the various moral transgressions
of a group of NYC teens, Kids became the cinematic
cause celebre of the year, as some found Clarks investigation
of adolescent sexuality to be necessarily explicit, while others
regarded the entire spectacle as questionably prurient. Clarks
less feverish follow-up, Another Day in Paradise (1998),
marked a return to autobiographical Tulsa territory in its chronicle
of two 1970s addict-outlaws (played by James Woods and Melanie
Based on actual
events that occurred in Florida in 1993, Bully tells the
story of 20-year-old surfer Bobby Kent, who was stabbed and bludgeoned
to death by his lifelong best friend, Marty Puccio, and six other
youths, including Martys 18-year-old girlfriend, Lisa Connelly,
who allegedly masterminded the murder plot. Marty and Lisa were
tired of the physical and psychological abuse Bobby heaped upon
Marty, so they planned Bobbys demise with all the forethought
that would normally accompany a trip to the mall, recruiting five
other teens who barely knew the victim.
David McKenna and
Roger Pullis screenplay is remarkablyand often regrettablyfaithful
to Jim Schutzes book on the crime, though the extent to
which this makes the film adherent to reality is unclear, given
the dubious nature of Schutzes shoddy, speculative journalism.
Regardless, Clark seems more concerned with using the Kent murder
as a vehicle for investigating the general amorality and apathy
of contemporary middle-class suburban youth, a nation of (to quote
Schutzes prose) poor little white kids
baggy pants, nose rings and perpetual expressions of sullen vacantness.
But whereas Kids managed to dodge accusations of sensationalism
through its naturalist approach, the true-crime origins of Bullycombined
with Clarks more eroticized employment of nuditymakes
his new film a more ideologically problematic enterprise.
itself as courageous sociological examination, but Clark seems
to thrive on the visceral spectacle of lithe young bodies on the
blissfully ignorant path to moral holocaust.
His film occasionally
resembles those 1930s poverty-row exploitation titles that would
purport to criticize a topical social ill whilst actually reveling
in the opportunities for excess that the subject matter would
provide. As meticulously designed to shock as any film in recent
memory, Bully could be a hip-hop-pumped, sweaty-palmed,
post-Columbine Reefer Madness for the Eminem and PlayStation 2
So why, then, is Bully still the most compelling and vibrant American film
to be released so far this year? Clarks film is given emotional
gravity by its remarkable central quartet of performances: Bijou
Phillips as Lisas friend, Ali, Brad Renfro as Marty, Nick
Stahl as Bobby, and particularly, the extraordinary Rachel Miner
(who seems to be channeling Fast Times-era Jennifer Jason
Leigh) as Lisa. All excel in conveying the diseased dynamics of
these fatal friendships.
In a recent conversation
with MM, Clark spoke about his new film Bully, which, though
at once bold and confrontational and cruel and sordid, remains
(MM): Your film is actually less graphic than the book upon which
its based, but were you still concerned with making Bully this explicit?
(LC): No, because I really think the way I did it was just
true to the story. I mean, there are so many films you couldve
made from that book, with all the levels and subplots at work
there, and there are a lot of events in the book thatlike
lifeare hard to understand. And you cant really know
what Bobby and Martys strange relationship was like without
dealing with this stuff.
MM: But for
a film that ostensibly revolves around an act of violence, I was
struck by how much sexuality there wasparticularly in the
what the story was, thougha lot of sex and getting highand
I pretty much shot from the book. I had a screenplay, but before
every scene, I would go to the book and take the dialogue verbatim
from there. I found the story to be very sexual and very explicit,
with the stories of group sex with the girls [and] the gay stuff
in the clubs, and I thought that material needed to be in there.
It was what was interesting about the story, because it connected
to the violence.
MM: I cant
imagine Bully will get an R rating in its present form.
LC: Lions Gate is releasing it unrated because [the MPAA] wouldnt
give me an R. This seems to happen to me a lot. (laughs) Im
trying to make R movies, Im playing by all the rules, and
technically I should have an R for this movie. You see big Hollywood
movies that go further than Ive gone, and theres nothing
Im doing that hasnt been done before. But because
its kids and its real, they wont give me an
R. And Kids shouldve been an R movie. There
was no nudity, there was nothing that shouldve gotten me
an NC-17. You can do American Pie and all that shit, and
its okay as long as its a comedy, but if you try to
make it real, they fuck with you.
The same thing
happened with Bully. We asked the MPAA, Tell us how
to make it an R. Give us your advice, and they sent back
a note telling us to tell America Hide your children.
Thanks a lot.
MM: But there
were those who found Kids to be exploitative,
and youll probably face the same charges with Bully
LC: Bully is based on a real story, and its straight out of the book.
And when Kids came out, they said This is
an old mans fantasy, this isnt the way kids really
are, and now look at whats happening with kids in
this country, with the school shootings
you can see that
kids did reflect reality, and it wasnt so far out. And Bully is reality, too. Theyre both isolated situations, but they
say things about whats going on with kids in America today.
statement do you think Bully makes regarding teen violence
in this country following incidents like Columbine?
I think it relates to the subject of bullies. Bully was
supposed to be made a couple years ago, but everyone backed away
from it because of Columbineeveryone was afraid of the story.
It was very difficult for me to finance this film, because it
seemed like nobody wanted me to make it. And now, since we have
made the movie, there have been more school shootings and the
kids who did the shooting claim it was because they were bullied.
Everything in the papers is about bullies. So I think the film
addresses a very topical issue, though thats not why I made
the movie. Its funny that when you are making work that
is issue-oriented, people want to go the other way, when I think
it would be interesting to explore these subjects that are impacting
the way were seeing kids in society today.
these incidents occur, people want to point fingers at the causes
in society, and parents have often been blamed. In Kids,
the parents are almost entirely absent, whereas in Bully theyre present but ineffectual, which is even
reason I found the story interesting is because the kids did live
at home and the parents were around. The kids are in their rooms
and the parents are in the living room watching TV, and the last
thing they want is any confrontation. And the kids could be in
their rooms taking drugs and having sex
MM: Or making
as long as they go to the kitchen to make a sandwich and grunt
at their parents, the parents think everythings okay.
MM: So do you place the
blame on the parents?
a real oversimplification, but bad parenting has a lot to do with
many problems. In other countries, where theres so much
poverty and everybody has to struggle, are kids going to have
the time to be this bored? In this country, were so blessed,
and we have so much, but our whole value system has been thrown
out the door. Were all so concerned with our kids being
happy. We just want our kids to be happy,
and Im even the same way with my kids. In other cultures,
the kids happiness is not the main concern. And its
more than the parents here, its the whole culture. And Im
not making a judgment, Im just saying thats the way
MM: The actual
events of Bully took place in 1993, but the
film seems to be set in the present day, as there are some contemporary
LC: I did
take license. I thought if I made it 1993 it would distance people
and it would seem a little out of date. Even if its only
eight years ago, youre still doing a period piece, so you
cant show anything that was made after 93, which would
also make it more difficult and expensive. We also had very little
money to make this movieit was very hard to get the money
and I cast and prepared the film on nothing. We didnt have
a fucking dollar. We only got money to make the film two days
before we started shooting; everything was on credit. The budget
was two and a quarter million, and I had a little less than $900,000
to make the movie. I made it in 23 days, and we worked our asses
off; it was insanity. After it was done there were items in post
that we had no money for. When they did the budget, I dont
know what the hell they were doing, but there was $80,000 worth
of stuff in post that wasnt budgeted. So I flew to Paris
to talk Canal Plus into giving me the money to finish. It was
a struggle, but I learned a lot. Thankfully I had a terrific cast
that was up to it.
MM: Did any
of them have a problem with the nudity?
that was interesting. (laughs) Its all about trust, really.
They trusted me and I trusted them. They knew my work, and they
knew I wanted to keep things very real, and we were all together
in wanting to make this film reflect the human condition. The
actors hung in there with me, and the work was intense, but I
think we got to some places we wouldnt have gotten to otherwise.
MM: In all
your filmsparticularly with Bullyyouve
chronicled the lives of some pretty unsympathetic characters.
Are you capable of retaining a fondness for these people, or is
that even necessary as a moviemaker?
all like real people; theyre like us. You have to find a
way to make them human, not all bad or all good. If you make them
one-dimensional, the audience can stand back and say Thats
not me, but if you humanize them and make them like people
you know, thats whats important.
recurring theme in your work is an interest in the sexuality of
youth. Youre currently in your late 50s, yet you still retain
an affinity for this subject.
sure its all filtered through my experiences and my age,
and I dont think theres any way to get around that,
but I try to understand whats going on today. Kids are bombarded
by information today whereas, when I was a kid, there was no information.
The kind of innocence I knew is gone completely. From a very early
age, these kids know and see everything, and its interesting
to me to see how they process that. I think that the ideal thing
would be for Kids who are the ages of the Kids in
my films to be making these films. They would know better than
me, but Im trying to make films where they look at them
and say, Well, thats not total bullshit, thats
pretty close to reality.
Harmony Korine pretty close to that age when he wrote Kids?
he was from that world. Kids was my story, and he wrote
MM: And now
youre in the process of editing Ken Park, which you just
directed from another of Harmonys scripts.
LC: Harmony wrote the screenplay and, once again, I gave him a list of my five characters and what happened to them, and I told him to weave them into one story. He did a brilliant job. Harmony wrote it in 94, when we were waiting to get money to do Kids. All the characters in Ken Park come from my work as a visual artistand theyre all people Ive known. Ive always been a storyteller, and this is just another part of my work. MM