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Anyone who finds pornography disturbing will find "Ken Park" disturbing for
both the wrong and the right reasons.
Its not pornography, but it will be confused with it easily since it contains many of the same powerful ingredients: nudity and explicit sexual behavior. What separates it from pornography is that "Ken Park"'s intent is not to arouse but to provoke an emotional response by placing these same powerful ingredients within a troublesome relational context. Unfortunately that's also the problem with "Ken Park".
An average viewer can't witness explicit sexual behavior and be unaffected by it. We are all sexual (mostly) and (most of us) respond to visual stimuli. "Ken Park" demands that the viewer suspend that response, look beyond any arousal or outrage generated from the explicit sexuality and focus on the relationships in the film (of which sex is merely the expression). This asks of the average cinema viewer much more sexual maturity than most films ever hope to ask.
We may demand more pressure on the envelope as a viewing public, but the cumulative effect of pushing the envelope is still in the realm of speculative sociolology. Also, the extreme youthful appearance some of the characters in the film will cause some companies to avoid distribution risks. Free speech is one thing; defending accusations of spreading pedophilia is quite another, and few companies can afford that kind of publicity.
Personally, I think that the Clark and Lachman have made a great film; its a moral and compassionate statement. The characters feel very real; in their banality there is real pathos. In fact, the bland dialogue and delivery explains why sex holds such a powerful lure for these kids. They have access to rare delight and comfort with sex and, weirdly enough, a sense of peace. It rings true. The tragedy plays out that they are all compromised by clueless or pathological parent figures and the sexuality reflects a history of thwarted attachment. The final scene with the three main characters together struck me as very bittersweet since it plays more as a fantasy than a likely scenario.
Art enjoys such a complex, troubled relationship with the American public. We are such a rapidly changing audience with a huge appetite for challenge, yet we don't necessarily absorb the changes we witness. As an audience, we expect far more cultural sophistication than our capacity for balanced interpretation. "Ken Park" is evidence of that.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Much has been made of this film's depiction of sex. Depending on who you
ask, the scenes in question are "brutally honest" or simply "disgustingly
pornographic". Both descriptions boil down to the same thing either way: you
get to see erections. And ejaculate. A shiver goes through the audience,
people shift in their seats - we are not used to seeing this in a
non-pornographic movie, and it kind of throws us off-balance for a moment.
But then, as it must, the film goes on and we are left to wonder what it was
actually about. The reason I dislike this film, as I did both Kids and Bully
(two movies that appear tame by comparison), is simply because once you take
away the shocking aspects of it - the violence, the no-holds-barred sex
scenes - it really isn't about anything much.
What Larry Clark is apparently trying to say here, is the same thing he tried to say with his earlier films: being a teenager stinks. Life sucks. It's the kind of wisdom that depressed adolescents spray-paint on walls. In the universe of Larry Clark, there are only two kinds of people: those who abuse, and those who are abused, and those two categories may (and probably will) shift in time. This film's defenders invariably use the same argument sooner or later: "This really happens". And it probably does, but it always happens for a reason. In Kids and Bully, there were no motivations given at all for the character's deplorable behaviour. Rather, they were walking, talking symptoms of an ill-defined social illness, and the movies were none too enlightening for it. Here, Clark (and his co-director Ed Lachmann), make a self-conscious effort at motivating the characters, by including their parents. They're the ones to blame, apparently, all of them negligent of their kids at best and downright (sexually) abusive at worst. Aah, but you see, they too are only looking for love and can't find it. They were neglected or abused by their parents as well, and are now continuing the cycle. Deep, isn't it? In stead of spray painting "Life Sucks", one could argue, that Ken Park as a movie might add the phrase: "And it does for my parents as well".
But there's no larger context given to any of this. We get to see the seediness of it (plenty of it), but there is no real insight offered into these characters. Why do these kids (and their parents) do what they do? The only answer the movie seems to be able to provide is: "because they don't get enough true love". Put this exact same message into any made-for-TV melodrama, and people will rightfully spit it out as unbelievably simplistic. We never really get to know any of these characters, much less care about them, because all of them are solely defined by the various ways in which their lives are messed up. We don't remember individuals, we just refer to: "That kid who ate out his girlfriend's mother. That guy who masturbated while choking himself. That girl who was into bondage." In a sense, it becomes a freak show. What they think (indeed, whether or not they think), what they feel, hope, want... It all remains rather vague, hinted at sometimes, but never fully explored, because the movie has ever more bizarre (and exploitative) sexual behaviour to get on with.
Two kinds of people will go see this movie: those who live in the same kind of circumstances, and those who don't. Those who don't, can go home with a more or less secure feeling, because everything they saw had been marginalized, put squarely within this box labelled: "The Lives And Times Of Freaky People We Don't Want Anything To Do With". And those who do... What will they take out of this? Nothing resembling even the slightest bit of hope, since no possibility of salvation seems to exist - the kids of Ken Park appear destined to become just as abusive as their parents, and the very last scene has two of them not-quite-saying they'd prefer to have been aborted. I read one reviewer who was apparently trying to earn a spot on the video cover with the quote: "This is a voice that just wants to be heard. Is that too much to ask?" No, of course not, but the voice doesn't have a lot to say, I'm afraid.
Movies like this, which contain what might be described as extreme amounts of either sex or violence, seem to have a built-in defence mechanism, whereby if you didn't like it, or object to it, you are automatically labelled a prude, who was enormously shocked by it and therefore stopped thinking. Or even worse: a censurer, who would take all "art" he doesn't like, throw it on a big pile and burn it. I assure you I'm neither. In fact, given the amount of discussion about this movie's sexual content, I'd expected it to be even more explicit than it was. And I would never want to ban anything just because I didn't like it. But I also don't believe in that knee-jerk reaction some people have of automatically praising everything that seems to shock others. This is the kind of film that tries to bully you into thinking it's actually about something. Five years from now, after all the fuss has died down, Ken Park will be remembered - if at all - as a storm in a teacup, one of those movies that come along every so often, that everyone has something to say about, but when looked on soberly, in retrospect, really wasn't worth the hassle. Pretty much the same has happened for Kids, after all.
Reading the local (Belgian) reviews for this movie, you'd seriously
think we're moving back in time. Critics seem to be bending over
backwards in their defense of sexually explicit imagery (okay, there's
a little bit of what could be considered hardcore footage here, but
nothing on the level of, say, BAISE-MOI for instance), once again
trying to establish the thin line between art and pornography,
forgetting (conveniently, perhaps ?) to really focus on the film
instead. Could it be that Harmony Korine's razor sharp screenplay,
largely based on the personal experiences of some of director Larry
Clark's friends and models, actually hit too close to home for a lot of
people to admit ?
Though the sleepy suburb in this movie might qualify as quintessential Americana by definition of many, I can assure you that the stuff that happens over there takes place all over the world. A lot of things both the adolescents and their parents go through were instantly recognizable to me personally, and I'm a 35 (going on 36) year old employee from that minuscule ant heap of a country called Belgium. How's that for universal appeal ?
Too many adult viewers would still seem to prefer to deny the very possibility that their teen-aged children harbor strong sexual desires, let alone the likely consequence that they've already acted upon them ! It may strike some as slightly unsavory that now 59 year old Larry Clark addresses such issues (especially given the level of unflinching honesty and carnal frankness demonstrated here), as he did in both KIDS and BULLY previously, but nearly no one else apparently dares to come anywhere near this topic as of yet. Much more than simply courting controversy, Clark (and co-helmer Lachman) have crafted a beautiful, funny, touching, heartbreaking and absolutely haunting (those final frames with the titular Ken Park will be etched in my mind for life) work of, yes, art.
A lot of older viewers have remarked that the film is somehow unfairly slanted in favor of the young characters (compelling actors the lot of them), rendering the adults as grotesque caricatures. As far as I'm concerned, only very inattentive viewers could ever come up with that assessment. Tate's grandparents may initially come across as whiny and pathetic yet there's a sweet little scene later on that shows their genuine affection for one another. It is both telling and sad that their grisly fate apparently elicits far less shocks from its audiences than those scant minutes of groin action. A world gone mad, indeed.
Claude's macho dad is another case in point. His ultimate transgression towards his son manages to be both disturbing and weirdly touching. Each adult character (let's not forget Claude's mom, engagingly portrayed by the underrated Amanda Plummer) gets at least one scene where the admittedly stereotypical surface is scratched away and subtleties like a single wounded glance can turn the whole story on its head. I sincerely love this movie precisely for doing just that.
Living in Australia, there has been a lot of controversy about this movie,
leading to the government banning it (and even forbidding it to be shown at
film festivals, to intelligent, consenting adults), so I had some idea what
to expect when watching it.
The thing that surprised me was that there was almost none of the "explicit sex" that the tabloids and conservative politicians would have us believe. Sure there are a couple of shots of erect penises, but nothing most adults haven't seen themselves.
The part that didn't surprise me was that the story was so good. I have seen all of Larry Clark's films, and this is by far the best. A depressing tale of kids who are beginning to realise that their parents, their biggest role models, are not perfect. Far from it in some cases.
I urge everyone who is interested in pictures that may not be light entertainment (and who is not offended by the occasional sexual organ) to try and obtain a copy of this - especially Australians. Don't let the government dictate what you can and cannot see.
I have no problems with the explicit content in the film, go ahead and show whatever you like, just do it for a reason other than to push the boundries. There's nothing less interesting than watching a movie that is based on the premise of Let's Make People Accept Something New. That's lame. It's cheap. The movie is not interesting in the least. It never goes anywhere. It seems as though Larry Clark's ideas for characters were just him thinking he wanted to push the limits of sex on film, and so that's what the characters are doing. They are in no way representative of a real person as this film tries to convince us. This film would be boundry pushing if it was able to contextualize the behaviour and not just put it on a screen. At the film festival Clark answered a question about the inclusion of the character of Ken Park, who seemed to exist for no real reason other than to begin the film with a suicide. Clark responded by saying that he wanted to deal with teenage suicide in the movie, which is fine, but just showing someone shoot themselves in the head is not dealing with teenage suicide. It just exploits violence. There doesn't seem to be any thought, beyond the voyeuristic tendancies of the film makers, in this movie at all.
In a city in California, the skateboarders Shawn (James Bullard),
Claude (Stephen Jasso) and Tate (James Ransone) and Peeches (Tiffany
Limos) are friends of the suicidal teenager Ken Park (Adam Chubbuck).
Shawn has intercourse with his girlfriend and her mother. Claude has an
abusive, violent and alcoholic father and a neglectful and passive
pregnant mother. Tate is addicted in masturbation and hates his
grandparents that raise him due to the lack of privacy in his own room.
Peeches practices kinky sex and has a fanatical religious father that
misses his wife.
"Ken Park" is a sad story of dysfunctional families and their teenagers. Most of the characters have sick and abnormal behaviors, but fortunately it is just a sample in the universe of director Larry Clark, who seems to like this theme, and does not correspond to the majority of the society. This uncomfortable movie is indicated for very specific audiences. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Ken Park"
This is a film about relationships. My congratulations to the people
responsible for making this film because I've never seen anything
remotely like it. Not even "Kids". Shocking, gripping, honest, mature,
in-your-face. "Ken Park" is the first film made that takes us into the
world of American families to show us what really goes on. Life is not
all sweet and charming even though we might wish it to be. Movies don't
have to be sappy and happy. There don't have to be car chases and
killings, cops and good-guys and bad-guys. To those viewers raised on
soap operas and "Friends", turn away because you won't find this film
A shocker for sure...banned in most countries tells you a lot about it. When I see that it makes me WANT to see it. The sex is totally credible. You don't have actors grabbing for sheets or towels to cover up their bodies--hey just like real life!! The scenes are tense, the technical side perfect. You are going to be exposed to some troubled people and they're not only kids. Adults are having a hell of a time getting through life too. Some want a lot more than the 2 point 3 kids and a white picket-fence house in the 'burbs. They long for illicit sex. But look for more, you'll find it in this film. These are characters disturbed by life and not able to function, exactly like your friends and co-workers and neighbors. Lots of people stumble through life and don't have a clue how to behave, how to be loving or tender. Relationships with some people are constant conflicts which they don't even understand themselves. This film shows us some. The sad part is most people don't even realize how screwed up their lives are.
I'm not going to review the plot. You just have to see it yourself and form your own views. Because films have to be seen---that's the art form. I'd also like to congratulate and thank everyone involved in this production for having the courage to give us something worthwhile. In the 1930's there was a film movement called surrealism which was designed to shock people. It did, but today we don't get much shock value out of those old films. "Ken Park" isn't surreal, but it really does shock...maybe it's "hyper-realism". So real you feel totally nervous, never knowing what you are going to see next. All the green-screen and digital video effects dished out by Hollywood can't compare to the plain, good, unselfconscious acting and direction. Every character gets my "Oscar" and the direction and camera-work are so incredible they defy description. Whoever wrote the script knows how to write. Kids aren't as verbal as a lot of movies make them out to be. That lack of dialogue is what always distinguishes a great film for me. I'm not a big fan of voice- over to make plot points, but this film is so outstanding in so many ways the short bits of narration do not diminish it. Great work all around but if you grew up on "Disney" forget it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It takes a special kind of genius to make group sex, incest, suicide,
and murder quite this dull. That genius is Larry Clark. Overwhelmed by
exactly the fragmentary voyeurism that is the essence of his
photography, Clark is seemingly unwilling or unable to extend any of
the sensational moments he films far enough into either the past or the
future to give them meaning; they remain instead iconic snapshots of
Clark's private sexual obsessions. This means that while Clark is
clearly very excited to pose his actors, he doesn't trouble at all with
their characters, and this fixation on a physical presence
(specifically of willing young men) that the viewer can't access
becomes a black hole at the movie's centre.
Many of the things that happen - a young man who kills his grandparents, a boy who sleeps with his girlfriend's mother, a young woman forced to marry her insanely religious father - could have been the basis of a really interesting film if only they were followed through: each one is a beginning or a conclusion, but none is a story.The characters don't develop or change, the situations don't evolve, what occurs is without causes or repercussions. What happens to the girl who marries her father? How does the boy cope with cheating on his girlfriend with her adolescence-obsessed mother, and why would a grown woman do such a thing? Why does Tate kill his grandparents, and what happens to him? I'd be curious to know, but Larry Clark, clearly, is not: greedily, he wants only each story's most climactic moment, again and again, without context, without structure - and finally, unless you share just his taste in sexual imagery, without interest.
ken park or krap nek as they say is basically four episodes with each
episode dealing with an individual's family situation or lack thereof.
These episodes are inter-cut within each other.
Though Larry's Clark's movies deal with very explicit, or "realistic" subject matter his presentation is overwrought. Characters are more caricatures than 'real' people. The zealot father, the aging housewife, the weird kid, the father with unrequited love. The scenes with these characters were hard for me to take in. The actions and reactions they take seemed so hackneyed to me. Could it be that Larry Clark is developing a "larry clarkness"? a style? As one who is purported to be a breaker of styles and conventions this movie was shot pretty conventionally with lots of sex. I wasn't too impressed with this effort. Some shots, as Larry Clark says, are there for realistic purposes but I just found it to be sensationalistic and unnecessary.
The cinematography was great that is probably due to the Ed Lachman. The blue and red tinge really added to their respective scenes. Probably use of tungsten for outdoors and daylight inside.
Correct me if I'm wrong but I could swear Larry Clark is moving from realism to symbolism. In one scene he has the family gather together on the front steps. Your good Ole' American suburban family, full of deceit and infidelity but putting up a great face none the less. It seemed like a tableau.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
**********SPOILERS************ This is an acted documentary, as it puts
unrelated characters next to each other (Ken Park, Tate). If you watch
the movie from that angle, it becomes less over-the-top, as I really
felt it was trying to put EVERY possible teenage drama (suicide,
incest, sexual abuse, killing grandparents (!!)) into one movie. Apart
from that it was all a bit much I really liked the style of the movie,
the characters and the plots on their own. In any case a movie worth
A word on 'pornography': Larry Clark really has to be praised and admired for his approach to show detailed sex scenes in 'normal' movies. Why not show on the screen what we see in our lives every day (i.e. genitals and sex, which mostly includes erect male genitals)? Nobody screams about heads blown off and bodies ripped apart on screen, and how often do you see that in real life? IMHO, this is true perversion, and it should be standard to show whatever you like of the human body in 'normal' movies, because our bodies are normal and sex is normal too, believe it or not.
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