Angry Robot

TIFF: Ken Park

Hot buttered Christ, Larry Clark has really kicked it up a notch. Ken Park powers past artsploitation into the realm of art porn.

We’ve discussed Clark here before, and in many ways he’s continuing his life’s work: showing teens fucking. I enjoyed Kids, although the ‘message’ was hammered home a touch hard; I disliked Bully because it didn’t seem to have a message, or any real reason for being. Ken Park may not have a message, but it asks questions. I prefer that anyway.

Ken Park follows four kids: Peaches (Tiffany Limos), Tate (James Ransone), Claude (Stephen Jasso) and Shawn (James Bullard). The focus this time around is on the kids’ relationship with the older generation. Peaches’ dad is a religious nut who can’t get over the death of his wife, who looked exactly like Peaches; Tate is an unsettled lad who lives with and terrorizes his grandparents; Claude gets smacked around by his weightlifting pappy; and Shawn is sleeping with his girlfriend’s mother. A love scene between Shawn and the mom comes early on and demonstrates that in this film, actors will actually be having sex with each other. Not until Tate practices auto-erotic self-asphyxiation, however, and erect cock and cumshot are presented full on, do we realize that in this film, anything can happen. This lends a great deal of weight to the otherwise traditional religious-daddy’s-coming-home-and-daughter’s-having-rough-sex scene, or the violent-daddy’s-coming-home-raging-drunk-and-son’s-dead-asleep scene.

Although this film counts as exploitation, and porn even, it probably also counts as art. The parental characters may sound like stereotypes, but they are humanized in various ways: Peaches’ dad is mostly gentle, and is clearly deeply in love with his dead wife. Claude’s dad has his tender moments, too. Tate is the villain in the relationship with his grandparents. And Shawn’s intergenerational love triangle is handled maturely and believably.

Ultimately, the film has more similarities to Happiness than to Kids. Clark explained after the screening that Korine wrote Ken Park shortly after he wrote Kids, and before Gummo, which would probably mean 1993 or 1994. Presumably it took them a while to find backers for their shockfest. I’m wondering whether the inclusion of a staged cumshot or two in Happiness (1998) made Clark opt for almost gratuitous realism in his own scene, thereby putting him out front in the jism race. But as much as I’d love to continue making light of it, we need people pushing the envelope in the arena of human sexuality on film. What’s wrong with a few cocks here and there, after all? I’m sure Russ Meyer would be pleased with the oneUp!manship, and maybe the Tom Cruise-alike of 2020 will routinely take his johnson out and slap it around in between action scenes. Or maybe he’ll partake in a threesome as explicit and beautiful as that in Ken Park, a scene which rivals Cherry, Harry & Racquel for simultaneous representation of love and sex.

But what does it all mean? Ken Park is the kids’ friend who shot himself. He’s a framing device, he appears at the beginning, not at all in the middle, and pops up again at the end, when the film’s central question is posed, literally and succinctly. Here’s hoping the scandal-seekers who rent the film (it would get an X rating if released) can see past the sex and marinate on that question for a while.

43 comments on "TIFF: Ken Park"

  1. Sassy says:

    Nice critique D, it makes me want to go and check out this film.

  2. harry haller says:

    I saw Park at Telluride several days ago. I was asked to explain it to someone after the showing. I said I could but why bother. While I won’t try to define pornography, this film is better than most such films in as much as there is no terrible sound track. In fact I don’t think there is one at all. But worse than most because, with the exception of the masterbation scene (by the way who were the two female tennis players? and has the Women’s Tennis Assoc. seen the film?) there is no real sex shown, just inferred. All and all, I don’t see where these directors/producers expect to show this film. Probable straight to video and in the porn section by the way. Why would the co-director (not Clark) risk his DP fame for this piece of excrement?

  3. D says:

    Piece of excrement? A bit strong, surely?

    It’s possible it can take a theatrical run if someone like Lion’s Gate picks it up and is willing to let the scandal do the advertising for it. They couldn’t submit it to the MPAA – I should have said XXX rather than X – but a few screens per city would run it unrated. Then, you make the real cash with tape & disc rentals. As far as I know this worked with Happiness; you can even get a slashed-down version at blockbuster!

  4. adam says:

    Hot and buttered…mmm…

  5. D says:

    I like my religion like I like my popcorn.

  6. Uncle Beasley says:

    Coming from Clark and Korine, we are all eager to see it here in Cincinnati…the censorship capital of the Northern Hemisphere! Hamish McAlpine can go play with himself!

  7. D says:

    Hey, you guys banned Vixen, didn’t you? I’d say odds are against you seeing this latest sexcapade.

  8. Melanie says:

    Well me being a fan of both Larry Clark and Harmonie Korine’s films I do not believe larry is a pervert. These men are trying to depict what teen age life is now adays and if you haven’t realized it teen life really is this way most of you might not understand because either you are not teens or you just don’t go through the shit when you do maybe you can talk 2 me then

  9. D says:

    Did you read anything on this page? Who called Clark a pervert? Who are you talking to?

    So many questions.

  10. SPASM says:

    What ever happened to the good old whup-whup. Shank portions are great, but the splendor is WICKED!!! Ohhhhhh Sheeeeeeiiiiiiiiiittttt….. P.S. Whose got a boner?

  11. SPASM says:

    YO MELANIE, I could play you like a VIOLIN. WHASS UP!!!

  12. Dougy says:

    I’m fucking tired of these depressing movies Harmonie Korine and Larry Clark are making. They can keep the sex stuff, but there should be some more action shit in their flix.

  13. SPASM says:


  14. D says:

    Dougy: I hear Korine is directing Van Damme’s next picture.

  15. D says:

    Incidentally, Clark fans may be finding this page via a link to it on the Larry Clark official website. Whaddup Clark fans!!!! Anyone here like Larry Clark!!!????

    *mad cheering*

    Man can I work the room or what?

  16. Costas says:

    Flawed but memorable

    I think Clark fares much better as a photographer than a filmmaker. Ken Park would make a great album of *portraits* … but a film asks for characters, plot, narrative — elements that Ken Park seriously lacks. Some episodes come out quite successfully (Shawn!) but I think there’s an overall lack of consistency in the directors’ approach.

    I don’t ask for “messages” and “answers” (I wonder if these fall into Clark’s intentions at all) but I wonder what the film’s reason for being is (D?). If it’s meant to be a cinematic elaboration of Clark’s photographic work, it is superfluous. Is it a black comedy? Art porn? Social commentary? Clark seems undecided.

    I want to believe that his personal (so macho-daddy…) honesty holds him back from sermonizing, and at the same time, his sincere concern and love for his subject prevents him from stretching too far into the “realm of art porn” or adopting a detached, ironic approach that Korine’s script asks for. His decidedly voyerish look is definitely pornographic, but his work isn’t ‘porn.’ I suppose this would raise quite a few eyebrows, but I’d say that Clark’s approach is ultimately moralistic and, ha, puritanical. Ken Park could make a great dark porn comedy, now it’s a mixed bag. But can one reproach Clark for refusing to get cynical?

    I agree with D about the necessity of “pushing the envelope,” and I find it interesting (to say the least) that people seem more disturbed by a jack-off scene or a crotch close-up and not the actual murders that take place in Ken Park or Bully. Murder scenes are routine, of course — an erect penis is ‘controversial’ material… Maybe I’m wrong about Clark’s motives behind his ‘shock and awe’ policy, but if his work helps Art get rid of its shameful fig leaf, I’m quite thankful to him.

    That said, the casting is perfect (as always) and the unexpected (?) warmth and humanity are more than welcome a bonus. The final trio is anthology stuff — this is where Clark and Lachman truly shine.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Hello!! I’m a Larry Clark fan! I love him!!, seen all his films and I’d love to see Ken Park! but i’m from the UK so i’m not sure if i’ll ever see it (Hamish McAlpine you barstard!!) but i’m glad Larry did what he did!!

    Anyway i’m a Photography student and Larry’s my greatest influence and i’m writing an essay about why he makes these films so graphic and shocking. Many people think he’s a pervert, i don’t think so!

    I’d love some input from you Larry fans out there and what you think about Larry and his films!!

    Ta Very Much!!

  18. kate says:

    i think he shows what most pornos lack… a plot.
    i loved it.

  19. bystander says:

    Just a random comment. Ken Park was banned here in Australia. There were plans to screen it at a film festival in Sydney, but it was refused classification. The Attorney-General has the power to overrule the decisions regarding film classification (as far as I know), but after being petitioned to allow the film to be screened at the film festival only he still said no dice.

    Speaking for myself, it doesn’t sound like a film I’d be particularly interested in, but it’s the censorship aspect that bothers me.

    … not really sure why I posted this.

  20. D says:

    Great comments, all. Costas, while its always interesting to discover an artist’s intentions, in my mind those intentions have little to no effect on how we should judge their output. Question being not: what did they mean the film to mean? but: what does the film mean? Which of course depends on one’s interpretation, but so does everything.

    To the person wrting the essay: would be curious to hear what you come up with.

    Bystander: you posted with good reason. It’s very interesting to find out how other countries are dealing with a film like this.

  21. Cobb says:

    I have heard that you can download Ken Park online. Does anyone know where this site is or even a hint on what to search for? I have spent hours trying to find it. It has been banned from Australia and unless we have any European friends who can send it to us (without getting pinched at customs) we don’t have a chance of viewing it! Please help….

  22. Aaron Darc says:

    Well, the shit has well and truly hit the fan, here in Australia. A couple of hours ago, a well-known movie-reviewer here (and outspoken – and fabulous – censorship campaigner) screened the film (or tried to) in an underground showing in a local Sydney suburb. Unfortunately, during the opening credits, the police arrived and shut it down – arresting the prominent tv personality in front of the country’s media!! the scene has now turned into a protest where many people have gathered – we made the mistake of leaving, and then couldn’t get back in!!

    I can’t say i’m a Larry Clark fan, particularly, but I admire his films purely as social “snapshots” – most direly relevant ones at that. in a most troubling era, the mere fact that they exist is most wonderful, considering the censorship rows they ignite. Aside from the usual “but what about the violence that is apparenly permissable?” avenue, they bring to light a most disturbing aspect of POLITICS and state ideological manipulation. It is not simply about the graphic content technically. Hard cocks cumming are certainly available to anyone, anywhere – rather, it is the social ideological context they are placed within, which renders these films ‘obsene’. Even talk of Clark’s personal “message” is irrelevant – the true “message” witheld by state is far broader. It is somewhat clear that intelligent socio-analysis which has the audacity to portray the modern Western human condition (least of all in – gasp – America!!) as anything other than happily complacent (“comfortbaly numb”, to steal from a great) social participants indulging in gratification as a positive aspect of human sexuality in a (therefore) healthy society, is simply not allowed. it’s not about big, hard dicks!! Dissemenation of information is a far more disturbing political phenomena than anything literally asserted by State. With-holding certain depictions of humanity as expressed through art is, after all, propoganda in itself.

    That said, I am overcome with a kind of buzz tonight. Tonight in Balmain (Sydney, Australia), a rather large group of people, and in particular a very brave and passionate woman (who used her public persona in the most admirable fashion), gave this issue the attention it deserves. It was given recognition for what it is – it’s not about not getting to see big hard dicks, or experiencing the enjoyment (though that may be an innapropriate word for this film, but you know what I mean) of a film we have every rite to experience. It’s a much larger, much darker, enemy which has been faced tonight. it has been, finally, given a face. Too often censorship rows are not given the attention they deserve. it is, nonetheless, alarming that this need occur at all (here in the “free” West), but it is most promising to see what happened this evening. Times – hopefully – are a’changing, but we need people to continue waking to such challenges. Numb is – slowly – no longer comfortbale. As a film-student, and (more importantly) as a human being, I pray such awakening continues. Otherwise, Clarks socio-portrayals are irony of the cruellest kind. He depicts modern life as bleak and depressing. Sadly, he may be right.

    Aaron Darc

  23. D says:

    Thanks for the update, Aaron (news article). It’s good to see censorship get the negative press it deserves. We don’t get as much direct state censorship here in North America (although Fat Girl was banned in Ontario until the distributors took the censors to court), but the corporate sort is just as disturbing and a little more difficult to keep track of.

  24. PJ says:

    I find it incredible in this day and age that a government can still decide for me what I should and shouldn’t see. I fully support Margaret Pomeranz’s stance for freedom of choice, whether it be in cinema, art, speech, whatever.
    As an adult I believe I am quite capable of making my own choice…if I do not beleive it is the sort of subject matter that I want to see or deal with, then I do not go to the exhibition, film or whatever. I have that choice, I should not deny anyone else their choice.
    I too would like to know where I can download this film from the net. If anyone knows please email me. I will be buggered if I am going to let this government, in Australia, tell me that I cannot see it. Who made them moral judges? Not this voter.

  25. J.M. Prater says:

    I have seen Kids, Gummo, Bully etc… I enjoy Bully as a fellow filmmaker, visually, Larry Clark has an eye.

    There are interesting questions being posed regarding Ken Park. I believe that pushing the envelope can be a good thing. Some one asked “What’s so wrong with showing an erect cock?” My question is this, what’s right about it? How is it benefitting anyone?

    I myself am not sexually inhibited. I am not afraid to deal with any sexual matter head on and I am quite the liberal. My questions go towards the motivation of Larry Clark to show such things. Why do we nee d to see an ejaculation? How does that push a boundary? What will that ejaculation tell us or show us? I would imagine most people know that both boys and girls masturbate. I’ve done it, people reading this post have done it. So be it. ‘

    I do not understand the sexual agenda with Larry Clark. All of his films have depicted in one form or another, underage kids having sex with each other. What is the lesson in this? What is the point of this? Let me restate and I not someone who wants to further any agenda, I just want to understand. With the advent of Ken Park I fail to understand Clark’s reasoning. I am hearing the term realism and that Larry’s intent is to show that realism.

    There are pedophiles in the world, why should we not see what they do as vividly as anything else? Is that not realism? At what age is the line drawn? It’s okay to “depict” underage sexual acitivity but at what point does it become a perversion? I would qualify wanting to see underage children engaging in sexual acitivity with each other or adults a sort of perversion. The line is being pushed so far down that there is no line, no point where, enough is enough. This issue I also take with violence, not just sex.

    I do believe that sex can be portrayed beautifully or viscerally to make a statement but there is a line. I believe that despite Larry Clark’s artistic endeavors, he has crossed that line. Art is an expression of who you are and with what I have been seeing coming from the cameras of Larry Clark, I don’t like what I see.

    J.M. Prater

  26. Bob says:

    That’s exactly right! This is really bugging me. The following things are bugging me:

    1- I don’t know how a guy jerking off on screen and cumming can be either erotic or artistic.

    2- Ed Lachman, cinematographer for FAR FROM HEAVEN, one of my favourite films last year, co-directs a movie full of explicit teen sex.

    3- Larry Clark has called it “honest” instead of “pornographic”. Now, I cannot make a real opinion because I haven’t seen it, but he’s in my black book. People who’ve worked with him have called him a “gentle voyeur”, which in and itself is sickening.

    4- I don’t care if it’s all portrayal or an artpiece or anything, teens do not run around naked and have threesomes and fuck their girlfriend’s mothers in Jerry Springer-like affairs every single day.

    5- Why push the bars? Why? Already we have John Cameron Mitchell trying to make his little “Sex Film Project”, which is due next year, featuring real sex, which will deffinetly push bars for American cinema. But we’ve seen this already! Films such as INTIMACY, ROMANCE, POLA X, and BAISE-MOI have shown stringless sex, why go further and show teenagers doing it? Is this supposed to be revolutionary?

    6- Too much controversy is going to come out of it, whether the sex is real, etc.

    7- Teen sex has been done sexier and less Clark-voyeuristic in last year’s Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN.

    8- Clark really screwed his chances with this one being released in normal video stores and theaters, all because of his bar-pushing.

    9- I’m oddly curious to see it.

    10- Most of all, what really bugs me is that people will defend it by saying that sex is meant to be portrayed this way with teenagers and it’s all normal and shit. That’s all crap. It’s not about time someone pushed the bar on sex in film because it’s already been done and cinema was never meant to show it. Pedophiles will get off on KEN PARK, because with Larry Clark’s little “realism” project, he’s unleashed teen sex on the world. There’s nothing wrong with an erect penis, but there’s plenty wrong with showing a young man, in a non-porno film, cum and do things no one but pedophiles really want to see. It’s all for shock value.

    More are coming, I’m sure….

  27. D says:

    Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I’m not sure anyone should be jumping on this film (or praising it) until they’ve seen it. You have to judge for yourself – with art as with porno, “I’ll know it when I see it.” That’s the problem with censorship – it’s a handful of bureaucrats deciding for you what you should be watching.

    I recognize it must be frustrating, however, to not be able to see the film even when it’s getting so much news. But please, do not pirate it – see it in the theatre. It now looks like the film will get a US release, in august or september apparently. As for you Australians, now’s a good time to protest your government’s censorship efforts. Like I mentioned before, where I live a similar decision to ban Fat Girl was reversed, although it took hot legal action from the distributor. But in general, we need a good theatrical gross for Mr. Clark’s latest and piracy gets in the way of it. So I will delete any further requests on this page for illegal copies of Ken Park.

    Incidentally, I’m pleased to see mention of this page in my favourite film weblog, GreenCine Daily, which also notes that a trailer for Ken Park is available.

  28. J.M. Prater says:

    Let’s iron some things out right now. I am not for censorship of any sort. I believe that people should have the right to look at what they want. I do not think that Ken Park should be banned, that’s not my issue here. My issue is the bending of the lines, the blurring of morality vs. art.

    It is my belief that Larry Clark gets off on this idea of underage sexual activity, it’s evident in his camera direction and choice of subject matter that this is what he enjoys. I don’t think anyone can dispute this claim. I’m not asking or wanting his work to be banned, I am questioning the rationlization of some of it as art disguised as realism marketed as art. Let’s call it what it is.

    J.M. Prater

  29. ¥ says:

    Haven’t seen the film, and am reluctant to read this thread too thoroughly (for fear the plot will be revealed), so forgive me if this question has already been answered, but: Is Clark in trouble with the law? The issue (as I understand it) seems to be about the film’s distribution, but it strikes me it should be about the age of consent in the state where it was shot. Is the cast made up of very young 18 year olds? Does the presence of a camera and a crew and a talented director cancel out the fact these kids are technically breaking the law? Were they all fined or what?

    I don’t think Clark belongs in the slammer, (tho I do think he sexualizes teens, and this isn’t outside the law’s interest), and I think 18 is ridiculously high as an age of consent, but historically, when artists go out on a limb and ignore the law in their work, they pay for it, no?

    Seeing as how it’s finished, and it’s Clark, I’m all in favour of its distribution – for purely selfish reasons. I just don’t get how it was made to begin with. (My feelings about this are essentially the same as my feelings about porn – outlawing it would be ridiculous, but enforcing laws [against, say, the makers of rape/snuff/underage exploits etc.] is only common sense.)

    Please excuse if this has been addressed above.

    For the record, I think come shots are great in movies. Bob asks what they do, and I think it’s a totally fair question, but what does anything do? What do explosions do? When we think of the difference between the abstract violence of action movies (all explosion, no consequence, no armlessness, leglessness, third degree burn, death, and certainly no agony) vs. the reality of what’s happening globally, it seems a much bigger problem. (I realize this point may not be considered fair.)

    My feeling is we’re so repressed with our sexuality we’ve abolished the details of it from our art on the merit that it’s too graphic – and therefore ‘pornographic’. I frankly don’t see how an erection or its orgasm has any less place in art than anything else. Why do we need to show it? Maybe there’s something about it, and the moments before, after, and during, that are of interest to an artist. Why do we need to not show it? would be my question. “We get enough of it in porn” doesn’t suffice in my books, because with porn, that’s all we get. With art it’s hopefully something more than just exploitation.

  30. D says:

    I doubt any of the actors were actually underage. Apparently all the ‘kids’ in Kids were in their early twenties. Presumably if he had underage actors he could go somewhere with a lower age of consent: Mexico (12), or Canada (14). Then again, that would make it illegal to distribute the film in the US – or at least I think that’s how it works, I ain’t no law-talkin’ guy though.

    Ÿ, thanks for arguing some of the points I was too lazy to. I see no reason why any sexual activity should be unsuitable for filming as long as it’s legal off-screen, no matter whether pedos get off on it or not. For all we know, they’re masturbating to the Olsen twins right now. Ain’t no pedo going to tell me what I can and cannot watch!

  31. D says:

    Here’s an interview with Larry Clark about Ken Park – done since the Australian ban. “We can see anything.” (once again via greencine daily)

  32. pavesk8 says:

    [comment deleted]

  33. Anonymous says:

    Idlikketo seeakenpark3withkorineintheforefronttakinglarryclarksolduglydickintheshoeshinerwithapickleinthemiddleandsippinhisgraanysspittleKIDDYPORNRULESDUDES

  34. tm says:

    Never heard about Clark, but his Ken Park has been shown at a film festival here in Brazil. It reminds me the 80’s when I went to see the Japanese, “The Realm of the Senses”, and my friends and I left the theaters arguing that finally we had artists “pushing the envelope”. Now, we are watching this happening again. Everybody is excited about it and distributors are after it (at least down here). I hope the fuss goes on, so we don’t have to watch on TV Ken Parks dying everyday and wait more 20 years to make another fuss about a “fiction”.

  35. kennycyberspasm says:

    Well, i gotta hand it to larry! He must’ve thought since Caligula passed it’s test, he’d continue a real peace of art film era,announcing Ken Park.Caligula is no longer a cult-classic.I live in Australia and this film, i reassure will never hit the dvd stand.Maybe just a few lucky people will get to see it in their own private cinema, and the clever ones who could access dvd-9. Anyway, when i watched Romance-x (french film) i thought nothing can beat this,i was so very wrong.Larry even demonstrate to us anyone can get erected watching (or listening) on those tennis player. My fav. part-scene is the actual film poster itself.That is better than any x-rated film.My least fav was that tennis-bit (thank goodness for dvd-skipped button)
    Finally, Larry can talk all he wants trying to convince the majority of people & their rights to see this film, but i don’t see it happening in Australia.There is No way!

  36. Matt says:

    Hmm the I’m undecided on which way to go with Clark. I like April am a photography student in the UK and am doin some research on the depiction of teenagers and young people as a whole. I’ve spent time looking at his photography and I’ve seen kids, but thats the only film of his I’ve seen. I need to catch up on what it is Clark’s trying to put across now and from the official site it says there’s a distributor for this film in the UK but I reckon it’s going to be sometime before it hits these shores unfortunately…

  37. Mart' says:

    Looking for ALL filmmakers and wannabes, actors/actresses, photographers, designers ETC ETC to help me make Larry Clark type films. Emails me!

  38. Mart' says:

    Looking for ALL filmmakers and wannabes, actors/actresses, photographers, designers ETC ETC to help me make Larry Clark type films. Emails me!

  39. DiscourseRidesEasy says:

    I’m looking for a director and some actors to help make a pet project of mine; it’s a film about a heist that goes horribly wrong… with some unexpected results! The script features lots of off-the-cuff, sassy dialogue, some very dynamic narrational strategies, and an overall “vibe” of gritty urban realism. Lemme know if you’re interested.

  40. D says:

    I’m making a film about a pregnant superhero… the only twist is, he’s a man!… AND A ROBOT!! It’s a zany yet high-octane action-filled comedy thrillride set in the near future. I’m looking for at least twenty screenwriters.

  41. BJ says:

    I liked this film. Im in Australia, 16 and downloaded it. Most of this stuff is reality. Maybe not in the short timespan depicted in Ken Park but as a 16 year old NONE of it shocked me.

    Get the filesharing program ’emule’ and download it! Tell people about it and promote free speech in this fucked up western society

  42. RudeSystem says:

    I’ve just finished my script. It’s about a small town boy with red hair and freckles called Ryan. He lives with his best friend ‘Goat. He secretively builds a crayfish lady in his bath, they get married and have prawns. It’s a light hearted, Romantic Comedy which smuggles serious issues of social angst and political immorality.

    anyone interested?

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