Ken Park (2002)
Ken Park, Larry Clark. A beautifully produced, controversial film that uses unconventional narrative techniques to portray ennui and existential bleakness? Sounds just like the kind of film DrG’s Random, Inconsistent, and Unqualified Recommendations would recommend!
It was acclaimed poet Philip Larkin who wrote “They fuck you up, your mum and dad” and in Larry Clark’s follow-up to his much more acclaimed 1995 film Kids, he illustrates this contention ad nauseam. Whereas the first film follows a group of disaffected teens as they traverse the urban jungle of Manhattan, taking drugs and screwing each other haphazardly along the way, Ken Park portrays a group of disaffected teens in the rigid box-like architecture of suburban California. To hammer home his point, the opening sequence follows a soon-to-suicide teen as he skateboards through town (real world Visalia), passing sign after sign with the word “community” on it. We soon learn how ironic that word is for the kids in the film.
The group of friends is introduced in their separate lives, each one coming from a working class home fraught with sexual tensions that most audience members will find so distasteful they’ll switch off fast. From one child in need of a mommy who becomes the sexual toy of his girlfriend’s mom (a MILF avant lettre) to a boy who practices auto-erotic asphyxiation to another boy whose beauty confuses the sexuality of his bully father…each one of these kids is in a sealed chamber of their own hell.
Shot on location in glowing 35mm on a $1.3m budget, the sound design is phenomenal. It seamlessly captures the actual sounds of Californian suburbia I recall from my youth: single prop private planes buzzing overhead; a lawnmower on the next block, heard but not seen; the clack of skateboards on asphalt; the droning of insects outside the window. It’s a perfect evocation of the landscape.
When finally at the end of the film we see the three teens left standing coming together (literally), it’s a fully nude threesome shot using classic porn angles. The actors are young, the sex is not (apparently always) simulated—more than one critic has dismissed Clark’s work as kiddie porn in an artistic wrapper.
It takes a lot to disturb people in the wired 21st century, but Clark found a way to do it: by graphically illustrating the quiet atrocities happening under the fake Spanish shingle roofs of suburban America. What he puts on screen is as in-your-face as possible…it would be punk if it weren’t so philosophical.
Here’s the NSFW trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19y271n9kPI