LARRY CLARK SNAPS ANOTHER SHOT OF PARADISE
A.G. Basoli / IndieWire / 1998
Authenticity seems to remain as much of a priority in Larry Clark's films as it was in his art work. His seminal book Tulsa was comprised of photographs he took of himself and his outlaw friends between the years 1962 and 1971 put him on the map as one of the most important photographers of the last quarter of the century. Four other books followed and over 50 solo exhibitions at major art galleries. His work is currently on display in permanent collections at museums worldwide. Having graduated with honors from the fickle world of art, Clark proceeded to tackle the equally unpredictable world of motion pictures and made a splash at Sundance in 1995 with his controversial directorial debut Kids. The film was due to be released by Disney-owned Miramax Films, but due to a Disney policy against releasing NC-17 rated films, Miramax Co-Chairs Bob and Harvey Weinstein created Shining Excalibur, a one-shot company, to release the film. Kids was a critical and box-office success.
Clark's second feature, Another Day in Paradise a Trimark release starring James Woods and Melanie Griffith, is imbued with his genuine "been there, done that" attitude. The film, a searing portrait of outlaw life in early 1970s Midwestern America, maintains the urgency and realism typical of Clark's work. A sultry score of blues and soul songs marks a departure from the crime genre which typically relies on heavy handed scoring to heighten the tension. Clark's use of music, instead, delicately punctuates the relationship between the main characters as the plot progresses. Natasha Gregson-Wagner and Vincent Kartheiser in supporting roles complete the ensemble centered around the charismatic performances delivered by the two leads. Larry Clark speaks here about the life, the biz, and the art.
A.G. Basoli: I liked the way you associated the action with the music, it was very seductive. There's like a crescendo in the way the soul and blues weave their way into the film as the action progresses. How did you chose your soundtrack?
Larry Clark: That's the music I've always loved. When I was ten years old, in the fifties, I used to lay in bed under the covers and listen to the all great blues guys and then when I was twelve, rock and roll came along, and then in the sixties and early seventies all the great soul music: Otis Redding and Percy Sledge, and all those people. So I wanted to use that music in the film, because it was period music, the film actually takes place in 1971. So that was appropriate for the film in respect to other music and I still listen to it. So it was a thrill to be able to use that music. And when I was able to get Clarence Carter to be in the movie it was really great, really great.
Basoli: What compelled you about the manuscript or the story to make the film?
Clark: Well, you know I was an outlaw. When I was fifteen I was a junkie and I spent many years being an outlaw. I was a burglar, and an armed robber, and a violent person, and I went to a penitentiary. I took every drug on the map for many years, so I was very very familiar with that lifestyle. And I've been an artist for many years, I've done five books. My early books are autobiographical about that period of my life. I did not want to make a film of my books, but I wanted to make a film about the lifestyle. So this was the perfect opportunity for me to make a film of that genre, but what I wanted to do was make a Hollywood genre movie, that had been made before, but make it real because the Hollywood movies are all bullshit. It's not the way it is. Juliette Lewis who plays the white trash southern woman in all these movies, that's not real. It's not real, it's Hollywood's take on that woman. That is not the way southern women are -- that is not happening. It's all Hollywood jive. So it was actually a reaction to the bullshit movies that have been made. I wanted to make a film that was real. The whole ending of the film was not in the book at all, but that's what would happen in those situations when things got extreme to the point where something had to be done. That's what would happen.
Basoli: How did you finance this film?
Clark: It was financed by a bank. We actually got the money on my name. No collateral. Amazing, huh? Amazing that someone would give me five million dollars to make a movie, a bank. Amazing, I'm still amazed, they must be nuts, but it worked out. We've almost paid the back, very, very close. We'll be even and that'll be it.
Basoli: How long did it take you to do Another Day in Paradise from beginning to end?
Clark: Over two years. Every time you make a film it's at least two years out of your life. So you're talking about a long time. For Kids, I spent two years hanging with the kids, it took over a year to get the money and then made the film and then I did post for a couple of years. We're talking about five years. Films are the hardest thing to do in the world. And this last one is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It's a long process. It's crazy to be a filmmaker.
Basoli: So why did you decide to make the transition to film?
Clark: I am a storyteller and as I said I've been an artist for many years, so this was a natural extension of what I have been doing for a long, long time -- it was just time to make a film. I went from photography to video installations and art galleries and I'm in museums all over the world - a lot of art shows. It was just a natural extension. This time it was somewhat interesting for me because it was the first time I worked with actors. Kids was all with street kids. No one had ever acted before. So this was a chance to try and use actors which I had never done before and I got the best actors; James Woods was amazing... [and] Melanie Griffith.
Basoli: You got an incredible performance out of her.
Clark: An incredible performance. And if she doesn't get an Academy Award for this something is really wrong. Because she deserves one. She's been making movies for the last twelve years playing Melanie Griffith, who is glamorous Melanie Griffith, and I gave her a chance to act. I didn't glamorize the role. And she came through. I was trying to take her away from the glamour. It was difficult. We battled, battled, battled, but at the end, she came through for me. And she's probably one of the classiest ladies I know and a beautiful person and a great actress as proven by this movie.
Basoli: How did you approach rehearsal and directing the actors.
Clark: Well, you know photographers think like photographers, directors think like directors so there's all these rules. In Hollywood they make movies and it's like a formula -- it's all cookie cutter 'there's a way to do it, you have to do it that way.' I didn't do it that way. So we had big battles with the crew with everybody, with actors because I was coming at it completely different. I was coming at it as an artist and I think that's why the film works. Because I did it different than anybody. But they went with me and it worked.
Basoli: Upcoming projects?
Clark: Hopefully I'll make another film next year. Punk Rock. It's one of my favorite kinds of music. My son is fifteen now, and there's all this new punk-rock. Punk ska, punk rock, punk this, punk that. He keeps me up to date. I'm working on the screenplay now so hopefully it will happen. But it always takes longer. I would say next year and could be next two years.
Basoli: Will you be working with the same team?
Clark: No, other people.