Ken Park (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's notes

I'm sitting here thinking that I don't really know what to say about this movie. On the one hand, I want to say nothing. On the other hand, I want to write a book about it. Maybe that is a story in itself.

Ken Park is the latest film from Larry Clark, the Oklahoman who had already established a controversial body of photographic work when he decided late in life to make his still photographs move. He was 52 years old when he took up filmmaking. His subject matter is ... well, I think the title of one of his books of photographs says it all: "Teenage Lust". His entire life seems to be devoted to cataloguing the sexual urges and escapades of adolescents. His filmmaking career seems to combine that interest with a need to keep pushing the outside of the "decency" envelope, to test what can be shown by the camera in the storytelling process.

For better or worse, we live with conventions, and we assume that they will be followed. We assume that when people go into the bedroom in a film, that we will see nothing more than some romantic, inexplicit coupling accompanied by syrupy music. Mr Clark is not one to follow the conventions. Some of his earlier films had been more explicit than people expect from movies about teenagers, but Ken Park goes all the way. It never pulls the camera away. If there is oral sex going on, we see genitals being licked and swallowed. If there is masturbation, we see it in real time, complete with erect penises and dripping fluids. If someone goes to the bathroom, we see the penis and the stream emerging from it. Larry Clark knows he is courting controversy with this level of candor, and he seems to relish it.

The thematic material is no less disturbing than the explicit visuals. The film forms a loose tapestry from the stories of four teenagers in Visalia, California who know each other. Each of their relationships with the adult world is abnormal.

  • Tate lives with his grandparents, nice enough old codgers who show genuine love for one another and for Tate. But Tate is some kind of darkly disturbed individual, and he terrorizes the oldsters, as well as his dog. When Tate is not exhibiting sociopathic behavior, he's busy practicing sexual asphyxiation while he masturbates. (We see all this in real time, including the money shot.) Finally, he gets naked and slips into his grandparents' room one night and kills them. For our benefit, he narrates the murder, including his report of how it aroused him sexually. He tells us that he killed his grandfather because he was bad at games. It is fortunate that he didn't live in Detroit, or he would have killed all the sports teams.

  • Shaun seems to have a normal life and a sweet girlfriend with a nice family. Except that Shaun is also having sex with his girlfriend's mother. In bed with the mother, he discusses what she has in common with her daughter. No, he's not discussing their smiles or their favorite flavor of ice cream. It's stuff like, "you have the same pussy smell".

  • Peaches is a straight A student being raised by her deeply religious father. In appearance, she is virtually a clone of her deceased mother, so you can bet that dad will eventually decide that his daughter can fill in for mom in certain ways, but not before he comes home early one day to find his beloved and presumed virtuous daughter mounted on her boyfriend, who is tied to her bed.

  • Claude has a problem with his macho dad, who abuses him physically and berates him for being a pussy and preferring sissy sports like skateboarding to manly stuff like weightlifting. Dad does make an unusual attempt at reconciliation with his son. He comes home drunk one night, goes into the boy's room, and starts sucking his cock.

That pretty much runs the entire gamut of dysfunction and incest.

As you might imagine, the film has already left behind a trail of controversy. The Office of Film and Literature Classification in Australia refused to classify it, so it is currently banned for screening in Australia. Last week (July 3rd, 2003) an imported DVD was projected at the Melbourne Town Hall but the exhibition was shut down after a raid by the Police.

Mr. Clark says his movie is not pornographic, but that he's just being honest and revealing events that happen in real life. He says all of the characters are based on real teens who have modeled for him over the years.

Clark's films always have a limited story line. One reason is that he tries to create a cinema verite feel, a sense that we are watching real people in real time, and that they don't know they are being filmed. If the plot were highly contrived, it would detract from the sense of "reality". Another reason for the minimal story is that when one shows sex, masturbation and urination in real time, it doesn't leave much time for plot development. Those activities take up a lot of screen time without moving the characters forward. In terms of storyline, this film will never be mistaken for The Man Who Would Be King, but it manages to develop at least some kind of a forward movement. It ends the film with a threesome between the three main characters who are still alive and free. In one sense, the threesome is unexpected, since we have not previously been aware that the characters are intimate, and have not seen them together at all. In a larger sense, the threesome represents their refuge from the abnormality of their family lives. The tone of that scene is unlike that of the rest of the movie. This coupling is loving, and the talk is gentle and harmonious. These characters find with each other a degree of peace they can't achieve with their families.

We don't know if the final scene is actually happening. Maybe, maybe not. In a sense, it simply represents the time when one generation breaks away from the previous one and tries to build its own sense of cultural values. The sweetness and mutual acceptance in this scene represents a ray of hope in their otherwise doomed lives.

Clark has not only taken explicitness to new levels, but has also refined his production values over the years. The look of "Kids" is primitive, and "Teenage Caveman" is virtually at a home movie level. That is not true with Ken Park. Although the cinema verite feel is still present, Clark hired a true professional to be his D.P. and co-director. Here are some of the films in which Ed Lachman has been the cinematographer.

  1. Erin Brockovich (2000)

  2. The Virgin Suicides, The (1999)

  3. Far from Heaven (2002)

  4. The Limey (1999)

  5. Light Sleeper (1992)

  6. Mississippi Masala (1991)

  7. Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

  8. The Lords of Flatbush (1974)

Some pretty famous names sat in the director's chair for those movies. Two of them were directed by Stephen Soderbergh, one by Paul Shrader, one by Todd Haymes. There are some brilliantly photographed films on that list, including one with a deserved recent Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography (Far From Heaven). That should give you an idea that Larry Clark is not only making more explicit films, but also more professional ones. Not only is there more to see than in his earlier works, but you can actually see it, and it looks good.

Is it a good movie? Well, now, that's complicated. Who the hell can give you an unbiased answer to that question? Both Clark's explicitness and his cinema verite techniques cause a lot of obfuscation. People tend to talk about the explicitness of the content, and not the quality. People tend to fume about the disjointed nature of cinema verite without trying to determine if it produces an impact upon the audience that can't be achieved by a typical storyline.

You won't find me to be much more objective than most people, but my bias is different from most people's. I just get bored with body parts. Porn movies, for example, bore the bejeezus out of me. I don't have any objection at all to explicit sexual portrayals, but I think that they slow down the film too much when presented in real time, and I'm not convinced that the real time concept adds value. Take for example, the scene where the kid is masturbating while choking himself. Is there any value to watching this for two minutes? Couldn't the same impact be achieved more economically and dramatically in a couple of seconds? After all, masturbation is just a hand going up and down. OK, I understand the impact when you "show me the money," but do I need to see every stroke?

The film has some merit, but it's pretty damned tedious and doesn't have much content besides coupling and sex talk. Let's face it, if they created an airline version, it would barely fill up the flight from Miami to Ft Lauderdale. Merit aside, it has been both praised and disparaged. Some people praise it excessively simply because other people condemn it and censor it, ala the works of D.H. Lawrence. Who knows, future generations may see Clark as a cinema pioneer, in the way that we look back upon Lawrence as a literary pioneer.

I think that Clark is evolving a technique which may some day result in a very powerful piece of cinema, given his daring and his inherent maverick nature. He has demonstrated the ability to create strong moments. I'm still not convinced he has put enough moments together in one place to make a really good film. I think his best film was Bully, not Ken Park. In Bully, Clark managed to find a way to keep his unique "eavesdropping" grittiness, while adding form, structure, and cohesion. He was working from authentic source material based on a true story, and he hired some additional screenwriters to flesh out the story and characters.

Well let's see. He brought in writers to work on Bully, and a cinematographer to work on Ken Park. I wonder what would happen if he tried doing both in the same movie.

Jeez, he might be on to something there.



  • This is a region free PAL disc. For American customers, that means you can play it on your computer in your DVD disc drive, but can not play it on a free-standing DVD player with an American TV.


  • Maeve Qionlan shows breast, buns, and a brief look at her pubic area.
  • Tiffany Limos shows breasts and a brief open leg shot.
  • James Ransone shows everything, including on screen masturbation to climax in real time.
  • Stephen Jasso and James Bullard show everything, including erections, in a threesome.
  • Wade Williams shows his penis when he pees on screen.
  • Mike Apaletegui shows his erect penis in a sex scene with Tiffany Limos.


Tuna's notes


Based on the reviews, I expected a sex film. Fortunately, that is not what I got. In fact, there isn't a single frame of vaginal penetration, and it has less nudity than most soft core efforts. What is does have is several male penises (or is that "peni"). There are also a couple of instances of mouths and genitals touching. The film is the portrait of five High School aged friends and the adults they interact with in the small town of Visalia in central California. The four boys are all skateboarders, and all five have odd or inappropriate relationships with adults.

The film opens when one of the five skates to a peak in a skateboard park,  blows his own brains out. We never fully know why, but he had a pregnant girlfriend. One of the young men is happily screwing a girl his age, and her sexy mother, played by Maeve Quinlan. In fact, there is an amazing conversation between him and Quinlan, where he compares her daughters vaginal odor and sexual preferences with her own. Another young man does not get along with his stepfather, who is an unemployed drunk with a pregnant wife who constantly rides him for doing faggot things like riding skateboards rather than drinking beer and lifting weights. The last young man lives with his Grandparents. They seem relatively normal, although gramps tries to cheat at Scrabble. He is seriously bent, practices strangulation masturbation, and ends up stabbing both of them to death. The young lady, Tiffany Limos, lives with her religious fanatic father, and looks much like her dead mother. Dad is not pleased when he returns home and finds her in a bra and panties on top of her boyfriend, whom she has tied to the bed. The film ends on a high note, when the three that are alive and not jailed have a loving and pleasurable menage et trois.

While many decry the explicit nudity and sex, I simply didn't see anything gratuitous. The contrast between the sex involving adults and the sex among the three kids is amazing. Clearly, while the kids do not have their lives completely in order yet, they at least relate in normal and healthy ways with each other. It is only where the twisted parents get involved that things are truly screwed up.

The fairly high IMDb rating is a little surprising considering the themes and full frontal nudity, but not as surprising as the demographic breakdown, which is fascinating. This controversial film, it turns out, is a chick-flick, granny division. What's up with that? Men score it 6.0, women 7.0. When you get to voters over 45, you have 6.9 from men, and 8.5 from women. I would never have predicted this. So, is it worthless trash, or a brilliant film? Well, it looks very good, no doubt because Larry Clark hired a great DP this time around. It uses the universal theme of sex to show who these kids are, and, in some cases, why they might be that way. I believe the film accomplished its goals. Further, I think the sex and nudity were used to further the story, and don't believe it would have had the same messages with less explicitness. Shorten the sex scene between Maeve Quinlan and her daughter's boyfriend, and you wouldn't have the way she was teaching him on the fine points of giving head, a very useful lesson indeed for a young man. Shorten the strangulation masturbation, which actually only lasted for 110 seconds on screen, and you wouldn't have realized how twisted that character was. Even the real money shot showed how serious he was about this behavior. And the normal sex among the three teenagers was too short for my taste. I do find it hard to believe that a relatively small town would have this many kids in the same class with seriously screwed up adults in their lives, but it does present a believable portrait of how these adult/teen relationships affect the teens, and why some suddenly erupt. If you believe that strong erotic content can be employed in a serious film, you might find something of value here. I admire Larry Clark's nerve, and look forward to him discovering a more important script, and applying his talents.


Scoop's counter-notes

The question of whether Ken Park is a sex film is debatable. The debate hinges on your definition of terms. Is male masturbation a sex act? If your answer is yes, then Ken Park is an extremely explicit sex film. It shows that act in full, in real time, including the money shot. It is not possible to be any more explicit than that. On the other hand, if your definition of sex is restricted to intercourse, you will not see any portrayed explicitly, so it is definitely NOT a sex film. If your definition excludes masturbation and male erections but includes cunnilingus and fellatio, you would be stuck in a limbo between softcore and hardcore. It would be rated NC-17 based on the oral sex scenes, but he cunnilingus scene hides the genitalia, and is no more explicit than the one in the director's cut of Basic Instinct, while the fellatio scene shows only the initial contact between lips and genitals.

As I said, it all depends on your definition of a sex film.

The chick-flick thing actually has an explanation. Men and women probably tend to like the film about the same, but many men tend to vote down films with abundant male nudity. The female nudity in Ken Park is disappointing, while the male nudity is quite explicit. Shortbus, an even better film with far more explicit male nudity, shows the same sort of male-female profile. If the profile could somehow sort gay and straight guys, I'm pretty sure the rating for "straight guys only" would be even lower for both films.

Larry Clark, like many directors, seems to be developing to the point where he will finally produce a truly worthwhile film. The problem is that those other directors are in their 20s and 30s, while Larry is 64, a Vietnam veteran, and still hasn't decided what he wants to be when he grows up. He's three years older than Steven Spielberg, who has directed nineteen films rated 7.0 or higher and produced 39 such films. Granted ol' Larry didn't start directing until he was 52, but the fact remains that he has yet to come up with a flight plan while his crew is already announcing the Final Approach.

It's fun to listen to Clark's commentary on "Another Day in Paradise." He sounds like a dumb redneck talking about a film he doesn't quite understand. I could understand that if he were talking about 2001 - A Space Odyssey, but he's talking about a film he directed! Most of the people who make arty films are accused of being pretentious, but nobody can accuse Larry of that, or even of being able to spell it. While there's something to be said for savvy insider commentary from thoughtful and highly opinionated moviemakers like Oliver Stone, there is also something very refreshing about hearing an "average joe" talk about a process in which lighting and performances seem about as important as finding an adequate supply of Slim Jims and Malt Liquor.

Here's an interesting essay from Larry's MySpace page. The last few paragraphs are about Clark's new short film, Impaled, a documentary about making a porn film.

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it a surprisingly high 6.1/10

And ...



The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "I suppose this movie is a C-. Whether it is good or not, not many of you will like it. I can't believe all that many people will want to watch some guy beating off in real time." Tuna says, "I call this a C, in the same category as films like Baise-Moi."

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