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Ken Park - Central Partnership Print E-mail
User Rating: / 14
Written by Ray Casta   
Saturday, 12 January 2008

Directed by: Larry Clark
Written by: Harmony Korine
Produced by: Kees Kasander, Jean-Louis Piel
Cinematography by: Larry Clark, Ed Lachman
Editing by: Andrew Hafitz
Music by: Matt Clark
Special Effects by: Reinier van Brummelen
Cast: James Bullard, Stephen Jasso, Wade Williams, Tiffany Limos, James Ransone
Year: 2003
Country: USA
Language: English
Color: Color
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Video: Region 0 PAL (Russian)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Distributor: Central Partnership

In Larry Clark's previous films, "Kids" and "Bully", the parents of the teenage characters were barely seen or heard from.  Set in the Visalia suburbs of California, "Ken Park" focuses on the teenagers in their home environments.  It delves deep beneath the suburban lifestyle, eavesdropping in the lives of its adult characters and their relationship with their children.  Our key characters are: Shawn (James Bullard), Claude (Stephen Jasso), Tate (James Rasome), and Peaces (Tiffany Limos).  Shawn is not only involved sexually with his current girlfriend, but her mother, Rhonda (Maeve Quinlan).  Claude is at odds with his father (Wade Williams), an unpleasant, alcoholic bully.  Tate lives without privacy in his grandparent’s custody.  He shows severe disdain towards them -- his grandmother barges into his room to bring him snacks, and he accuses his grandfather of cheating in a game of Scrabble.  Peaches lives in a strictly religious environment with her father (Julio Oscar Mechoso), yet she maintains a sexual life behind his back.

Is "Ken Park" a porno in disguise or a brilliant film?  In its groundbreaking portrayal of graphic sexual exploration, it will be viewed as the former by most viewers.  As violence (beatings, rapes, and brutal murders) are shown in the majority of films nowadays, Larry Clark depicts explicit sex in his films as normal, daily acts and not as obscene.  The theme of sex in Clark's films is recurring, but each work has served a different purpose.  In "Kids" the teenagers have sex out of a selfish hunger.  In "Bully" the teenagers have sex simply to kill time because they are bored.  In "Ken Park" they have sex as a way to escape their violent environment.  Sex is the last pleasure in their lives -- it's the only thing they can feel anymore, they don't function properly without it.  The "threesome" is sad, tender, calm, and serene -- it is a beautifully poetic image.  When their stories culminate, they meet with complete understanding of one and another.  The sex they have is out of redemption, hope, and impunity.

The "crotch shots" in "Bully" elevated its voyeuristic tone, representative of characters those shots were of.  In Clark's films, he bases the common theme on conflict between teenagers and people in their lives dominating and ruling them.  In "Ken Park", the theme of domination is driven to a point, where the teenage characters are abstractions that live in the self-contained film world of Clark's own perspective.  His approach to the material is no different than what Todd Solondz did with "Happiness", or how Neil LaBute approached "Your Friends & Neighbors".  "Ken Park" is Clark at his most personal, challenging, and daring.  In an early scene, Shawn has his younger brother pinned down on the floor and demands, "Tell me that you love me, tell me!" and it's an important instance that drives the focal theme of the film, of domination and rule.  When the brother gives into Shawn's dominance, and tells him he loves him, he leaves and tells him he hates him.  This crucial theme is told differently in each vignette.

Harmony Korine ("Gummo") penned the screenplay before "Kids" was financed, and it was based on the experiences of Clark and his friends growing up.  The adult characters are pathetic and grouchy in the simplistic sense, but their scenes carry on genuine emotion and affection.  Claude's drunkard father is an unsettling figure to watch yet his relationship with Claude is oddly touching.  Furthermore, they are taking care of the pregnant mother (Amanda Plummer), who herself hides subtlety within each of her facial expressions.  The cast performs with sheer authenticity, portraying the purity their troubled characters mask, and it's practically because of them, the movie works.  The stunning visual scheme of cool yellows, greens, and blues is captured beautifully by Ed Lachman ("Far from Heaven"), which has sharp attention to detail in composition and luminous lighting.  This "fly-on-the-wall" camerawork exposes the harsh realities laying beneath the suburban lifestyle: humanity, inhumanity, and humor, bleakness, authenticity, and beauty.

In every opening sequence of the vignettes, an age gap is established: Claude and his father, Shawn and his girlfriend's mother, Tate and his grandparents, and Peaches and her father.  Relationships in the film are complex -- they have layers and layers of sexual dysfunction, like Tate and his own dark, dysfunctional relationship with his grandparents.  The story erupts in sexualized violence, as he masturbates in the bathroom and brutally murders his grandparents while he is nude with a knife in hand.  If the sexual acts between the actors in the film is shocking to many, then how shocking is this sequence?  Expressed sexuality is an extension of dominance within dominance of the relationships.  Example: Shawn and Tate are taken back into a state of infantilism (Shawn has a deeply innocent-looking expression while he eats out his girlfriend's mom; Claude is assaulted in his raped while he sleeps; Peaches is the dominant one in sexual acts, tying up her boyfriend and bites him violently).

The character, Ken Park (who was a professional skater in the 1980's) is representative of the harsh, never-ending cycle of nihilism and there is only one way to break the cycle: to die.  He does at the start of the film by committing suicide with a gunshot to the head -- his presence carries on for the rest of the film, hovering over the characters.  Ken Park is the only character who doesn't carry on the constant cycle of everyday domination and the film ends abruptly for a reason, with a question asked by Ken's pregnant girlfriend: "Do you wish your parents aborted you?"  The film ends with particular closure to culminate his narrative (his baby now lives without being the abortion his parents most likely wanted at one point; the father out of the family unit is an option rather than the baby out of the unit), and it's the culmination of the other teenagers which suggests how they've come to some kind of peace with the world whenever they're having sex.  Once they're in their households, the cycle continues.  "Ken Park" demands to be seen and judged on its own merits and not shelved, banned, or dismissed.  As pure nihilism is captured on screen, it's a masterful piece of arthouse cinema.


- N/A

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Ken Park - "Bullet to the Brain!"

Ken Park - "Hey Dog"

Ken Park - "Milf Sex"

Ken Park - "Nasty Feet"

Ken Park - "Bondage Peaches"

Ken Park - "After the Slaughter"

Ken Park - "Cock N' Balls"

Ken Park - "Skater Vs. Lifter"

Ken Park - "Got Milf?"

Ken Park - "Asshole"

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