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Q&A: Director Larry Clark on New Film 'Marfa' and Corrupt Distributors

Controversial filmmaker releasing new film on website

January 11, 2013 5:15 PM ET
Larry Clark
Larry Clark
Chiara Barzini

When Rolling Stone met Larry Clark in Rome, he was sitting in the bistro section of the art-house film club Kino, chewing through his vegetable platter and sipping on freshly squeezed fruit juices as part of a new, vegan cleanse. It wasn't exactly what one would expect from the controversial director of Kids and Bully.

However, things are changing for the cult filmmaker, who was preparing that day to talk with director Claudio Giovannesi before an audience of independent film fans as part of the Rome Film Festival. One week later, Clark's new feature, Marfa Girl, would win the top prize of the week, demonstrating that the 70-year-old remains as innovative as ever.

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Marfa Girl is a near-documentary-style incursion into a diverse Texan town near the Mexican border, one inhabited by Hispanics, working-class white families, New-Agers and artists. It is a self-released project that can be viewed on the director's website for $5.99. He talked with Rolling Stone via email about the film, his new friends in Texas and his new diet.

When we were having dinner in Rome, you said you had gotten involved with a group of French teenagers from the outskirts of Paris and that they called you in NYC while you were sleeping 'cause they wanted to have an orgy on Skype for you. On the one hand, you shook your head as if to say, "Man, these kids are wild." On the other hand, though, something was totally normal about that because teenagers have given you the keys to their legacy for many years. In Marfa Girl, the kids and the adults seem just as uninhibited. How do you do that? 
The kids understand I'm an honest man and my work feels right to them. My calling card is all my work. They can look at my books or films and see what I do.

You really pinpointed so many different subcultures in this film: white working-class people, Mexican-Americans, New-Agers, artists, border patrol policemen, creepy teachers that spank their students (and seem to like it!). How much time did you spend in Texas to really grasp all the shades of Marfa? 
A lot of time. . . I was back here six times in eight months before I made the film.

How did you approach the mostly non-professional actors?
As I said. . . I have a life's work calling card. . . and I'm cool.

In your film, Marfa is a kind of imagined community, almost like the far West: a place of pioneers, where each individual is free to make his own laws and authorities are the first ones who can't be trusted. Corporal punishment in school aside, the border patrolman character is the most lunatic and dangerous of all. What kind of research did you do on border police?
I talked to the locals, all kinds of people. Lots of women told me stories of being hit on by border patrol guys and I spoke to some girls who had dated them. The story of Angie's date with Tom [the villainous cop] was based on real life. . . I was just recreating the story I was told by a local young lady. Some of these guys are real pigs. That's their mentality. Plus I've always wanted to make a film about a bad cop.

Adam, the film's protagonist, is a wonder to look at in every single shot. How did you cast him?
The first time I visited Marfa, about nine months before I wrote and filmed the movie, I saw Adam and his friend Ben skating down the street. I stopped them and gave them a DVD of Wassup Rockers and said, "This film is about you." A couple of months later, when I came back to Marfa, I looked him up and met his mother and photographed and observed him.

I guess the first few moments I looked at him, I just saw something. I felt he had "it," like James Dean or Kate Moss or Greta Garbo. I can spot them across a crowded train station. I saw Jonathan Velasquez, then 14 years old [in 2005], walking down the street in South Central Los Angeles one day and ended up making Wassup Rockers. I can just tell. Same with Mercedes Maxwell, Adam Mediano's girlfriend in Marfa Girl, or Rosario Dawson in Kids. With those girls it's not so hard, a no-brainer.

Did you interact with any of the parents of the kids from the film?
I always meet the parents and explain what I want to do. I give them my films so there is no misunderstanding. The deal I made with Adam and his mother was, "He is only 15 years old [he turned 16 during filming]; I promise I won't show his penis." His mother and I are friends now.

Marfa Girl will never be released in cinemas. You have taken a DIY, uncompromising approach and have posted the film on your website for people to purchase and watch online. Is this a political choice or would the conservative U.S. distributors have trouble releasing it?
It's a practical choice because all the distributors are crooks and you never get paid no matter how good a deal you have, and I can never get a rating from the evil censors, anyway. Plus, this is the future and the future is now. Everyone watches all their media on their computers, so why not go directly to them and cut out the shit middlemen?

How is this experiment going so far?
It's going quite well, thank you.

This film's digital format and release online are clear marks of living in the present, but does that romantic nostalgia for 35mm ever strike you? 
No, I'm not nostalgic. Only for the feelings of making love when one is young. . . I'm fucking 70 now.

In Rome, you were taking pictures, and anyone who loves your work is just as attached to your photography as your film. Are you still inspired by photography?
Constantly inspired. . . working 24/7 everyday. What a great period of my life. I'm a happy man. My daughter is 26 and I gave her away this summer and cried holding hands with my ex-wife through the whole wedding ceremony. To see my children happy and embarking on life's great adventure was the happiest day of my life. Don't worry, the corny moments are temporary.

Are you still on your vegan cleanse? How's it going for you?
Still a committed vegan and super-healthy and skinny as I was in my twenties and my energy level is through the roof, so look out! The only physical problems are my arthritic knees. The legs go first.

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