The movie is The Warriors meets The Swimmer,” says director Larry Clark about his latest film adventure of the young, restless, and unsupervised. In Wassup Rockers, Clark—best known for the troubled-teens exposé Kids (1995)— follows a tight-knit ensemble of Latino skateboard enthusiasts from South Central as they rollick through Beverly Hills in pursuit of horny girls and the choicest urban skating arenas, falling afoul of bigoted cops, territorial rich kids, and an armed and dangerous Clint Eastwood look-alike.
Mostly wiped clean of Clark’s typical shock tactics and copious bodily fluids, Wassup Rockers unfolds as a seat-of-the-pants picaresque, suffused with goofball humanism. “I just wanted you to meet these kids who you never see in movies,” says Clark, who found his first two actors, Francisco Pedrasa and Yunior Usualdo Panameno, while recruiting skaters in Venice Beach for a French magazine shoot. “They looked a little out of place,” he recalls. “They had long hair and tight clothes. The style is called ‘young’; someone might say, ‘Why are you wearing that young shirt?’ meaning that shirt that you’ve had since you were 10 years old. Their shoes were falling apart and held together with tape, and their skateboards had no ‘pop’ left, no snap. They told us they were from the ghetto and took us out to South Central to meet their friends and family.”
When Clark later returned to their neighborhood to deliver copies of the magazine, he also took the guys out for a day of skateboard fun. “The next Saturday at nine in the morning, they called and said, ‘We’re ready to go skating. Where are you?’ And that became our date, every Saturday. This went on for more than a year, and I sketched out the first half of the film from their stories, or from things that happened to them while we were together.”
Clark fostered a loose, spontaneous process, which pays exhilarating dividends on-screen. “We had maybe a 30-page script, and we rehearsed very little. I wanted them to do it on the day. As a director, my job was just to get them in a position where they’re comfortable enough to tell their stories. For the scene when Jonathan [Velasquez] talks about his first time, the night before we shot, I said, ‘Jonathan, when you go to bed tonight, turn off the light and relive it in real time, moment by moment, every instant of what happened.’ The next day, when he’s telling the story for the camera, all these details that he’d blocked or forgotten came out, so it was new for him and new for me, and that’s what I wanted.”
The skaters’ encounter with a racist police officer is taken from a real-life incident that Clark witnessed (“The cop looked just like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2,” he recalls), and after Wassup Rockers wrapped, a shooting outside Locke High School, where several of the actors were students, echoed the film’s startling first moments. “These kids live with this violence every day—walking to school they could get shot,” the director says. Clark was also intrigued by the racial and social politics of South Central, particularly the tensions between young blacks and Latinos. “The style in the ghetto has to be gangsta, but these kids want to listen to punk rock and play in their punk rock band. But if you’re not street style, you have to fight for who you are.”
At the moment, Clark is pushing to bring several more projects to fruition, including a remake of Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa set in contemporary New York and an autobiographical screenplay by Tiffany Limos, star of Clark’s Ken Park and the filmmaker’s sometime girlfriend, called An American Girl From Texas. There’s also the unsettled matter of the hardcore yet tender Ken Park, an outrageously funny ensemble piece which first screened back in 2002 but has not yet won a theatrical release in the States. “It has played all over the world, but not here, because there are issues with music clearances,” Clark explains. “Our producer turned out to be—I don’t want to call him names, because he’s not worth calling names. He said everything was clear; I had all these e-mails from him for a year saying it’s done. Turns out he didn’t clear anything. So we’re starting over and it’s just a terrible mess. Hopefully one day we’ll get it out there.” In the meantime, Clark directs interested parties to the Internet. “You can go on eBay and get the DVD. The Russian DVD is good, the French DVD is good, the Dutch DVD is good. But don’t get the Hong Kong DVD, because they pixelated all the nudity out.”