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When Larry Met Salvi

FilmWhen Larry Met Salvi


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PW caught up with Larry Clark over sushi to talk about skateboarding, gangbanging and his wild ride through La-La Land with Jonathan, Kiko, Porky, Eddie and Spermball.

The movie starts out as a documentary, and then halfway through turns into a comical and fictional Warriors-style adventure. How did that evolve?
“The original idea was to stay in South Central and do that story. But then we were taking the kids skating every week, so we’d go all over Hollywood and L.A. and they’d see white people. They were always talking about the differences, about how white people do certain things. For example, they’d never been to a restaurant where you can sit down and people bring you food. In the restaurants in South Central, you have to pay up front and you get your food through a slot and take it to the table yourself. They’d never seen people putting napkins in their laps.

“I wanted them to interact with white people in the movie, so I just dreamed up the second half. We were skating in Hollywood one day and I said, ‘What if Paris and Nicky Hilton drove by in a convertible and saw Jonathan and Kiko and thought they were hot?’ That was how the process in my mind started.

“Okay, so they get in a fight with the girls’ boyfriends and run and they’re in someone’s backyard in Beverly Hills—who are they gonna find? I was tripping out and said, ‘Charlton Heston—he’s probably been in his backyard
for 30 years with a rifle, waiting for a person of color to trespass so he can shoot him.’”

Were the kids intimidated by the white world you introduced them to?
“They weren’t intimidated at all—outwardly anyway. Their world was basically a few square blocks of South Central. Now their world got very much bigger. So their process was just to be themselves. And they were a group too, so they had each other. And I just let them be themselves. I wanted this energy on the screen. I couldn’t say, ‘Sit down here and shut up while we set up.’ It wasn’t going to work that way. So they were undisciplined and wild, and it was difficult to say the least. They were goofing with everybody and nicknaming everybody and playing tricks on everybody.”

What was your nickname?
“Unrepeatable. Unprintable. ‘Old white motherfucker.’ But it was all part of the deal. It was funny.”

One of the most interesting things about the movie was how it breaks with the old racial politics as seen in a movie like Crash. Portraying a group of Latino kids from South Central who aren’t gangbangers—who are just innocent punk rock skaters—feels so fresh.
“This is the real Crash. The wonderful [unscripted] scene in the movie when Kiko and Vicki are sitting on the bed talking and Kiko’s telling her about his life and she’s asking questions and says, ‘What kind of people?’ I know what he’s talking about and he knows what he’s talking about, but she doesn’t know anything about his life. So he says: ‘Black people. They want us to be like them.’ And when he said ‘black people’—now, you’ve seen my films, you know the kind of things I’ve done—but this was the first time ever I went: ‘Can you say that?’ It was so politically incorrect. It was so honest.”

How come these kids never gravitated toward gangs?
“They know people in that world. Some of them have family members who are gangbangers, and they see their brothers in jail and they see people getting killed. They can do all the gang signs because when they’re little kids, they learn all that shit. They can see it sucks. They can see their friends who overnight go from being a punk rocker with tight clothes to the next day their hair’s all off and they’re wearing baggy clothes and then they’re drinking and smoking weed and not skating anymore and pretty soon they’re in jail. In the year it took to get the movie financed, I lost two of the kids to gangs.”

Do you stay in touch with the rest of them?
“I can’t be one of those guys who comes in and caps on someone and then walks away. I’m in for the long haul. And I worry about them. Like my own kids, I worry about them all the time. It’s so dangerous. The schools there suck so bad.”

What’ll people get from watching these kids?
“I hope people see these kids and see South Central as they are. Most of the kids don’t want to be in gangs. They don’t want to do that shit. They just want to be kids. But in the ghetto, if you want to be different, or just be yourself, you have to fight to have long hair and tight pants and listen to punk rock and just have fun. There was pressure on them to cut off their hair and wear baggy clothes and listen to gangster rap and smoke pot and act gangster. I just want people to see these kids. You never see these kids in film. People need to see these kids.” ■