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It's ironic that Larry Clark's most cogent treatise on America's embattled relationship with its unwanted children will likely never receive distribution in the country of its origin. California's armpit town of Visalia serves as a breeding ground for suicide and familial abuse. With a script by Harmony Korine, Clark establishes the film's nature with a skateboarder named Ken Park who goes to a local skate park to blow his brains out on the sculpted cement.
The deceased "Krap Nek," as he was called by his friends, serves as an associational connecting point for his teenaged pals Shawn (James Bullard), Claude (Stephen Jasso), Tate (James Ransone), and Peaches (Tiffany Limos), whose separately enunciated personal stories point to greater social ills of the community.
Shawn is sleeping with his girlfriend's oversexed mother Rhonda (Maeve Quinlan) during the day while her husband is away at work. Rhonda's youngest daughter watches soft-core porn in the dining room while mom get busy with her adolescent conquest.
Claude clips his pregnant mother's (Amanda Plummer) toenails when he isn't dodging the wrath of his hateful alcoholic father (Wade Williams). He spends time hanging out with his pot-smoking skate pals in their clubhouse apartment.
Tate is a remorseless sociopath who can't conceal his furious contempt for his well-meaning grandparents or for his three-legged dog.
Peaches carries on a love affair with her well-mannered boyfriend who appears to meet with the approval of Peaches's religiously-obsessed widowed father (Julio Oscar Mechoso).
The identifications of social classes are significant the film's theme of endangered children. All of the kids come from lower class homes. Shawn spends most of his time at Rhonda's middle class house as an escape route that he constantly obsesses over. A post-coital conversation between he and Rhonda makes up one of the best scenes in the film because it directly speaks to the disparate motivations of both characters.
Larry Clark's cinema has, if nothing else, very specifically delineated the line drawn by the American court's decency standards under the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act (generally referred to as "2257"). Without Clark adhering to the code, I could not have screened "Ken Park" at Manhattan's School of Visual Arts as part of their series on art and censorship.
Still applicable in the 21st century is Judge John M. Woolsey's 1932 decision that James Joyce's "Ulysses" was "not pornographic." One idea expressed during the trial, which took place between World War I and World War II, was if the content "made you want to throw up" then it was art; if on the other hand it sexually aroused the reader then it must be "pornography."
While "Ken Park" is an example of exploitation cinema, it effectively pulls back the curtain on a pervasive aspect of American culture that a film like "Precious" deals with from an African American perspective. The eroticism in "Ken Park"— as when Claude's father molests him while the boy sleeps, or when Rhonda ties her boyfriend up to her bed — is there to explicate subconscious aspects of the characters' inner lives. It is a shocking film, but not one that should be banned.