South Central skater punks open for Slamdance
Skateboarding in tight jeans with bandanas wrapped on their wrists and ankles, the South Central, L.A. kid protagonists of the Slamdance Film Festival’s opening night film, "Wassup Rockers," dodge more than taunts from critical baggy-pant homeboy neighbors. They dodge bullets and a one-part magical, one-part tragic adventure into Beverly Hills.
"Wassup Rockers" writer and director Larry Clark explains the first half of the film is based on true events, while the last half, shot in pink Beverly Hills mansions, he penned himself. The kids he chose to cast in his film are not actors, but the real thing, he explains. Punk rock, a movement that materialized in the late 70s and early 80s from a rebellious white, middle-class youth, has reemerged in Hispanic communities around the world, he says. Many of the original artists, he claims, have recently re-recorded their songs in Spanish. The seven skater-punk boys have a bond in real life, and the girlfriends that come and go are also real, Clark says. These were the kids that gave him a peek inside their world, and nothing would do for Clark, but to work with them. "I was really charmed by these kids, and you never see Latino kids in film, especially kids from South Central," he observes. Those who have seen Clark’s previous films, his 1995 film, "Kids" about promiscuous and callous H.I.V. positive New York teenagers or 2002’s "Ken Park," about California skateboarders who, will recognize Clark’s blunt portrayal of teenagers experimenting with sex. For instance, 15-year-old leader of the "Wassup Rockers" motley crew, Jonathan, the chosen leader, describes in detail how he lost his virginity in sixth grade to his less-experienced friend, Spermball. In contrast to his previous films, the sex is more suggestive than full-frontal. In "Kids," where bedroom scenes between adolescents had the potential to shock a number of people in the audience, "Wassup Rockers" has a tendency to be more suggestive. There’s sex, but for the most part, it’s behind doors or described later. On several occasions, kissing is interrupted when someone walks into a room. Also unlike a number of Clark’s other films, "Wassup Rockers" does not portray much drug abuse, though there are a few forties passed around at a house party. Even then, the party is much more about getting together to bang on drums, strum guitar and rock out, than to get high. The soundtrack features a compilation of largely local ghetto punk rock bands in South Central, according to Clark. "These bands are terrific this great band called Moral Decay actually opens the film," he says. "They’re all really what we used to call ‘garage bands,’ kids just get together in their basements or in the garage and play." For Clark, it appears, the immediate threat of the neighborhood’s daily gang violence raises the stakes high enough. The fact that the boys manage to continue to pursue their alternative lifestyle, despite harassment from everyone from the black girls on the corner to men on the street to older men armed with weapons, is rebellion and danger enough. "These kids are good kids who get messed with all the time," Clark observes. "They have to fight to be themselves. The pressure to conform to ghetto standards is stronger than it might be elsewhere."
"Wassup Rockers" opens with a candle vigil on the side of the street for a close friend who was shot and killed in the neighborhood. Clark had film crewmembers light a new wick for the scene and it was part of a script, however, he says he had known the teenage boy, and that when he died, he wrote a new opening for the film.
Senseless violence plays a role in the second half, as well, with four deaths and one police arrest. The kids do not escape unscathed.
The adventure in Beverly Hills, begins when the group travels by bus to a preppy high school with a sweet skateboarding spot. There, two wealthy girls (inspired by Paris and Nicky Hilton, according to Clark) size up Jonathan and his friend, Kiko and invite them back to their house.
Eventually, a police officer chases the boys off the stairs they had been jumping off of, and they end up taking the girls up on their invitation, but the visit is cut short, and the boys arrive dirty and scraped in a number of scenes and parties typical of Beverly Hills. Supermodel and reality television star Janis Dickinson makes an appearance in the chase sequence as a very rich, alcoholic housewife, and a trigger-happy Charlton Heston figure, who Clark admits has an uncanny resemblance to Clint Eastwood.
"I was just tripping on people who live in Beverly Hills," Clark explains. "In all my films, I’m always making social comments."
But the focus is always on the kids themselves and staying true to their personalities throughout the film using their real names and actual relationships. The lives of the kids themselves was essential, Clark emphasizes, though training the untamed city kids to be actors was a challenge, he admits. Ultimately, he feels the work reflects his vision, he says. "I’m really happy with the film and I think it’s the best film I’ve ever made," he explains. "These are the crazy, wild kids I met on the street and I wanted the film to be about their characters. I wanted people to see these kids I just think it’s a really good film." "Wassup Rockers" premieres Thursday, Jan. 19, at 7 p.m. in The Sitting Room Theater at 255 Main Street. The second show, also in The Sitting Room Theater, will be Friday, Jan. 20 at 8:30 p.m. For more information visit http://www.slamdance.com.
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