Review from the Vault: The most awesome: WASSUP ROCKERS

Larry Clark is one of the most controversial directors of our age. For his age of early 60’s he can come across as a slightly pedophilic teenage voyeur. All his films, from Kids, to Bully and the banned film Ken Park feature a guilty voyeurism of shirtless near naked teenage boys. Ken Park could not find a studio to release the film and could be classed as close to underage porn. He finds these young stars from the streets, and minimally uses trained actors which gives his films a slightly docco feel. You either loves Clark’s films or you hate them – not many people will say “it was ok” – it will either be “brilliant” or “disgusting”.


Larry Clark's Wassup Rockers
Larry Clark’s Wassup Rockers


I am in the former category and love all his work. I find him very similar to Calvin Klein or the attitude of Germaine Greer with her book on “The Beautiful Boy”. In 2003, The Beautiful Boy was published, an art history book about the beauty of teenage boys, which is illustrated with 200 photographs of what The Guardian disparagingly called “succulent teenage male beauty”. Greer described the book as an attempt to address modern women’s apparent indifference to the teenage boy as a sexual object and to “advance women’s reclamation of their capacity for, and right to, visual pleasure” (Greer 2003). The photograph on the cover was of Bjorn Andresen in his character of Tadzio in the film Death in Venice (1971). The actor has been quoted by journalists as complaining about the picture’s use. Much similar is Clark’s vision on male youth and increasingly female youth. His camera lingers on crotch areas, on nipples and on closeups of mouths and youth mannerism. He captures the longing we occasionally all experience when we happen upon someone of extreme beauty – we all take that extra glance and Clark does it without embarrassment in all his films.


The Beautiful Boy - Germaine Greer
Wassup Rockers Jonathan Velasquez


In 1995, photographer Larry Clark burst onto the indie scene with the controversial KIDS, a tough, realistic look at a group of teenagers hanging around the seamier side of New York City, getting involved in sex and drugs amid the AIDS crisis. A decade later, Clark (BULLY, KEN PARK) went across the country to make WASSUP ROCKERS, about a group of Latino teenagers experimenting with sex, playing and listening to punk rock, dressing in their own style, and looking for the perfect place to skateboard. The seven teens, led by Jonathan (Jonathan Velasquez), take two buses to get to Beverly Hills High, where they start boarding down difficult steps. They are excited when two white students, Jade (Laura Cellner) and Nikki (Jessica Steinbaum), invite them to their house, but they are soon on the run after being harassed by a racist cop (Chris Neville). They make it to the huge house, but they have to take off again when Jade and Nikki’s rich white male friends catch them there, sending them off on a perilous journey through ritzy Beverly Hills as they try to get back to South Central – what one of them proudly calls the Ghetto. No matter how hard the kids try, they are unable to avoid violence. It is too entrenched in their dangerous world. In this gritty urban drama of class conflict, racism, and boys just trying to be boys, Clark displays how deep the ills of society still go, all set to a raging punk soundtrack featuring songs by such bands as South Central Riot Squad, the Remains, Moral Decay, and the Retaliators. Thanks to Rotten Tomoatoes.


Wassup Rockers Larry Clark


Clark actually met these kids, who are all the real deal and without any formal training, by chance. While attempting to do a photoshoot for one of the actresses of Bully he wanted some skaters for a background. He met two of the skaters, Kico and Chunky, at a skate park. He eventually gained their trust and took them to various skate parks for the photoshoot. In this process he met the rest of the group with Jonathan Velasquez being someone the camera, and no doubt Clark, fell in love with. After spending some time with them they started calling Clark and getting him to drive them to different skate places and he ended up spending about a year of Saturday’s with them travelling to skate parks and becoming their friend. In this process he started to see the amazing originality of their story and realised he wanted a film of their story. At the time they were so unique, wearing clothes known as “young” – these are clothes they were wearing a few years prior and no longer fit. They were wearing these clothes in the ghetto of Sth Central LA – somewhere that everyone wears baggy clothes and to be different can be dangerous. This did not bother them at all in the slightest and after Clark completed the photoshoot for a magazine and was promised 14 page spread they loved the images so much the boys scored 27 pages in the magazine and two covers – one featuring the actress from Bully and the other featuring Jonathan Velasquez. Following this fashion photographers the world over wanted Jonathan and the boys for their next campaign. Clark declined on their behalf due to the film but soon after the skinny jean craze began so these kids from Sth Central LA (the ghetto) could be responsible for a world wide fashion craze because they (mainly Jonathan) made it look so sexy.


Wassup Rockers Jonathan Velasquez


As for this film – the first half of the movie is made up from unscripted tales of the boy’s actual lives, it is quite heartfelt and pretty much a re-enactment of their past. Clark knew which direction he wanted the story to go and had heard all of their stories from getting to know them so he just set up the scence and the script would read “Jonathan relives his first time” – he felt he did not want the kids to have to remember lines and knew they knew their stuff. The second half of the film picks up the pace and is a great story of kids out of their comfort zone and used his weekend trips with the boys to create the story. The kids catch two buses to Beverly Hills High to go skating and so begins Clark’s slight ode to “The Warriors” about a group of people having to get out of a dangerous place to safety. Just by being who they are trouble seems to find them wherever they go. From here drama abounds with much humor while also explaining the massive gap in social status from one side of LA to the other. There is one scene with Kico on a bed just talking to a Beverly Hills teenager and Kico is telling his true story – this one scene was the most powerful scene from two teenagers I have seen for a very long time and summed up the essence of their differences and of the film in a 7 minute scene – it is brilliant.


Wassup Rockers Kico


The film has some cool cameos from a Clint Eastwood lookalike, to Janice Dickinson and renowned fashion photographer Jeremy Scott who is parodying himself and perhaps even Clark in his brief performance.


Wassup Rockers Jonathan Velasquez


This one won’t be for everyone – you have to cope with hard core punk music as the soundtrack but it totally suited the film for me. I think this film came out too early – it was released in 2005 and was pretty much unheard of. Critics also either loved it or hated it. If released today I think it would be a very powerful and enjoyable tale. It is much softer than Clark’s other films but never wavers in its truth to its story and enjoyment. It is out now on DVD and worth every 5 pops.


5 Pops



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