Director Larry Clark on Remaking Mona Lisa and the Art of the 42-Second Film

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After a three-year hiatus from the screen, the notorious photographer and Kids/Bully/Ken Park visionary Larry Clark is planning a comeback. And believe it or not, there are no wasted, doomed teenagers in sight: Instead, Clark is the somewhat unlikely (even to himself) choice to revive Neil Jordan's 1986 underworld thriller Mona Lisa, a London-to-New York transplant featuring Mickey Rourke and Eva Green reviving roles originated by Bob Hoskins (whose performance was nominated for an Oscar) and Cathy Tyson. In the meantime, the filmmaker spent three days assembling Chavo, a 42-second-long film for the touring shorts omnibus 42×42, which also features work by David Lynch, Abel Ferrara, Asia Argento, Charles Burnett and more than three dozen other auteurs.

Movieline caught up with Clark this week to get his impressions of micro-short-filmmaking, being handpicked to remake a classic, and why contemporary film's remake culture leaves something -- OK, a lot -- to be desired.

So someone comes to you to request a 42-second film. What's your initial reaction?

It actually sounded very interesting. Of course they said, "You can do anything you want to do." It was actually Michele [Civetta, another filmmaker with a 42-second short] who called me about it. And it was a dream, so it was wide open, right? I went on the Web site and I saw a couple that had been completed, and I said, "I can do that."

Chavo is that rare film where Bruce Lee, porn and kittens intersect. Where did it come from?

From an actual dream. It's kind of a funny thing: I have trouble sleeping. And I took some organic tea -- the organic Nighty Night Tea? And there's also a tea called Bedtime, made by Yoga Tea. But rather than take one teabag, I had two different kinds. I couldn't decide which to take, so I brewed both of them. Being an old druggie, right? So I guess I got a very strong dose of herbal tea. I dreamed like crazy. It was really, really strange. First I had a nightmare, and then I dreamed three dreams. And I found out years before, if you want to remember your dreams, sit straight up. It was strange and scary to have three dreams in a row that were that vivid. So I grabbed my pad and pen and made notes. I tried to actually do the film from my memory. It wasn't really as free-form as it seems.

How long did it take to make? And did you find yourself grappling with challenges presented by the running time?

It was really kind of fun. I'd say it took a couple days, maybe three days. I found a lot of images, and then I went over to my editor's place. One thing I realized is that 42 seconds of film can be quite a long time, because I found some of the films extremely boring. They felt three minutes long. And I said, "Jesus -- you can really bore somebody and make them want to leave in 30 seconds." I didn't want to do that. I said, "I can make one more visually exciting than that." That always comes into my work. I've been making images all my life, and when I see some of my work, I think, "Gee, you don't really see anything this visually exciting on the screen."

In the end, of course, the 42×42 project is about selling vodka. What kinds of apprehensions, if any, did the commercial link give you going into it?

Well, I kind of put that out of my mind. You could do anything you wanted to do, and so there were no concessions at all as to what it was for. When you mentioned porn, I thought maybe it might be slightly dangerous. Like I might be the one filmmaker they censor! But you see nothing. It could be porn, it may not be porn. I actually tell people that she's riding a horse.

Reports have you attached to update Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa in New York with Mickey Rourke and Eva Green. Is that happening?

Yes, it's happening. We start principal photography Aug. 12. I'm casting, I'm scouting. I'll be shooting in New York because it's a New York movie, though there will be some interiors in Toronto. We'll shoot in Niagara Falls. I scouted Toronto last week, and I'm taking the red eye to meet Eva in New York tomorrow. It's happening. And I'm really happy to be working with Mickey and Eva. It's a great cast.

Who's playing the Michael Caine character?

I'm not sure yet. We're in negotiations with an actor right now.

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What about Jordan's original appealed to you?

I consider Mona Lisa a classic film -- really a great film. What actually happened was that [Irish minimogul] Patrick Meehan bought George Harrison's company HandMade Films. And when he bought the company, the library came with it. He wanted to do remakes of some of the films. He wanted to remake Mona Lisa, and I think he wants to remake The Long Good Friday. He'd been trying to make it for a year or so but said he couldn't find the right director. In fact, the story he told me -- and it's a good story -- was that he was in a hotel room one night watching television, and Bully came on. He didn't know who directed it. He didn't even particularly care for it that much; it's a difficult film for some people to watch. But he said, "Whoever directed this film, I want them to direct Mona Lisa; this film feels like what I want Mona Lisa to feel like."

The first thing I said was, "Why? It's a classic film -- why would you want to remake it?" Second, remakes hardly ever work. Third, it was done by a great living director. And that's three strikes, you're out. So I said I didn't think I was interested. But he called again, and I agreed to meet him. He kind of convinced me. I said, "If I do it, I want to make it contemporary. I want to make it New York City. I want to write a new screenplay." And he said OK. I wrote a new screenplay with David Reeves, and here we are. As an artist, I thought it would be a great challenge. And I may fail, but I wanted to accept the challenge.

When you say remakes hardly ever work --

Oh, my God. Think of all the terrible remakes. My personal favorite Sam Peckinpah movie is The Getaway. I love that movie. They made a remake of that that was so dead. It was horrible. A really, really good film that I liked -- that had so much feeling -- was the Thai film Bangkok Dangerous, which was done by these two brothers. I digress, but since I've been making films, I've noticed that there's so many good indie films made by first-time directors who bring this passion to their first film. Which I did when I made Kids, right? And then they sell out! And then all of the sudden you see these guys who made these genius first films, and it's like a fucking license to sell out and go to Hollywood, give up final cut, and make these shit fucking Hollywood movies.

So recently they remade Bangkok Dangerous with Nic Cage, right? Just out of curiosity I rented it the other day, and I couldn't even fucking watch it. One of the best things about the [original] was that the anti-hero was deaf and dumb. And in the remake, it's Nic Cage; he's not deaf and dumb. They make a girl he meets deaf and dumb, which is just stupid. And it a horrible fucking unwatchable piece of shit, and then I find out that the same guys made it! The same guys remade their own fucking film. I just don't get it.

But a lot of renowned veterans are turning to reimaginings, updatings, revisions, remakes: Werner Herzog, Abel Ferrara, Michael Haneke... now you. Is that just coincidence, or is there something specifically challenging or intriguing about approaching old work anew?

You know, I can't answer that. Maybe it's in the air, but I don't really think that's why it's happening. I think maybe there's a commercial aspect to it because film always repeats itself. One thing about film that I really noticed when I started making films was that it's all about stealing -- stealing other scenes or ideas or shots or whatever from the films that have been made. And they call it an "homage." But it's all about stealing. Maybe it's just part of the deal. Stories are repeated constantly, films are repeated constantly. Ideas, you know? And there's a lot of it done that you wouldn't really know unless you watch a lot of films.

I've asked you this a couple times, several years apart, but I just have to reconfirm for the record: Is the great Ken Park any closer to getting a proper US release on DVD?

No, it's not. We had a producer who didn't clear a lot of music. I spent a year making a zillion phone calls on a lot of the classic country songs, and they were cleared, but then the fucking producer didn't pay. And if you don't pay for six months, all bets are off. There's a tangle of craziness there, and I don't know what the fuck he did. But you can go on eBay and find the film -- but don't buy the Hong Kong version. Contractually that film can never be changed by one frame. If it's a country where there's censorship, then it can never be shown. Having said that, in the Hong Kong version, they pixelate all the nudity. In the last scene, the pixelation can't even catch up. But there's nothing I can do. The French version, the Dutch version are all uncensored. Just tell them: No Hong Kong. ♦



Comments

  • MCU says:

    I'm confused. You refer to Ken Park as if you've seen it. But you call it "the great Ken Park".
    I don't get it. And usually I'm pretty good with irony.

  • There's nothing ironic about it: I have seen it. It played at several festivals in 2002, and still does rare one-offs at art houses and film societies. And it is great.

  • MCU says:

    Well, cool. I saw it, too, at the Toronto festival where (co-director) Ed Lachman presented it. Hence my question. But it's great that we can have different opinions! God bless America, I guess.

  • Inhaler says:

    "And it [sic] a horrible fucking unwatchable piece of shit..."
    Larry Clark, I just fell in love with you.

  • Erin says:

    The real question is, will this remake have 12 year olds walking around naked?

  • simonsays says:

    Don't mess with a classic. oy...

  • I am 36 and have been a Larry Clark fan for over a decade. Actually, for moral and political reasons, I refused to watch Kids when it was first released, but I have since come to appreciate its brilliance. Funny story - as an English teacher in China I used to show clips of Kids to my highschool students in Beijing to demonstrate the contrast between Chinese and American culture. My students were slack-jawed by the end of class, and some of them even stopped coming to my class after that, heh.
    To continue, Another Day in Paradise was a decent attempt at "going Hollywood" and I thought Bully was excellent and sorely underrated. I have Wassup Rockers in my queu so I can't comment yet.
    But Ken Park - sorry, Mr. Clark, sorry Mr. Van Airsdale, that film was entirely unwatchable. It has nothing redeeming about it and is simply a bad movie (even Teenage Caveman was better than Ken Park!)
    That said, I have been waiting for Mr. Clark to stage a comeback all these years, and I expect he will with Mona Lisa. I admire him as a fellow documentary photographer as much as I do for the brutal, beautiful reality of his films. He seems like a supercool cat, too.
    Thanks for doing this interview!

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