Larry Clark wants to get down with the young papis in South Central; it’s why “presentamos” replaces “presenting” in the opening credits of Wassup Rockers. Such fronting is strange given that Clark’s latest teen-sexploitation is about staying true to one’s self, but at least the lie is sweet—that is, until the film’s protagonists go playing in 90210. Working, again, with a cast of non-professionals, the director’s portrait of mostly Salvadorian boys who shirk hip-hop and guns for punk and skateboards is fashioned around a series of alternately cutesy and shrill sexually-charged sketches. Clark, like his actors, has been called a natural, and though Wassup Rockers is rather timid by Ken Park standards, it’s also strangely calculated. For example: Kico (Francisco Pedrasa) and Jonathan (Jonathan Velasquez) act out a complex social drama with their action figures that exists only for the audience’s benefit—a way of telling us how they feel about the black and brown thugs in South Central who mock their contrarianism. The game is funny until you realize the game isn’t theirs but Clark’s (real teens their age are probably too old or think they’re too cool to play with toys in front of a girl)—then it’s just obvious and disingenuous. In Beverly Hills they encounter a series of ghouls, each more grotesque and offensive than the next: a cop who can’t tell his Mexicans from his Salvadorians, a spoiled rich girl with a brown fetish (she thinks Jonathan’s uncircumcised penis “looks dangerous”), a preening queen who wants to photograph Jonathan (really he just wants to see his cock), a gun-toting actor who looks like Peter Fonda but is likely meant as a proxy for Charlton Heston, and a plastered Janice Dickinson. Never on film have a bunch of lecherous perverts and racists spelled out the nuances of their pathologies with such bald-faced specificity as the monsters Clark has created for this film. It might be amusing if it wasn’t so condescending to everyone involved. Saved from the evil denizens of Beverly Hills by an inexplicably interconnected web of Hispanic maids who refer to the city in untranslated Spanish as “un infierno” (that’s “hell” to you gringos), the boys are returned to the relative safety of South Central. For Clark, aligning himself with children has always meant dissing adults. Now he’s aligning himself with barrio boys by steamrolling white people.
There are some brutal instances of edge enhancement, but the transfer is otherwise exquisite, with ethereal visual textures that are as striking as the booming 5.1 surround track.
What you see is what you get in Clark’s films, but it’s comforting to hear a director, willingly or not, confirm your deepest suspicions about their work: After discussing, at great length, the impetus for the film (including two influences that shouldn’t have gone over my head: John Cheever’s short story "The Swimmer" and Walter Hill’s The Warriors), he mentions how he wanted to perform a "turnaround" by essentially deifying the native habits of his Latino characters, which meant stereotyping the story’s white people. Also included on this disc is additional footage of the "Home Battle" scene, a behind-the-scenes footage of the film’s rockers that ends with Clark declaring off camera how he wants to make these boys into movie stars, and a trailer of the film, in addition to previews for Johnny Was, The Proposition, and Relative Strangers.
Go home Larry Clark.