July 10, 2002
Arts and Entertainment
YBC televises Larry Clark's lust.
By Johnny Ray Huston
THE MAN IS handsome and knows it too well. He's striking a classic rebel pose: white T-shirt, dark hair finger-combed back into a loose pompadour, a scowl on his face as he sucks in some nicotine. He's mastered this pose to the degree that he can do it while lying on his back in bed. His eyes look away from the picture-taker directly above him, and they're covered by shadows anyway. It takes a while, at least a few seconds, to realize that someone else is in the picture, looking directly at the camera: a baby, semi-cradled by the man's left arm, a mere afterthought in comparison to the cigarette he's smoking.
That photo, in the recently reissued book Tulsa, is trademark early Larry Clark 1963, to be exact. Watching Clark's Teenage Caveman (2001) on the type of screen television it was originally made for, I used my remote control's pause button to try and find a still image one-tenth as potent. I wound up with a collection of fashion-ad rejects, soft-core sex and hard-gore ultraviolence pics. Bad timing has nothing to do with it. Teenage Caveman possesses the same dramatic setup as the aforementioned Tulsa photo reckless parents and feckless (or helpless) children, and Clark's camera as a witness of ambiguous complicity but the noir realism of Clark's initial work has given way to full-on burlesque.
Teenage Caveman is terrible with such uniform consistency that it might be Clark's most cohesive movie to date. The visceral hate-fucks of Kids and Bully were undercut by glib moralizing. This wholly glib TV "remake" of a 1958 Roger Corman picture exposes what few critics initially realized: as a director, Clark has been making teen-exploitation movies from day one. While Kids and Bully possess a very particular energy a signature mix of horniness, dread, and hostility Caveman is genre-bound and generic. It's a Hills Have Eyes set in a sci-fi future and directed by Gregg Araki. Some art-damaged hallway sequences recall Mary Harron's American Psycho.
A Los Angeles-based person I know has an alternate word for tired: chewed. Teenage Caveman is deliberately chewed. Clark's script quotes from On the Road, Penthouse Forum, and the Bible. The cast is an assortment of indie understudies, and in this movie "indie" is short for "in designer underwear." Tara Subkoff takes a break from designing bad clothes to take the Chloë Sevigny role. Cast as the title character, Andrew Keegan looks like the second coming of Andrew Shue (an event we've all been waiting for).
The "best" entrance into the world of Teenage Caveman might be actor Richard Hillman, whose performance almost moves beyond supreme obnoxiousness into evil genius. Sporting a Bam-Bam Flintstone hairdo and L.A. plastic pants, Hillman's a velveteen fool's gold mine of horrid teen icons and trends. His character, Neil, is a washed-up surfer, a pickled party boy, a Red Hot Chili Pepper reject, a Perry Farrelly brother Bill and Ted after years of not being able to find their car. As he alternates between a faux British accent and Cali stoner roars, Hillman's face remains stuck someplace between a smile and a grimace. It ain't pretty.
Youthful thanks to genetic engineering, Neil and his other half, Judith (Tiffany Limos), have been together for 90 years, so when caveman Keegan and his pals miraculously land in their postapocalyptic Seattle apartment one day, the teens quickly become pawns in a sexual game of chess fleshy new toys for a jaded couple who haven't fucked each other in two decades. An aimless, interminable orgy sequence proves without a doubt that the cast Hillman excepted aren't exactly skilled improvisers. It also sets the stage for some explosive Takashi Miike-like carnage.
Neil and Judith's vampiric approach to youth is the most up front Clark has been about his own obsessive themes. In Kids and Bully, adults are either invisible or ineffectual. Teenage Caveman is closer to Clark's dismal Another Day in Paradise, in which James Woods and Melanie Griffith become self-appointed junkie foster parents to a younger couple. But here any pretense of parental caring is a ploy. Judith and Neil are wolves dressed in teen clothing. Hillman's resemblance to Justin Pierce, the now deceased actor who played drug-addled Casper in Kids, functions like some creepy subtext.
Death happens, but some things endure. In Teenage Caveman's world of the future, a climactic geyser of blood and guts gives way to reveal a Lucite display case containing a well-preserved Spalding basketball signed by Dr. J.
'Teenage Caveman' screens Fri/12, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, S.F. See Rep Clock, in Film listings, for show times.