You kids like the Ramones?
Of all the poignant, hilarious, fierce little moments in Larry Clark's "Wassup Rockers," my favorite comes when the gang of Latino skaters who collectively function as the film's protagonist are pulled over by bicycle cops while driving an adult friend's unregistered, dilapidated car through Beverly Hills. The cop approaches the car and, in a moment that sidesteps the "Hardened, racist Los Angeles cop" cliche (a cliche that the film later employs), he asks:
"You kids like the Ramones, huh?"
"Yeah, I saw them live in '84."
"How were they?"
Then the cop tells them he's got to impound the car. I laughed out loud, because I know exactly that stinging pain that the skater kid must have felt: "How the fuck can YOU, being so different from me in every way, care so deeply about this thing that I love so much that I have fashioned my identity around it?" It's probably a familiar feeling to anyone who has ever felt like their chosen subculture was becoming a bit of a whore.
Bill Hicks once said that he laughed hardest at something not when it was outright funny, but when he recognized painful truth in it. "Wassup Rockers" is full of moments like the cop name-dropping The Ramones. There's a Beverly Hills fashionista party where a gay photographer, his hair braided into corn-rows, is fascinated by the "ghetto look" of the skaters, who crash the party accidentally while escaping the police. Their ghetto look isn't a look: They're from South Central L.A. There are repeated instances of depravity and perversion directed towards the boys from members of the wealthy elite and artists, who by turns want to fuck, kill, portray, commodify, and imprison the boys.
The skater kids in "Wassup Rockers" are non-actors, a real-life group of friends that Larry Clark met and (from what I understand) hung out with for years in the process of making this film, the shooting of which was on-again/off-again due to lack of funds. Their friendship is absolutely the realest shit I have seen on-screen in ages - you can tell that they have dveloped a familial, brotherly bond through countless hours of skating together, sharing forties, talking about fucking, and skating some more.
I kept thinking of the film "Stand by Me" while watching "Wassup Rockers." Where "Stand by Me" is nostalgiac, saccharine, caucasian and escapist, "Rockers" is bleak and satirical. The small-town anglos of "Stand by Me" make a journey to see a dead body because they want to, while the rockers just want to go skating, but they're more than likely going to encounter a dead body just getting around their neighborhood.
Anyone interested in issues like race relations in a so-called "melting-pot" culture, the commercialization of dissent, neighborhood gentrification, etc. should see this movie. On the other hand, the movie is a fuckload of fun, especially if you happen to like genuine punk rock music and great cinematography. Unlike Clark's "Kids," "Rockers" uses the innocence of childhood as a foil for the fucked-up state of the world, instead of painting an unbearably bleak and joyless picture of childhood. Despite some stunningly violent moments that sent a palpable shock through the audience, the film is still a great deal of fun. Please see it if at all possible.
(NOTE: This being my first post, I should say that I only keep this movie diary to record my thoughts and feelings about films. In doing so, I don't mean to imply that my opinion matters more than anyone else's, or has any sort of professional or literary value. Having just moved my girlfriend of 3 1/2 years into her new home 1,200 miles from where I live, I needed a hobby. So here we are. I hope you'll check back frequently, as I promise at least two new film reviews per week.)