The Movie Club

Defending Bully

Dear David,

You write of Larry Clark that his camera “prowls over his smooth young actresses in the manner of a drooling old pervert. Renoir looked for beauty and humanity in the ugliest faces; Clark hunts for grossness in the most comely.”

I must say I do not find their beauty, comeliness, or grossness to be much relevant to his consideration of his characters. More than any other director of recent years, Clark is plugged in to the empty youth culture of yobs (and yobesses, to coin word), as the British would call them—teen-agers raised in a corner of society devoid of any inspiration, by parents sleepwalking through their own preoccupations. Bully studies the dynamic of how the group as a whole is able to perform a violent act that none of them would have been capable of separately and watches them arrive at that act through stupidity and moral bankruptcy. To read stories like this in the papers is to know that Clark is reporting accurately.

There is one shot in Bully, a puzzling and unnecessary cut to a crotch, that stands out and was jumped upon by several critics. In my review I wrote, “Sometimes his camera seems too willing to watch during the scenes of nudity and sex, and there is one particular shot that seems shameless in its voyeurism (you’ll know the one). But it’s this very drive that fuels his films. If the director doesn’t have a strong personal feeling about material like this, he shouldn’t be making movies about it.”

When every weekend sees a worthless new teen-age movie that is equally if not more interested in “smooth young actresses,” to single out Clark, the only serious artist in this moral void, seems wrong.

And you write: “Care to say what you like about Black Hawk Down beyond its admittedly thrilling mise en scène?”

What I admire most about the film is the way it deals intelligibly with the step-by-step disintegration of a poorly planned military mission. The point of view is indeed with the American soldiers, but I am puzzled that you choose this movie to attack on grounds that it treats the Somalians in a racist manner. Imagine for the sake of argument that they were white, and you might see that they are simply depicted as The Enemy—and a successful enemy, too. Unlike the idiotic Behind Enemy Lines, which shows hundreds of Serbian forces unable to hit the hero with all their machine guns, Black Hawk Down portrays the opposition as skillful and clever. It also does as good a job as any movie since Platoon of communicating the actual experience of battle. I particularly appreciate the way the color drains from the screen, as daylight turns into night, until the movie communicates a palpable sense of cold and loneliness.