Beginning with his scandalous 1995 directorial debut, Kids, about a circle of hedonistic New York City early-adolescents, Larry Clark has managed to take his camera into places - usually occupied by the young - that are rarely photographed, social worlds that seem too foreign, too closed-off to the rest of us.
The resulting films often have been less than impressive, such as the 2006 disaster Wassup Rockers, a story about Guatemalan American and Salvadoran American teens in South Los Angeles.
Yet, the 72-year-old photographer, writer, and artist persists with a tenacity that one must admit is impressive.
Marfa Girl, a 2012 film that so far has been available only on Clark's website, has the artist exploring yet another circle of teens, this time in the tiny West Texas hamlet of Marfa, which has a sizable Mexican American population. Played by nonprofessional actors, most of the kids in this story seem to do the same thing kids do in all of Clark's films: hang out, skateboard, smoke pot, and have sex. (The sex scenes are extremely graphic.)
Here, they do it against a barren desert landscape instead of the Manhattan skyline.
The story has two focal points: local boy Adam (Adam Mediano), a highly intelligent but aimless high school student who is celebrating his 16th birthday, and a female artist in her mid-20s from out of town, who has won a position as artist-in-residence at the Chinati Foundation there, a real-life contemporary art museum. Identified only as Marfa Girl (Drake Burnette), the artist is a free-thinker who steadfastly practices the tenets of free love instilled by her neo-hippie parents.
She specializes in male nudes and spends her days bedding, then sketching, and again bedding local guys, including the members of a Mexican American pop band. Meanwhile, Adam marks his birthday by having sex for the first time with his girlfriend, Inez (Mercedes Maxwell).
The episodic film, made all the more fragmented by its cut-and-paste montage editing, is far from satisfactory. But it has a strangely compelling hypnotic effect and, at turns, even manages to engage viewers on an emotional level often missing in Clark's other works.
Yet, Clark undermines his film's slice-of-life rhythm and charm with a ham-handed attempt to inject more structure and suspense with the introduction of a third main character, a sexual predator named Tom (Jeremy St. James), who uses his position as a border patrol officer to abuse local women.
It's refreshing to see a film set amid the daily life of an impoverished, rural immigrant community. It's a shame the only aspect of the social world that is explored is the sexual exploits of a few teens.
Marfa Girl * 1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Larry Clark. With Adam Mediano, Drake Burnette, Jeremy St. James, Mary Farley. Distributed
by Breaking Glass Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 45 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (nudity, graphic sex, sexual violence, drugs, smoking).
Playing at: PFS at the Roxy.EndText