Bully - Chris Chapman


Lions Gate Films 2001
Directed by Larry Clark
Written by Zachary Long and Roger Pullis
Based on the book Bully: A True Story of High School Revenge by , Jim Schutze

As a photographer, Larry Clark has, since the late 1960s,
documented the sex and drugs lifestyles of certain groups of
American youth. His classic photobook Tulsa put him on the
map, and since then he has produced various bodies of work
that focus on the intensities of that period in life that might
generally be called adolescence. His 1980s book Teenage Lust
was more about sex than drugs (but for Clark, they are almost
always connected), and his colour photographic works of the
1990s heightened the intensity by zooming in on the markers of
puberty: wisps of hair on boys' cheeks and upper lips,
skateboard-grazed legs, drops of sweat. Clark also made really
interesting, if lesser known collage works: groups of photos,
newspaper clippings, notes, sometimes objects like
skateboards and t-shirts, that spoke about youth violence,
suicide and the unrequited love of parents and peers.

Clark's film Bully is his third (following the infamous KIDS, and
the recent Another Day in Paradise). Bully is based on a true
story where a group of Florida teenagers murdered one of their
own, the motive being his continued harrassment and bullying
behaviour. The trademark intimate camerawork and closeup
heat is there, but a few things seem to grate. Clark seems most
at home with subject matter set against a gritty backdrop: the
rural landscape of Tulsa, Texas; the downtown grime of New
York city. The aqua and pink bedlinen, tropical locale, and
convertible sportscars of Bully seems more Beverley Hills
90210. The story is a powerful one but it is under-developed. The
chain of events that lead to the murder of Bobby Kent (played by
Nick Stahl) are hazy and haphazard, which may of course have
been the case, but this makes the murder seem too
inexplicable. Perhaps being unfamiliar with Florida ambience,
Clark has tagged the film with unnecessary references to his
interests outside the film: a collage of posters reads uncannily
like a Clark installation, there are intimate scenes between
younger and older brothers that are incidental to the narrative.
Critics have suggested that Clark's lingering shots of the teens'
sexual antics, and of the young naked female actors in particular
are gratutitous; and that the murder scene is unnecessarily
drawn out. I didn't find this to be the case: teen intimacy has
always been a biggie for Clark, and, the muder scene is brutal
without being overtly goresome.

The film ends with a roll-call of the characters and the sentences
each received. This is the most shocking aspect of the story. The
sentences seem extraordinarily heavy, with several receiving life
imprisonment. Bobby's best friend Marty Puccio (played by the
beautiful Brad Renfro) was almost always a bystander to the
entire sordid chain of events, an endless victim of Bobby's
taunting. He was executed.

Chris Chapman