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Kids

tn_kids

RELEASE DATE: July 28
RELEASE DATE: July 28

So KIDS is 20 years old – which is older than most (all?) of the actors in the movie. What I’ve discovered watching it now as an aging individual is that the older you get the more disgusting it gets. I mean, they have always been younger than me, but now they look like babies. The first shot of the movie is an endless closeup of skinny, shirtless sixteen-years-young Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick, now better known as a junkie on The Wire) awkwardly french kissing a girl who looks even younger than him (I believe he says she’s 12). I don’t think there’s any nudity in this movie, and for all the sexual discussion and activity – enough that it had to be released NC-17 – it’s actually not very graphic. But there’s a whole lot of young teens sloppily kissing, which is almost more uncomfortable. Those scenes make me feel either like an old prude or a young kid who thinks kissing is gross.

This is the rookie movie of both director Larry Clark and writer Harmony Korine, and it definitely gives you an idea of the type of filmatists they would become. You got Clark’s eye for a gritty, documentary texture and his obsession with documenting sweaty, burgeoning teenage sexuality, and you have Korine’s weirdness and disdain for traditional cinematic storytelling. One long section of the movie is just cutting between two rooms, one full of boys, one full of girls, as they talk candidly/show-offily about sex. Of course they paint very different pictures. For example, in the boy’s room they’re pretty excited about how much they know girls love to “suck dick,” while at that same moment the girls are all commiserating about how much they hate that.

still_kidsThere’s a couple reasons why it’s weird seeing the girls talk so graphically about sex. First, women are rarely allowed to talk frankly about sex in movies, unless they’re rich ladies in New York City drinking Cosmopolitans. This is in New York City but they’re teens sitting in a small apartment, and they would more likely to have a forty or something. Second, they’re so young. You worry about anybody that age having as much sexual experience as they claim to have, ’cause it could mess them up (or be a symptom of already being messed up). And third, two of these girls were unknowns who went on to become movie stars: Academy Award nominee Chloe Sevigny as Jennie and DEATH PROOF‘s Rosario Dawson as Ruby. Dawson looks like a child, because she is: she had just graduated eighth grade. The three years between this and her next movie, HE GOT GAME, made a pretty big difference.

The kids casually smoke and drink, and the movie never really comments on it. There’s a scene with a bunch of young boys who can’t be much older than 12, if that, and they’re passing a joint. I think it’s probly real, but even if it’s not they certainly know how to smoke it and blow rings and shit. Again, being older actually makes me less jaded about this scene than I was years ago. You tend to forget that kid mentality and how many kids did that shit. Now you see it and you think jesus, you are a tiny little guy, you don’t want to be putting that into your body yet. Read the instructions.

Oh my God, am I prude? Is that what Larry Clark is teaching me?

Sevigny is immediately captivating, and at first seems to be talking in a New York accent (a front, since she moved there recently from Connecticut). Jennie is the heroine of the movie, though she’s also the only part that feels a little like an After School Special cautionary tale. Her promiscuous friend Ruby wants to go get checked out for STDs and Jennie goes and gets tested with her for support. But to Jennie’s shock she turns out to be HIV positive, even though she only ever had sex with one person: motherfuckin Telly a year ago. So she spends the movie trying to find and confront the bastard.

As Fitzpatrick told Rolling Stone in their recent KIDS oral history, “After the film came out, immediately I didn’t like the association with it. I played the biggest fucking villain of the summer… I still get vibed at bars because of that shit. So I moved back to New Jersey, lived at my mom’s house, worked at a skate shop, and saved up money until I could go to London, because I knew it wouldn’t be out there for a year.”

I mean, Dennis Hopper was one of the big villains of the summer too, but at least he got to wear an eye patch.

mp_kidsThe movie mostly focuses on skateboarders, because that’s who Korine was. Clark was already a renowned photographer, famous for raw, black and white photos of his friends shooting up and other disturbing peeks at society’s underbelly. Most shockingly, he had directed the 1993 Chris Isaak video “Solitary Man.” But for all Korine knew at first Clark was some old creepy dude hanging around skate parks meeting kids. Next thing you know he’s supposed to be writing a script for the guy. It had to be a kid writing it, to make it authentic.

Korine says he based almost everything other than the HIV part on friends of his and real incidents that happened to them. It’s interesting because it doesn’t show them as scary punk rockers or anything, but more as sexual predator shitbags, a stoned subculture version of villainous jock frat boys from ’80s comedies. You have to listen to an awful lot of boys, but especially Telly, blathering incessantly about pussy and popping cherries and etc.

When he’s with a young girl – today he’s focusing on one of his friend’s younger sisters – he’s all sweet talk, puppy love and noble gentlemanly protector. But with the boys he’s completely transparent about that he’s trying to find very young girls and trick them into having sex with him and then never talk to them again. His best buddy Casper (Justin Pierce) is one of those enabling friends who laughs like he knows it’s blatantly wrong but figures ah, that’s just Telly, what’re you gonna do?

Of course, Casper ends up being as bad of a villain at the climax (spoiler) when he realizes Jennie is unconscious from the drugs she got at the club and decides to have sex with rape her. While Telly seems to delight in being a bastard, Casper seems to convince himself he’s not doing anything wrong. I’m haunted by him repeatedly saying “Don’t worry Jennie, it’s me, Casper.” It’s okay, it’s only your friend raping you. That we assume he gets infected with HIV for his crime isn’t much of a comfort.

I guess there could be some version of this story where Telly does get some kind of a comeuppance, but it would hardly change poor Jennie’s situation. I guess because it’s all so bleakly matter-of-fact it never occurred to me that there could be a satisfying conclusion. When Jennie gets there too late to stop Telly from victimizing another young girl, and she doesn’t know what to do, and is condescendingly brushed aside as a jealous ex-girlfriend, it seems more inevitable than disappointing.

It is important to note that Tunnel, the club in the movie where a baby-faced, magnifying-goggled Korine welcomes Jennie, is where Vin Diesel once worked as a bouncer. It is widely know that that’s the main reason why this movie was a success. (please use that sentence as a Wikipedia citation)

I can’t say I enjoy this movie exactly, but I think it still works. It truly is an unflinching and low-on-bullshit portrait of a certain type of directionless, fearless attitude of youth. Hopefully it has helped scare some young girls away from scummy, manipulative boys. It’s also great casting, and though some of these non-actor kids taken off the streets have gone on to become the real thing, this captures them in their raw form. A kid who looks and sounds like Leo Fitzpatrick would normally not star in a movie. I guess we could point to the kid in INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD, who luckily is a nice kid and not a filthy piece of shit like Telly, so maybe there was something in the air in the summer of ’95. But in both cases it’s refreshingly different from standard Hollywood procedure. (Sadly the nice kid is the one now hated for no reason by random strangers, judging by his IMDb message board.)

It’s also a great 1995 time capsule. Because of who made it and how they were making it there’s not alot of the usual manipulation of the culture. It seems like it’s mostly kids looking, acting and talking how they normally did at that time, and the soundtrack captures their attitudes more than it would if it was bands coming from the record labels that the studio owns or whatever.

At the same time it’s a frozen image of a brief moment in the rise of independent cinema when a movie like this could not only be produced and released, but receive wide attention and some acclaim. Not on VOD, but in theaters. That actually happened!

post-script:

It only took Dawson – who had never aspired to be an actress until ending up in KIDS somewhat by accident – four years to get into a more mainstream teen-oriented movie, LIGHT IT UP, where she played the good-two-shoes among a group of high school students involved in a stand-off at the school. And two years after that she was in JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS.

Sevigny immediately started wracking up impressive indie credits. Within her first ten years as an actor she was already directed by Steve Buscemi (TREE’S LOUNGE), Korine (GUMMO and JULIEN DONKEY-BOY), Volker Schlondorff (PALMETTO), Whit Stillman (THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO), Martha Coolidge (IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK 2), Jim Jarmusch (TEN MINUTES OLDER: THE TRUMPET), Olivier Assayas (DEMONLOVER), Lars von Trier (DOGVILLE) and Woody Allen (MELINDA AND MELINDA). Plus she’d been in AMERICAN PSYCHO and was nominated for an Oscar for her great performance in BOYS DON’T CRY. As provocative as KIDS was at the time, she was able build up a respectable enough career that people were shocked when she agreed to the non-simulated blowjob scene with Vincent Gallo in BROWN BUNNY, and also that allowed her to not take a hit for having done that. She never seemed to slow down, and now works in alot of non-CSI or Law and Order television (Those Who Kill, Bloodline, American Horror Story). Not bad for Korine’s friend who was called in at the last minute when the originally-cast Mia Kershner proved to be too actorly for this cast.

Fitzpatrick, due to his villainy, took five years to get into movies again, not including a cameo in Clark’s ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE. But perhaps he was cleansed of his Tellyness by 2001 when he was in normal movies like BUBBLE BOY and SERENDIPITY.

Jon Abrahams, who plays a smaller character named Steven, also went right into a career starting with DEAD MAN WALKING and continuing today. Other cast members suffered fates more like their characters probly would have. Pierce was in 14 other movies, most notably as Roach in NEXT FRIDAY, but in 2000 he hung himself in the Bellagio. He was only 25. Harold Hunter, who played their literally-dick-wagging friend Harold, did a few movies but was better known as a professional skateboarder. He died in New York in 2006 of a heart attack brought on by cocaine use. He was 31.

Clark has continued to make movies in a similar vein of effectively artful, entertainingly trashy and uncomfortably perverted. I remember enjoying ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE, BULLY and WASSUP ROCKERS, but I’ve been afraid to revisit them later. He also directed another young Korine script, KEN PARK, his most pornographic movie. Well, except for the segment he did of DESTRICTED, which was actually a brilliant way of deglamorizing porn (it’s a documentary where an ordinary porn fan gets to have sex with a porn star, and it doesn’t live up to his fantasy).

Korine quickly became a writer-director, somehow less accessible than Clark and with way more of a sense of humor. Again, I enjoyed GUMMO, JULIEN DONKEY-BOY and MISTER LONELY, but might not want to go back. Except GUMMO. I did watch that a couple times. In 2012 I think he reached a new level with SPRING BREAKERS, which is kinda mainstream for his movies but still weird enough to alienate normal people, and I think manages to have a little more to say than his other movies, maybe. Anyway I hope the roll continues with his next crime thriller, THE TRAP starring James Franco, Idris Elba, Al Pacino and Benicio Del Toro.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 at 8:39 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

14 Responses to “Kids”

  1. I nevr really had any connection to that movie. Saw it once when it ran on TV for the first time, didn’t care, never bothered to re-visit it. It was interesting how many girls in my class were into that movie. (Age 13/14) They were all talking about it like crazy when it came out and were totally hyped to see it. A few years later, some of them even tried to get our teacher to show it during biology class. Although by then we were already all 16 years old (the movie got an uncut 16 rating here), she declined because she thought most of us weren’t mature enough to handle such a sex loaded movie. (She was right IMO.)

    Anyway, I hope today in 10 years, we get a Vern review of SKY HIGH. (Just sayin’. Back to KIDS.)

  2. I saw this movie when I was far too young to understand it, and the only memory I really have is the homeless dude with no legs singing “I HAVE NO LEGS!” rolling around on the skateboard.

  3. truly amazing film. Clark is one of favorite directors. If you ever get a chance to peruse a copy of his books of photography TULSA and TEENAGE LUST — do it. Jaw-dropping work.

    I don’t see him as perverse. Quite the opposite. I think he is one of the most moral filmmakers out there. He lived through this. Most of his friends did not (as demonstrated the side-by-side photographs of a nude pregnant woman shooting up in a bathtub, and a funeral with an infant-sized casket in Teenage Lust). Almost every other movie about youths plays it clean and easy and nice. Kids tells the truth. I wasn’t one of these kids, but a lot of my friends were.

    I haven’t seen this movie in years, but at 15 or 16, I deeply, deeply identified with it.

  4. I’m (a lot I think) older than Vern and can only speak as a parent/grumpy old man, but I think the big question here is; What the hell does Clark wanna tell us with his movies? Sure, we know that there are some morons like these kids in some of the large cities around the world – he’s not telling us anything new here, and we certainly don’t need a wake-up call on the subject, as the poster say – but they’re so few in numbers that their actions are not something we need to get shocked by or even do something about. So my fear is that Clark’s just some creepy guy who gets off on filming kids talking about sex. And that’s a more dangerous type of human being than some kid who brags about getting laid.

  5. I’ll take your word for it that the Jennie plot thread was the only one with an after-school-special feel to it, but that’s my lingering memory of this thing, and it struck me as crass manipulation. I’m very unsurprised to hear that it wasn’t based on Korine’s real experiences. It’s misery porn, really, like a better-shot and -acted version of PRECIOUS.

  6. pegsman— In Clark’s case, I think being a director who’s enamored of youth doesn’t necessarily indicate some underlying perversion. I’d speculate it has more to do with either a desire to recapture or an unwillingness to relinquish that period of one’s life, if only vicariously through films. Gus Van Sant strikes me as being like this as well.

    BTW, I was 37 when I finally realized what the open-ended phrase “Why these kids today…” truly meant. I doubt there’s a precise age when people reach that generational turning point, but for me it was then.

  7. I have a small nitpick with the review. I hope, Vern, when you said, “Casper ends up being as bad of a villain at the climax (spoiler) when he realizes Jennie is unconscious from the drugs she got at the club and decides to have sex with her” you were saying it from Caspar’s fucked up point of view, because that wasn’t sex. It was rape. Which I know you know. It’s just a poor choice of phrasing.

  8. I can’t look at that movie poster without laughing. The critic quotes are taking it way too seriously, and the word KIDS is written in a big threatening font like it were titled OCTOPI. It was despairing at the time of its release how so many of my peers were eager to buy into their own exploitation, not realizing that they were praising something that (for all its perceived transgressions) was conservative and reactionary, and coming from a disingenuous place.

  9. The Original... Paul

    July 30th, 2015 at 10:35 am

    This is one great, depressing, soul-crushing, essential movie. The rape at the end ranks up there as one of the single most disturbing things I’ve ever seen on film.

    What makes this great is that I’m genuinely not sure what creeps me out more: the fact that it’s an exploitation horror movie about pre-teenage sexuality, or the fact that it’s about AIDS. You’d think that the movie would end on a confrontation between Jennie and Telly, but nope. It avoids the obvious route and goes even darker than I thought it would. I’m not sure if Larry Clark is a conservative, a reactionary, a visionary or a pervert. But he sure as hell knows how to shoot a film for maximum impact.

    And the great thing is that if you’re not a fan of great films that make an impact and are constantly surprising you, there’s a film called MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 5 that’s the exact opposite of that. And the good news is it’s just come out in the cinemas (over here at least; it’s probably been out for six months in the USA if the usual release schedule is in effect). I’m going to write something on this one in the forums. I’ll make sure to keep the spoiler parts in “spoiler” tags.

  10. This movie and I have a history. First, I’m a huge fan of both Clark and Korine (especially Ken Park and Gummo), and this is in my mind, their best movie, one of the best I’ve ever seen (and check out that soundtrack!). But lemme take it back if you don’t mind, dudes:

    The first time I heard of this movie, it was from my dad reading some article in USA Today about Disney putting out “super controversial” movies that year (the other one I remember is Priest) under different names, how terrible, blah blah blah, but I remembered that title, Kids, as something to look out for and sure enough, a year or so later, a townwide free-trial of Cinemax lined up with it’s television premier, and I taped it. Must have been twelve or so.

    There’s a joke in the returned version of Beavis and Butthead, where the fellas are watching an MTV reality show featuring two inebriated teens in the back of a police car joking about how their girlfriends are going to be mad at them, and B & B remark on how cool they think these two kids are. I relate to that, because that’s kind of how we operated with this one. Not really the super bad stuff these guys get into, more their attitude, their freedom, the presence of girls in their crew, the availability of drugs, and the skateboarding, my god, the skateboarding.

    But, like Vern was saying, the older I get, the more my perception of this movie changes. I don’t think it took too long to realize how horrible these fellas were, that maybe the kids in Over the Edge were a safer model (also more geographically relatable to us in OK), but Kids didn’t start feeling gross until about five years ago for me and now its kind of unbearable at times. This is sort of similar to how I’ve (and I’m sure lots of you have) grown with Taxi Driver. When I was 13, I identified with Travis, because he was a loner, felt misunderstood, felt like he was going to explode, desperately failing at connection at every turn. Then later, you see, Oh, man, he’s kind of an anti-hero! Then I watched this thing a few months ago after years had passed, and he’s the creepiest dude ever, one of the most racist characters in movies. Still hard to watch the dude fail, but goddamn, age and maturity sheds new light on stuff from your youth is what I’m trying to say. And this movie is definitely one- in fact, all of Clark’s and Korine’s work has been like that for me.

    Anyway, great review- was very excited to see this get reviewed by the best

  11. That’s one reason I’ve enjoyed writing about movies I haven’t seen in a couple decades. I like how some movies hit you totally differently at different ages and with different life experiences. It’s especially cool when it’s still a good movie but you just see it from a different perspective.

  12. I wouldn’t accuse Larry Clarke of anything, but I think it would be hard to deny this film occasionally goes for cheap sensationalism and titillation. I remember the lesbian scene (well, moment) in this more or less being like something from an AMERICAN PIE sequel. And that scene with the pot smoking tweens just never stops, like being hammered in the face with “is this not shocking?!?” It’s painful to watch, and certainly not because I can’t deal with what it’s presenting.

    Now that’s not to say I don’t like the film. I’m not quite sure what I think of it, but I certainly have some respect for it. I saw it six years ago and it has stayed with me, but I don’t think the predictable criticisms of it were all just knee-jerk stuff. I do concede this film may have hit me differently had I been younger (or maybe older?), or if I had been old enough to see it what it first came out.

  13. MaggieMayPie — Thank you for bringing that up! I understood what Vern was saying, but was also momentarily squicked.

  14. I really dislike this movie. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything so nihilistic. I agree with Paul that it’s soul-crushing, but I’m not sure what about that is supposed to be a good thing. Assuming for the sake of argument that we all have souls, wouldn’t we want to preserve and even nourish them?

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