By Zak Rye. Between low-brow and no-brow, this is unCultured, where we shamelessly promote and defend some of the worst films ever made. This time around, we revisit Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s uncomfortably provocative docudrama, Kids.
My wife had never seen Kids, and I really didn’t feel the need to prepare her for it, as we watch pretty weird stuff. However, within 3 minutes of pressing play, I realized that if I didn’t hit the pause button and do some explaining, we were going to probably have a tricky evening. Having not seen it myself since I was around the same age as most of the actors in the film, I quickly became aware that I should probably brief my wife on what she was about to see. I also needed a couple seconds to get past how grossed out I was with myself for having seen Kids around the age of 15, a handful of times, and being apparently unaffected by it.
When the film was released in 1995, the New York Times dubbed it “a wake-up call to the world”. When my friends and I first got our hands on a copy, I feel as though it went in one ear and out the other. Shy of the occasional “I have no legs” outburst, to us, Kids read as more of a how-to-be-cool handbook. While I had a hard time shaking the thought that I must have been a pretty disgusting teenager, I settled in for 2 hours of pointless violence, graphic underage sex, and heavy substance abuse. You will not likely be surprised to learn that, in the aforementioned categories, the infamously creepy Larry Clark and idiot savant of all things fucky, Harmony Korine, deliver that shit hand over fist.
Kids is, essentially, a cautionary yet exploitative peek at disenfranchised New York City teens in the mid 90s. While debatably void of any real major plot line, the story incorporates a rather amplified Woody Allen-ish “battle of the sexes”, mixed with a little bit of “beat the clock” and a dash of rape-y bitters. (If you’ve seen the movie, that may sound terribly insensitive, but the boss hates spoilers so that’s all you get.) While we encounter countless supporting characters, the film follows Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), Casper (Justin Pierce), and their female counterparts, Jenny (Chloe Sevigny), and Ruby (Rosario Dawson). Kids opens on Telly, the self-proclaimed “virgin surgeon”, deflowering a young girl. Once he is, ahem, finished, Telly dresses, inexplicably spits on the dining room table, and leaves to met Casper, who is waiting outside of the girl’s parent’s lavish NYC brownstone.
The two then embark on a disturbingly nonchalant journey of fun-loving debauchery, all while spewing some of the most obscene, and painfully accurate dialogue imaginable. As these two little shits traverse their way through the day, Jenny and Ruby’s story is introduced and establishes some semblance of an actual arc. Though having slept with only Telly a year previous, Jenny recruits the more promiscuous Ruby to join her at the free clinic to be tested for STDs. Results are read, the clock starts, and out of respect to Harmony, I’ll say nothing more, other than, “I just like finding things out my own”.
If you’re familiar with Larry Clark’s work, especially films like Another Day in Paradise and Bully, the directorial themes of Kids won’t necessarily introduce your jaw to the floor. Clark’s proclivity for harsh realism, tragic characters, and shirtless boys is indeed well-infused throughout the picture. While the duo of 50 year-old Clark and a then 18 year-old Harmony Korine may have seemed like an odd pair, it did prove to be an accidental marriage made in heaven.
Kids was conceived while Larry Clark was living in NYC, photographing skateboarders and being genuinely creepy. Becoming fairly obsessed with the lifestyle of these young fellas led Clark to begin inviting some of the boys over to his house to… party. He was said to be constantly telling them that he was going to make a movie soon and he’d like them to be in it. (Nothing seems sketchy about that, right?) Over the course of a couple years, Clark did actually compose the general concept for the film and had, at one point, attempted to enlist Gus Van Sant to begin writing the screenplay. As that option fell through, Clark found himself more and more entwined with the youth culture of the city and was introduced to Korine, a young artist who could donate perfectly to what Clark was missing from the project, an actual kid.
Over the summer of 93, Korine drafts the script for Kids, his first real screenplay. Basing many of the characters on his friends, and casting some as well, (including his current girlfriend, Chloe Sevigny), Korine’s screenplay was exactly what Clark was after, a young and authentic voice that could be used to tell his story. Being a strong proponent for minimal story telling, Korine’s screenplay often took a backseat Clark’s documentation, allowing the viewer to feel less as though they are being led through a story, and more like they are witnessing real life, making it nearly impossible to make assumptions regarding what would happen next. Kids does not permit you to simply observe, for better or worse it forces you to spend a day with these characters, and you will probably want a shower when it’s all over.
It’s not uncommon for people to mistake Kids for a true documentary. If anything, this is high praise: with the cast constructed mostly of first time actors (non-actors really), the film’s realistic vibe was magnified. Korine’s dialogue is brutally honest, letting the young actors portray their characters in comfortable and familiar skin. Leo Fitzpatrick and Justin Pierce are, to be blunt, disgusting boys, whether in front of the camera or not. The female leads; Sevigny and Dawson actually act, and act well. It’s not that surprising; they are the only actors involved who move on to actual vocations in showbiz. With the exception of those lone success stories, the majority of the cast encounters a darker fate. In 2000, Justin Pierce committed suicide by hanging himself in his Las Vegas hotel room. Years later, in 2004, Harold Hunter (Harold) died of a cocaine overdose in his New York apartment. Leo Fitzpatrick appeared in a couple more of Clark’s films, but overall, his skateboarding and acting aspirations never took the form he likely expected. What happened to all of the rest of the thieving, weed smoking, perverted little bastards, one could only guess… or throw darts at a map of the world’s prisons.
Considering the amateur cast and crew, modest budget, and practically unratable content, Kids received some admirable accolades and was picked up by Miramax after presenting at Cannes. It literally swept the Independent Spirit Awards in 1995, with Clark taking home an award for “best first feature” and Korine picking up “best screenplay”. Beyond its initial success, Kids was, as most Clark or Korine films are, destined for the cult shelf, reserved for the odd and adventurous. The project itself was, as a figurative organism, undeniably similar on screen and off, to its clandestine, kamikaze-esque characters, its motives, and its story. While Telly serves as the narrator, Casper delivers the most appropriate prologue, truly closing the film: “Jesus Christ, what happened?” As the credits roll (to Sebadoh’s Spoiled), one senses that sentiment. I almost felt like I had never seen the movie before. It felt much more poignant, accurate, and yes, shocking, in retrospect. My wife, however, who I was foolishly more concerned with, was tremendously less shaken. Again I needed a second, this time to wrap my head around how much more of a gnarly teenager she must have been.
As if there aren’t enough weird things about Kids:
1) Although Miramax bought the film for 3.5 million, its parent company, Disney, would not allow Bob and Harvey to release Kids with its NC-17 rating. This prompted the Weinsteins to form a separate company, Shining Excalibur Films, to release it, and only it.
2) The long and uncomfortable scene between Casper and Jenny prompted the UK to ban the film. Screenings were often protested, mostly due to Clark’s choice to include a 10 year old boy in the scene, sleeping directly next to Casper and Jenny.
3) While Clark was “scouting” kids for the film, rumors flew in the skate world about Clark inexplicably hanging out with a bunch of young dudes.
4) Kids was Chloe Sevigny’s first acting gig. The now celebrated actor was, at the time, an intern for Sassy magazine and girlfriend of Harmony Korine. Korine cast her in an extra role during the pool scene. The role of Jenny was originally given to The L Word’s Mia Kirshner. When Kirshner dropped out on short notice, Sevigny took on the role.
5) Since 2007, October 10th has been Harold Hunter Day in New York City. An industry-wide respected skateboard event sponsored by Zoo York, the team featured in Kids.