Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

'Kids,' 15 Years Later

TWO KIDSKids, a film about a bunch of hard-living New York City kids, premiered 15 years ago today. The film still seems to define an era of New York City-the pre-Giuliani 90s; a golden era for hip hop, skateboarding and indie rock. New York City was the coolest city in the world, and by extension, its kids were the coolest in the world.

Director Larry Clark, 52 at the time, set out to capture on film the variety of depravity of youth on which he'd fixated throughout his long career in photography. He enlisted the help of 18-year-old writer Harmony Korine, as well as a bunch of East Village skater kids and a certain up-and-coming Sassy magazine intern to create a race-against-the-clock story, set before a background of teenage decadence and HIV.

The plot seems inconsequential compared to some of the set pieces: the opening shots of the ‘Virgin Surgeon' Telly deflowering an impossibly young looking girl; Caspar beating a man twice his age with his skateboard; Harold Hunter slapping his penis between his thighs in a public pool. It was crude, yet compelling-Kids felt authentic and thus gained importance because of its perceived authenticity. The lives these 13-to-17-year-olds lived seemed real. Janet Maslin of the then particularly dreary New York Times called it a "wake up call to the world"-this was then touted in the trailer.

When I saw the film, I was around the same age as the kids in it. There was a stark contrast between my life and "theirs." (That this film was actually a work of fiction was easy to forget.) These kids were the "real deal." I clearly was not. New York City was a playground for them, full of drink, drugs and sex. My life, in suburban London, was the definition of leafy, and my social life revolved largely around the Nintendo 64. I wore glasses and I couldn't skateboard. In fact, no one I knew could really skateboard. I was sold on the New York City exported by the film.

Ten years later I now live in New York, and I barely recognize it from the film. There are no skateboarders in Washington Square Park, just NYU students. The East Village is full of bars with beer pong tables in the back, Ivy educations and Japanese restaurants. I still don't know anyone who skateboards.

It seems that in many ways the city seems to have forgotten the film, just as many of those involved in the film also seem happy to forget it. Some might expect some sort of celebration of the 15th anniversary of the film, but few seem to be talking. (Larry Clark's agent did not respond to inquiries.) Harmony Korine has moved away from the realism of that film's concept and execution, settling most recently on a bizarre faux-realism in his faux-documentary Trash Humpers. "It was not a movie I was dying to tell," he has said of Kids. And our Sassy intern, Chloe Sevigny, has since said that she can't bear to watch the film, and that she doesn't like the movie much.

Perhaps the movie holds unhappy memories for some. While two members of the cast, Sevigny and Rosario Dawson, found significant success after, another two died young-Justin Pierce killed himself in a Las Vegas hotel room and Harold Hunter died of a drug overdose in the same East Village project housing that he grew up in (friends and family later donated money to pay for a funeral). It's evident that despite being in an important film, few members of the cast were able to convert their bad beginnings into a good career.

One man who hasn't moved on as much appears to be Clark. "With "Kids" I thought I got it right," he told Salon in 2001, "I worked hard on the film. I hung out with Kids all the time. I got the idea and the story for the film from hanging out with Kids." His later, progressively less successful films, such as Bully and Wassup Rockers, deal with extremely similar themes. His current project, Savage Innocent, sits in classic Clark territory-a teen running away from an abusive home (his remake of Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa, apparently to star Mickey Rourke, appears to be on hiatus). Clark's intentions are, as ever, difficult to dicipher. Is he some kind of permanent teenager, celebrating the life he lives, or is he ultimately cynical, selling teenage self-abuse to voyeurs around the world?

Fifteen years on, the cast, city and audience of Kids might have moved on, but the film itself remains troubling. It walks a tightrope between exploitation and art. Clark still seems completely comfortable with that, both in film and in photography. Kids portrayed a city that I never knew-and what's most worrisome is to think that maybe, just maybe, it never existed, except to be sold to me.

Adam Taylor is a journalist-type living in Brooklyn. He is English and sorry about that.

61 Comments / Post A Comment

Jeez, this movie was my childhood. Something I find harder and harder to believe as I get older.

HiredGoons (#603)

I was shown this movie when I was like 10, by my cousins who basically were (and in many cases still are) very much like the people it portrays.

I found it slightly awesome and slightly terrifying.

I remember though, being 10 and thinking a bunch of the boys in it were hot.

hungrybee (#2,091)

And Telly became Johnny, which I'm thinking was a lateral move.

Dan Kois (#646)

Holy crap, how did I never figure that out?

Aileen Gallagher (#4,450)

You were confused by your ability to understand Johnny's diction.

pemulis (#903)

Remember watching this at a friend's house in Tulsa when I was 12. Inspired us to sneak out and break into a parking garage and steal sunglasses from cars. Police ended up dragging us back to his parents house. Goddamn I was stupid as balls. This movie is not very good (everyone has AIDS!) but will always make me feel very square and very unsexed.

ehcotton (#358)

Eerily similar to my own childhood tween years. I was 12 but it was Norman and we ended up puking because we thought you were supposed to smoke the whole pack at once.

wb (#2,214)

My skater friends and I idolized this film, which is terrifying to think of now. Kind of like wanting to move to LA because of Less Than Zero. It seems like there was a whole summer we skated across town from house to house, looking for some place with parents gone, so we could watch it on VHS.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Didn't need to leave the Midwest to experience this lifestyle IRL. I knew people analogous to almost every character in this mess of a film, at one time or another. Much smaller city, but the Violence, the Drugs, the Sex, the Skateboarding and Alcoholism- all there! Some of them are even dead; OD's and such!

wb (#2,214)

Well, Kids was just a film version of the Tulsa portfolio, right? Just with skaters. In New York.

sox (#652)

I grew up in a rural mountain town at least 2 hours any shopping mall, much less buildings with more than 3 floors, and this seemed to illustrate all that I was missing out on.

I remember desiring to be Chloe Sevigny until the tragic ending, which totally scared me in a good way regarding safely sexing.

I also LOVED Sassy Magazine until they sold it to whoever turned into TEEN Magazine II.

Kevin Patterson (#5,933)

electric boogaloo!

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

"I still don't know anyone who skateboards."

I skateboard, dammit! Of course you don't know me. I'm like ten years older than you, kid.

saythatscool (#101)

Me too!

Ringer tees. Fuck yes.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

I still have one, a plain-white-with-blue-ringers from the Gap, that Ms.Y appliqued a handmade 3-legged horse of her own design on, just for me.

-one of the first things I grab going out the door when the house is burning down-

iantenna (#5,160)

fuck this movie. if i want to get sentimental about a NYC i never knew, and may have never existed, i watch early law and order.

<3 <3 <3

skahammer (#587)

George Dzundza FTW.

City_Dater (#2,500)

With soundtrack by faux-Bostonian Lou Barlow!

All that Folk Implosion swirling around 15-year-olds should have been enough to make anyone question this film's authenticity.

Pandemic Endemic (#3,825)

The Folk Implosion songs on the soundtrack weren't actually in the movie, were they?

I remember the film's soundtrack actually being a lot of rap and Beastie Boys sort of stuff while the soundtrack that was for sale was full of Folk Implosion songs that didn't even get played in the film. But in light of that, your comment is made all the more valid.

Jim Demintia (#1,815)

I was just starting college when this movie came out, which is maybe why it struck me then as simply the prurient inversion of all those hysterical educational films that my Catholic high school subjected me to over and over again in gym class. For all its vaunted realism, this movie is just as cartoonishly puritanical in its own way as "Stoned," the short starring Scott Baio as a young man tricked into trying marijuana for the first time.

I was winding up college and we rented it thinking it would be gratuitously gratifying teen sexploitation. instead it was just some kind of really sweaty movie for bad (in the square way) parents. So, yeah, though I watched it in a fraternity basement I may as well have watched it in a church basement.

Made me think nothing of New York and was quickly forgotten. Important? Certainly less so than Escape to Witch Mountain.

I was 13/14 when this came out, but didn't watch it til I was 18 or 19. So I got to skip the idolization and move straight to the horribly disturbing aspect of the film. Got that people liked the idea of emulating the skateboarding, but didn't how teens reconciled the whole raping and AIDS thing in that fantasy.

*didn't understand. I am like WordOmission McGee today.

Chuckell (#6,080)

Easily one of the worst movies I have ever endured. Don't apologize for being English, Adam Taylor–apologize for reminding me that I once sat all the way through this stupid piece of shit movie.

Adam Taylor (#6,134)

sorry chuckell!

Grant G Brown (#3,366)

Man, you and I could not disagree more on this. Did you just not like the characters, or did you think the actual movie was terrible?

I saw it in the theatre (oh my god) 15 yrs ago. Despite the implicit moralizing going on wrt the troubled teens, I loved the film's naturalism. Korine actually wrote a screenplay –probably on a typewriter, LOL– but the dialogue never feels anything less than improvised. Larry Clark, too, I'm a fan.

That being said, it was 15 yrs ago. It's probably due a second viewing.

SeaBassTian (#281)

I am old enough to remember when my friends made a special trip to attend the open casting call. Sigh. Also: Rest assured. THAT New York existed though I'm not convinced that it warrants some sentimentality.

My taciturn father somehow determined, perhaps on account of it being billed as a "wake up call" for teenagers, that it was imperative I see this movie as I was the same age as the protagonists.

I don't think he knew what he was getting into; I remember very clearly sitting next to him as the movie starts with just the sound of sloppy face sucking and thinking "holy shit this is awkward".

We have never spoken of it since. I did learn how to roll a blunt though.

In any case If I want to feel nostalgia for a New York I never knew I prefer American Psycho.

I cannot even imagine watching this with either of my parents!!!

EAT (#4,511)

Sweet Jesus, I watched American Psycho with my father.

mrschem (#1,757)

When I want to feel nostalgia for a New York I never knew, I watch 'All Over Me,' or read thisisfyff!

cinetrix (#47)

<3 "All Over Me."

LondonLee (#922)

"his remake of Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa, apparently to star Mickey Rourke"


Unfortunately I was 32 when Kids came out so I came out it thinking "bloody kids"

oldirtybassist (#3,630)

Get off my lawn!

flossy (#1,402)

I grew up in New York City, but missed out by a few years on (or was simply too sheltered to experience) the lawless teenage downtown scene depicted in Kids. I think this was, perhaps, why the film so moved me when I first saw it toward the end of high school. It was like peering into an alternate reality, a New York City completely apart from the helicopter parents and "structured activities" of my childhood. The amoral universe which these characters inhabit, the poignancy of their total freedom and blatant transgression, set against their complete absence of love, affection or really any parental involvement and their subsequent consignment to world of drugs, AIDS and rape… it left me confused, aroused, scared and feeling alternately like I had missed out on all the fun and escaped with my life.

It's definitely the apex of Clark's film career (although his much more Hollywood-y follow-up, Another Day in Paradise starring James Woods and Melanie Griffith, is also pretty good in a poor man's Drugstore Cowboy kind of way).

But it's also completely of a piece with Clark's transcendently excellent early photography. If you can track down a copy of the books Tulsa or Teenage Lust it is absolutely worth your time to do so. To say that they simply depict the youthful transgressions of his drug-addict friends on the wrong side of the dust-bowl tracks is like saying Kids is just about kids misbehaving in the big city. Larry Clark pretty much invented and perfected the genre of photography that people like Nan Goldin, Ryan McGinley, Ari Marcopolous etc. work in to this day. Despite it being a work of fiction, Kids comes closest to capturing the feeling of his photographs, which feels roughly like a punch in the stomach that leaves you wanting more. It's a shame he couldn't build on the success of Kids, but I suppose if you're Larry Clark, what else is left to say after that?

skahammer (#587)

"…the feeling of his photographs, which feels roughly like a punch in the stomach that leaves you wanting more."

Really, really, really good, this is.

En Vague (#82)

… and 10 years later, Telly ends up dead from a heroin overdose in Hamsterdam.

I'm brown Bubs, i'm brown

hungrybee (#2,091)

Bitten by rats, no less!

beatrixkiddo1 (#2,988)

Funny, when this came out I was in the New York suburbs, wishing I lived in London. (With Jarvis Cocker as my boyfriend, preferably.)

Me and my Jr. high school skater kid friends all thought this movie was very cool though, and it added even more mystery and drama to that huge city sitting just fifty miles from whatever parking lot we were hanging out in. That said, now that I'm living in NYC and thinking about having kids, I'm glad it's not like this. I'd prefer they not beat people in the streets and get AIDS.

Mar (#2,357)

I want to sit in a kiddie pool with Jeff Barea, watching this on an outdoor projector screen while I tenderly brush mosquitoes off his muscular, red-haired thighs.

Mar (#2,357)

#nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

saythatscool (#101)

Now I'm gettin ya ;)

Aatom (#74)

There are plenty of little barely-teen brats skateboarding on the river in NJ where I live, none of them seem very interesting to me. Maybe they're only cool when they live in the East Village. I thought Kids was self-indulgent and needlessly provocative when I saw it 15 years ago. I doubt my opinion would change much today.

Clip Arthur (#2,024)

Was on the subway this afternoon after reading this. Within a second of getting on the train, there were two kids that fit the "KIDS" archetype perfectly.

But when I ended up in Manhattan and walked up Bradway, mid-west mall-city.

So yeah, Manhattan and the Village (thanks NYU!) might have changed but all is fine in the outer boroughs.

Pandemic Endemic (#3,825)

I loved the rave scene in Kids, "The effectsacy of ecstasy!" It's probably the most genuine seeming rave scene that I have ever seen in any media. It didn't overly romanticize like Groove and Go. It didn't demonize like Dawson's Creek or a CBS news report. It was what it was.

Pandemic Endemic (#3,825)

Sorry I forgot to close the italics tag!

mrschem (#1,757)


migraineheadache (#1,866)

Last week was the anniversary of N.A.S.A. too I think… as a teenager in the Philly suburbs I used to collect the flyers and dream of sneaking out and catching the bus there but sadly I never did.

For me this movie brings back memories of a friend I knew who grew up in that crowd and also died young. I think it might be less forgotten than a time that people don't want to talk about.

The quotes are stuck in my head forever though - the first thing that I thought of when I saw that post on Ass Bottlerockets was "I just wanna put it in the ass, Yo!"

to me most of he comments hear are looking at the film in the wrong light. i think the movie was far more important as an example for parents to see what can happen to there children.a "wake up call" i grew up in a small town in Virginia. a relocation program brought a large number of intercity youth from new jersy to the county i was growing up in ,in the early 80's most parents were oblivious to the dangers that teens faced. because of there oblivion when i graduated in 95 in a class of 200. 33 girls were pregnant. 18 of thous girls had aids. not to mention the 67 students who did not graduate because they were in guvy for crimes ranging from rape to drugs to murder, or the girls who drooped out before graduation because of getting pregnant as young as 9 years old. parents did not have the internet back then. and if the parents had been aware of what was going on perhaps many lives would have turned out very different.

I forgot this movie even existed though I was totally in the target age group (18-19 when it came out). I never got to see it because it came out while I was in the Navy. Every year I find some new nugget of movie, tv, and music that came out during those years that I'd never heard of.

Beth Hill (#6,419)

what a horrible and disturbing movie. I still can't forget that gratuitous rape scene that went on forever. I spent the next week wishing I'd left the theater early. If this is real, it is proof that people suck.

NinetyNine (#98)

The whole reason for this movie so Larry Clark could photograph a topless Leo Fitzpatrick getting spritzed with water.

Matthew Lawrence (#4,252)

I thought this movie was tedious as anything when it came out, but I pretended that I liked it because Entertainment Weekly gave it a B and I liked everything they told me to like (I was 14 and didn't know better) and also because Leo Fitzpatrick was all shirtless the whole time (I was 14 and didn't know better.) In my very suburban high school, though, the movie was mainly popular with the nasty field hockey players.

musicmope (#428)

That you couldn't find a journalist who was living in Manhattan at that time to write this piece says more about how the city has changed than the piece itself.

lilbeanie (#4,082)

I was 14 and growing up in the suburbs when this movie came out, and I definitely thought it was the coolest thing in the world, as well as appropriately terrifying in some ways. It's really interesting to look back on the film right now, because I've been giving a lot of thought recently to my 14-year-old self and wondering what the fuck I was thinking when it came to a lot of things, but when it comes to Kids, I realize now that a lot of the grown-up types of things they did weren't something I wanted at the time. HIV wasn't the only terrifying thing about the movie to me, and it's kind of a relief to realize that maybe I did have some brains in my head at 14, because I remember feeling like all the freedom they had (which is pretty much all I wanted at the time) wasn't really freedom at all. It seemed scary and sad, even if it was "cool."
On a side note, I recently worked at a restaurant in Brooklyn with a couple people my age who went to school with Rosario Dawson at the time the movie was made, and were some of those "East Village skater kids." And as far as I can tell from knowing them, the New York in the film certainly existed, but the matter-of-factness of what it means to actually be one of those kids basically lost its luster the second the tape stopped rolling. The follow-up documentary would basically play out like you'd expect: addiction, gang violence, broken homes, teenage pregnancy, jail time, death, etc. Hardly glamorous, and certainly not something that the current New York City is looking to sell itself as.

Jerry Kolber (#6,481)

Adam, it did exist. You missed it but it was really dirty and it really wasn't all that glamorous, and a lot of what's good about old NYC (restless creative energy, great ideas, cool fkn people) is still around you just have to peek behind all the bogus-ness that's all over nyc now and be willing to get your trousers a little dirty. By the way, gummo is a work of pure fkn genius.

bennimaddi (#314)

when can we expect the party girl retrospective?

cinetrix (#47)


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