20 years ago, a movie was released which the New York Times described as ”a wake up call to the modern world.” However, not all critics were as moved by Larry Clark’s harrowing depiction of street youth culture, with the Washington Post even going as far to call it ”child pornography disguised as a cautionary documentary.” Needless to say, ”Kids” was a divisive movie upon its release, and remains as such to this day.
Adopting the style of a quasi-documentary, ”Kids” is not a movie that was made to be enjoyable or entertaining; Larry Clark’s intention was to make ”the Great American Teenage Movie”; a looking glass of American youth at its most honest. In order to achieve his goal, Clark enlisted Harmony Korine to help write the screenplay, who was only 19 years old at the time. While doing research himself, Clark would hang out with young skaters, building relationships and learning their habits, before convincing them to take part in the film.
Of course, ”Kids” was not an accurate depiction of all American teenagers, but it was representative of a large contingent; one of which many people would not be aware of, or maybe even choose to ignore. Here, every single character is driven by sex, drugs and drinking – with their days spent seeking only these things. Telly, played by Leo Fitzpatrick, is as obnoxious as a teenager can be; a self-proclaimed ”virgin surgeon”, he spends most of his time deflowering young girls then laughing about it with his friends afterwards. It could be argued that ”Kids” presents young people at their very worst: a deliberately bleak portrayal of a culture painted ugly. Telly, as a character, is the kid who gives parents nightmares – and Fitzpatrick’s performance is so natural and raw you sometimes forget that it’s an actor playing a fictional person. He has no moral compass – neither do his friends, and it makes for uncomfortable viewing.
The use of an untrained, first time cast is used to great effect, as the film feels very authentic and true-to-life, much like a documentary. While containing a plot and structured narrative like a movie, the cast evoke sincere realism. The way they dress and speak, do and say feels so natural you feel like you’re watching days in the lives of real people. With his intention, Clark succeeded effectively in that regard.
I couldn’t blame anybody for hating a film like ”Kids”; it’s an uncomfortable experience that will instill uneasiness and trepidation in even the most jaded viewer. However, to dismiss it as ”exploitation” – like many critics did – is missing the point entirely. Furthermore, it is not a movie that was made to make the culture it was showcasing look bad. It was created as a wake-up call to highlight topics such as social injustice, disillusionment and the dangers of unsafe sex. In fact, if you ask me, ”Kids” would be an effective film to show teenagers to encourage them to be cautious. Even those with privileged, sheltered upbringings could suffer the same fates to those in Larry Clark’s depiction of a world that does exist.
”Kids” is not a movie I can recommend to the casual viewer, but if you can appreciate challenging cinema then it’s not to be missed. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying it’s unique. And the type of movie we might never see again. 10/10.
Larry Clark, Harmony Korine & Jim Lewis
Leo Fitzpatrick, Chloe Sevigny, Rosario Dawson