Dir: Larry Clark, 1995. Starring: Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloe Sevigny, Rosario Dawson. Drama.

Before Larry Clark was a known figure in controversial filmmaking he was a brilliant photographer. Some might argue that his photography is considerably better than his films, and I'd have to agree. By "better" I mean that they have a deeper effect on you and, despite the often bleak subject matter, they are clean, provoking images with good form. However, Clark's first film Kids, co-written by Harmony Korine, should be considered his directorial masterpiece.

In the early '90s Clark shot a series of photos that were documents of New York skate culture and depravity within the lifestyles of young people. Clark enjoyed interacting with his subjects, often finding a muse and/or love interest among them. Many of those New York kids would later be in his first film, more or less dramatizing and extending what could be felt through the grizzly portraits of them. The energy of the film is fresh and the entire line-up, omitting the producer, was quite amateur; Korine was 19 when he wrote the script; Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloe Sevigny, and Rosario Dawson were all debuting on the screen. Clark's ability to compose a frame filled with images you can't ignore ultimately stabilized the film, and Korine's efforts, matched with an ambitious cast, made it something to be realized and respected.

The first scene sets the stage for discomfort and amazement as two minors skillfully lock lips in an extreme close-up. The boy is Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), and the girl is merely his latest virgin target. Telly prides himself on deflowering girls. By pursuing those who've seemingly yet to reach puberty or aren't sexually active, he thinks he'll be saved from STDs and get more pleasure in the act. After talking the girl into having unprotected sex with him he exits her home and finds his best friend Casper (Justin Pierce) waiting anxiously outside. The two wander around New York as Telly recaps his latest romp. After stealing some malt liquor they visit the neighborhood "flop house," a place were young kids can crash and get high, compliments of some adult who can't seem to grow up and be responsible. The group is all male, and the conversation between them quickly turns to sex, drugs, and huffing chemicals. The newest topic on their mind is the HIV virus, which the majority think is a joke, or a foolish scare-tactic that adults have developed.

Meanwhile a group of girls are gathered talking about the same things, though their stance on every issue seems to be the exact opposite. Each praises or ridicules her sexual partner(s), marveling at how little boys seem to know about what pleases them and what they desire in a man. Ruby (Rosario Dawson) and Jenny (Chloe Sevigny) are best friends, and they explain to the group that they decided to go and get tested for STDs a week prior. Although Jenny only had one sexual experience, which was with Telly, she goes to keep Ruby company. Ruby is far more promiscuous, peaking at over a dozen lovers at the age of 17, but she remarkably tests negative for everything. Jenny tests positive for HIV. As her world seems to slowly collapse she gets the urge to set out alone and inform Telly that one of his supposed virgins must have given him the virus. But Telly is on the move again with Casper, this time closing in on a 13-year-old girl. Jenny searches all of the hot spots that Telly and his friends visit in the hopes that she'll find him and tell him the bad news. But as night falls she gets sidetracked by the leeches and delinquents who she knows and ends up with more trouble than she started with.

Kids was considered a "wake up call to America," and I'll always refer to it as the movie that really exposed the true happenings that occur within both inner-city and suburban cliques. The realistic dialogue and the exterior shots of New York were also captivating. The fact that the film points the blame at parents in a sense, as do many of Clark's later films, brought to mind several other thoughts. Telly's mother is a single-parent with a new baby, and instead of nurturing her son, she lets him run wild. While asking the question, “Do you know what your kids are up to," Kids also asks, “Can you blame them if you didn't even try?” The soundtrack also turned me onto a number of bands, including Folk Implosion, Sebadoh, and one of my all-time favorite musicians, Daniel Johnston. Seeing it as a teenager really made me look at my own peers differently and steer clear of many of them. I think that an early introduction to the film could be beneficial for those who are naïve in terms of drugs, sex, and petty crime. Even if you view films like these as exploitation, or according to some, borderline child pornography (though there isn't explicit sex), you should see the performances of a cast that would go on to do great things. Fitzpatrick went on to star in Clark's film Bully and the Todd Solondz film Storytelling. Sevigny is now an Academy-Award nominated actress who's worked with many wonderful directors, including Werner Herzog and Korine. Dawson, and several others also now have great careers. Rarely can you see a film where so many people pulled off stellar performances and had a great future in the industry because of it.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jun 23, 2011 1:10pm
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