Wednesday, April 16, 2014

formative films - kids.

Kids (1995)

Dir: Larry Clark

as anyone old enough will remember, kids caused quite the controversy when it was first released. but as harsh as it may have seemed, it was a genuine, honest portrayal of the lives of young people in new york city. and don't get me wrong - I'm in no way condoning the activities that occur within the film, but to say that they don't happen or that this is an exaggeration would be naive.

it also introduced the world to harmony korine, a man to whom I am deeply indebted...but that's another story for another time.

this film will always be, first and foremost, one of favorite cinematic depictions of life in new york city. even at just thirteen years old, kids made me want to live there, to be a part of the craziness of that great city I'd end up calling home just a few years later. I certainly didn't engage in any of the behaviors detailed in the film, nor did I even understand most of them at that age, but that sense of freedom, that ability to just go anywhere and do anything, it still sticks with me to this very day.

upon seeing it for the first time, it's easy to mistake kids for a documentary. the camera work is utilitarian, the dialogue is naturalistic, and the kids themselves are, for the most part, non-actors. the whole film feels so gritty, so real, that you quickly forget there's a script.

it also gave birth to many success stories - chloe sevigny and rosario dawson made their debuts here, and leo fitzpatrick is still acting as well, having recently appeared in cold comes the night with bryan cranston. unfortunately, it also paved the way to tragedy - justin pierce died in 2000 and harold hunter passed in 2006.

harmony and larry clark did collaborate a second time on the near-impossible to find ken park. while kids was imbued with some semblance of morality, ken park was nothing but exploitation, and not even well-made exploitation, at that. as a result, it never received distribution in america. rips are available online, but honestly, it's a film that's best left alone...and that's coming from someone who actively seeks out offensive and controversial works of art.

and despite the controversy that kids caused upon release, it's nonetheless an important film - not just for the time and place it depicts within the narrative, but for the implications and themes that it represents. the kids themselves are completely and utterly carefree, reveling in the irresponsible nature that's inherent in youth culture. they steal, they take drugs, they have sex, they fight, they stay out all night - nothing matters and nothing can interfere.

that is, nothing they've experienced at this point in their short lives - but what about all of those harsh realities that much of the rest of the world deals with on a daily basis? although we never get to see the real repercussions of the events detailed in the film, the catalysts are all there and it's safe to assume that the titular kids will never be the same once an unstoppable, unknowable disease has ravaged not only their bodies but culture as well.

think of it as opening pandora's box - a lifestyle without any burden whatsoever is suddenly overrun with all of the evils of the world, repercussions for past actions suddenly catching up and threatening to destroy the world they all know.

interestingly, as much as the events within the film would potentially change the lives of the characters, the film itself would change the lives of nearly everyone involved in both positive and negative ways. as I've already mentioned, two of the stars died. harmony korine would go on to direct his first feature just two years later, and producers christine vachon and cary woods would go on to produce larger films that would be both critically and financially successful. larry clark did bully in 2001, but after ken park in 2002, his career dropped off and honestly, I'm not surprised.

for a more thorough examination of the events, check out caroline rothstein's article on - it's incredibly exhaustive and a fascinating read for all fans of the film and anyone interested in seeing how sudden notoriety can change the lives of everyday kids.

the parallels between the sudden success of the film and the sudden unleashing of the HIV virus within the film should not go unnoticed - in both cases, these young people were not, nor could they have been, prepared for what was to come. and although the film doesn't let us see the narrative fallout firsthand, the mixed blessings of reality have been more than dramatic enough - with the tragedies rendered even more tragic by our inability to press rewind.

as interesting as this film and the story behind it are, let's not forget the music - the whole soundtrack was done by lou barlow, generally known for his work in dinosaur jr. and sebadoh. it spawned one hit song, "natural one," by barlow as folk implosion - a track that remains great to this very day. there's a good variety of material to be found on the soundtrack, ranging from noisy rock to solo acoustic work, and it's definitely worth checking out.

despite all of the controversy and the tragedy that would befall too many of the cast members, the fact remains that kids in an essential portrait of new york city in the early to mid-1990's, a new york city that has been slowly eradicated over the last fifteen years. it's a different city now - whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I'll let you decide. 

but here it is, each and every harsh reality preserved for all time. 

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