Written as part of an assignment in my first year at Edge Hill University
In 1995, Larry Clark arrived on the film scene with his directorial debut, the controversial film Kids. Written by Harmony Korine, the film, styled as a documentary, explores the lives of a group of teenagers in New York City. Hard hitting and challenging to watch, showing an unflinching view of teenage life in the mid 90’s, Kids has the feel of a dogme film about it.
The film opens with a long and graphic kissing scene involving Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), the unforgivable and irredeemable fulcrum on which the whole movie turns, and a young girl in her bedroom. The stuffed animals and juvenile quality of her room isn’t lost on the camera, despite the tight angle it’s constrained to. Telly is trying to get the girl to sleep with him, having set himself the task of deflowering as many virgins as he can. He says all of the right lines to make her feel special and convinces her to sleep with him. We next see him on the street, boasting about his conquest and allowing his idiotic, sycophantic friend Casper (Justin Pierce) smell his fingers as proof of the deed.
This type of vulgarity is rife throughout the film, as the boys and their friends talk about drugs and sex almost constantly. The roughness and frankness of the script is what gives the film its biggest impact. Much of the script, though written by Korine, seems improvised which adds to the documentary feel of the film. Leo Fitzpatrick says of Korine’s writing “Harmony was such a good writer and it was so natural…A lot of what we talked about in the movies we talked about in real life.”
Across town, Jennie (Chloë Sevigny) and her friend, Ruby (Rosario Dawson) are getting tested for STD’s at a clinic. It’s here that Jennie is told that she’s HIV Positive and since Telly is the only boy she’s ever slept with, it could have only been contracted from him.
So begins the basic plot line on which everything else in Kids hangs. It’s not an overly complicated plot; Jennie spends the whole film trying to track down Telly to tell him the bad news, but the film doesn’t require a complicated plot. Instead it serves as a skeleton on which Clark and Korine hang their uncomfortably realistic cautionary tale. Sevigny, in her debut role is just as powerful an actress as she always is. Her portrayal of the naive and scared Jennie is brilliant, compelling the audience to feel both sympathetic and protective for her as she travels New York City in an ever desperate hunt for Telly.
Ultimately though, despite her central part in the plot, even Jennie is just another tool that Clark and Korine use to show the disregard the boys have for everything around them. Despite Sevigny’s acting prowess, Jennie is never more than a victim. She is given drugs by a boy at one party and when she finally tracks down Telly, only to find him in bed with another young virgin, she falls into desolated unconsciousness in an armchair, where she is raped by a drunk and high Casper.
It is a testament to Korine’s writing and Clark’s refusal to pull punches that Kids still manages to shock nearly twenty years after its release. It is never an easy watch at any stage and it feels purposely hard to feel any sympathy for the characters. While the film will surely be in very bad taste for some viewers, there is no doubt that the hand held camera work and the punchy, hyper-realistic script provide a bleak and horribly reflective view of youth in 90’s New York.