Starring: Leo Fitzpatrick, Chloë Sevigny, Rosario Dawson Justin
For years, I made a concerted effort not to see Larry Clark's shock-mock-documentary,
“KIDS.” Released in 1995, the film quickly caused a stir, as it
seem to claim that America's youth had reached new levels of depravation.
They were uncouth, violent, sex crazed, drug addicts and worst of
all, seemed entirely unrepentant for their behavior. The movie seemed
to be trying it's best to stir whitebread, adult America into uprising
of moral outrage, an uprising that would cause them to condemn the
film, garnering it the hip status of rebellion and increased tickets
sales. The obviousness of the charade made me anxious to avoid supporting
this cadre of shock-jock filmmakers (Including producer Gus Van
Zant of “Drugstore Cowboy” fame.) who were peddling what sounded
like exploitive crap as a wake up call for America.
And truthfully, I'm glad I did miss the film... at least during
the immediate outcry of its release, as I'm not sure I would have
been able to appreciate as I did when I saw it recently. On some
levels, it is a tacky film; one that tries laughably hard to outrage.
The plot is a loosely connected montages of pre and post pubescent
children having sex, taking drugs, having sex, shoplifting beer,
talking about having sex, and having sex. (Oh – and one character
gets AIDS.) But it's also a film with a great sense of drama and
amazing acting, especially from performers who are so young.
KIDS, for the most part, is not that astonishing. Sure, the characters
engage in sexual acts as repetitiously as rabbits on Viagra, but
the statistics tell us that a limited number today’s youth do act
behave as such. They use language so foul that it might cause Ghetto
rapper Bushwick Bill to take pause, but anyone who's ever been on
a city bus shouldn't be too surprised. The one scene I did find
hard to believe, when several of the youths gang up and beat another
teenager unconscious in the middle of Central Park during broad
daylight , did strike me as phony. I've been to that section of
the Park and have a hard time believing that such a beating wouldn't
attract some authority*. But it's a small mark against the film.
* Of course the film was made only a few years after the infamous
Central Park jogger case, so maybe it did seem possible at the time.
While watching, I was reminded of the 80's film, “Streetwise”,
a real documentary about homeless kids in Seattle. (Chloë Sevigny,
star of “KIDS,” looks so much like one of the subjects of "Streetwise,"
I can't help but wonder if that's why she got the part.) It too,
followed the exploits of youth gone wild, though not without heart
and soul, attributes for the most part missing from the protagonists
of “KIDS.” It seems almost certain that "Streetwise" was
the model for “KIDS.” And in many ways, “KIDS” feels just as real.
The dialogue nails the street lingo of New York youth perfectly.
(At least as far as I can tell.) It doesn't sound like the pseudo-ghetto
vernacular of so many Hollywood flicks. And the actors, either by
being excellent thespians or the real deal, unerringly capture both
the bravado and naiveté of youth. There's one scene in which some
of the older boys tease a younger kid who won't admit to being a
virgin, and... I can't explain it any better than to say that it
just feels so real. It's a scene I've been a part of several
times in my life, (on both sides) and film gets it dead on.
In fact, the "KIDS" main strength was showing me how
much I'd forgotten what it's like to be a kid. While many viewers
reportedly walked out of the theatres in outrage, I found myself
saying, "Yeah... we did do that stupid shit!" (Though
my youth was regrettably lacking in much sexual experience.) The
kids in film weren't all that different from the fellow terrorists
I spent my teenage years with.
The film does attempt to deliver a message, which is, near as I
can tell, that America’s youth are going to hell in a hand basket.
Whether the cause of this descent is negligent parents, rampaging
drug abuse or the ill effects of mass culture, “KIDS” makes little
attempt to say. Certainly calling attention to the state of our
youth is a worthwhile endeveour but where “KIDS” loses its moral
voice is the belligerence with which it delivers its memorandum,
implying that within a generation we will be overrun by a nation
of gangbanging, ultra violent sex fiends. Kids are fucked up, but
they're not <i>that</i> fucked up. Anyone who walks
past a high school or hangs out with their teenage nephew can show
this to be true. Teenagers today are what they’ve always been: whiney,
shrill and annoying, but hardly unsalvageable. The WHO said it best:
the kids are all right.