I never understood the praise heaped on Larry Clark’s 1995 film Kids, which features a bunch of young men acting badly—having unprotected sex with younger girls (infecting at least one of them with HIV), taking drugs, taunting gay people, and eventually beating a man unconscious. Except for the amount of bad behavior packed into a single day (that’s the movies for you), is there anything new or insightful here? So I was eager to see Eddie Martin’s documentary The Kids, which follows up with many of the non-professional actors who appeared in that film, to see if it had an answer to why everyone but me seemed to think Kids was such a big deal.
The Kids does not disappoint, although it tends to confirm my initial instinct that Kids was less an exercise in cinematic truth-telling and more a fictional project that pushed a lot of cultural buttons while exploiting vulnerable young people and replacing their real lives with stereotypes.
Hamilton Harris, who played “Hamilton” in Kids and shares screenwriting credit with Martin for The Kids, describes growing up in a housing project that he calls “a fancy version of a prison system,” in poverty that was psychological and emotional as well as economic. He found an escape in skateboarding, which led him to the East Village and a skate shop which “became a refuge to all the kids who didn’t want to go back home.” He also found friends, including Harold Hunter (“Harold” in Kids) among other young skaters, many of whom were also poor and essentially raising themselves.
Young women were also part of the scene, although not primarily as the sexual objects portrayed in Kids. Highlyann Krasnow describes herself a “punk rock chick” who hung out with the skater guys, and says the group functioned as a family, who were both each other’s best friends and a mutual support system. This theme is echoed by Harris, who describes the relationship among the male and female members of the group as “like brothers and sisters.” Priscilla Forsyth recalls Hunter being concerned for her safety when she got high for the first time, and reminding her, when she complained of having a curfew, that she was lucky to have parents that cared about her.
Clark, who was 49 when he first started to insinuate himself into the young skaters’ world, was initially greeted with wariness (“who’s the oldie?”), and that suspicion was heightened by his unusual interest in these young people’s sex lives and drug use. At the same time, some saw him as a useful financial resource and/or as someone could provide them with a path out of their current circumstances. That latter hope ended badly for two who tried to go the showbiz route following Kids: Justin Pierce (“Casper” in Kids) committed suicide at age 25, while Hunter died of a cocaine overdose at age 32. The young actors did get paid ($1000, according to one, which seemed like a lot of money at the time), but they didn’t benefit further when Kids became a surprise hit, nor did they make any money from, for instance, Clark’s sales of still photos of them.
Clark declined to appear in The Kids, as did Kids screenwriter Harmony Korine, so we don’t get to hear their version of events. Chloe Sevigny (“Jennie” in Kids) and Rosario Dawson (“Ruby” in Kids), whose careers were launched by Clark’s film, appear only in archival footage, which is appropriate, because they weren’t part of the “logical family”* created by the young skaters and their friends who were interviewed for this film. For most of its 88-minute running time, The Kids is both fascinating and insightful. It becomes baggy toward the end, and appears to end about 10 minutes before it really does. Those are minor complaints, however, and The Kids is well worth a watch even if, like me, you don’t have much use for Clark’s 1995 film. | Sarah Boslaugh
The Kids made its world premiere at the Tribeca Festival and is currently available for virtual screening through the Tribeca At Home platform. Further information about tickets and passes for the Tribeca Festival 2021, which runs through June 20, is available from the festival web site.
*To cite a concept from Armistead Maupin, you are born to your biological family, but your logical family is the one you create for yourself.