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25 Years Later: Kids

28 July 20 words: Charlie and George Alexander

A hyper-realistic, fly-on-the-wall story, Kids is the product of 19-year-old writer Harmony Korine and photographer-cum-filmmaker Larry Clark. 25 years old this month, the film is set in the heart of New York, where Clark and Korine capture the disturbing hedonism and reckless nature of pubescent youth...

Director: Larry Clark
Starring: Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloë Sevigny
Running time: 91 minutes

We follow Telly and Casper as they aimlessly cruise through the rustle and bustle of downtown New York. Sex is made pivotal from the start, as we listen to their immature and oppressive conversations regarding de-flowering virgins. The boys are lost in a world of temporary pleasure and fulfilment; a constant chase for the next satisfaction which inevitably leads them astray. Kids is a snapshot of their day-to-day lives, raw, honest but inescapably uncomfortable from the very get-go. 

The film commences boldly, Telly primitively kissing a younger girl - only pausing to further convince her to share her first sexual encounter with him. Void of any context and coupled with the intimate glow of the scene, we, similar to the young girl, are coerced into believing that Telly is a comforting and loving character. Yet it is mere seconds after when Telly leaves and begins grotesquely bragging to Casper, that our initial trust is shattered. Korine’s screenplay repeats this throughout; building the audience up to expect some form of recompense or catharsis, only for it to be destroyed and added to our anguish, with the ever increasing malevolence of the boys. 

Early on, the film cleverly darts back-and-forth between the group of girls and boys who are sat discussing their sexual experiences. To start with, both conversations are presented as occurring simultaneously, however, as we flashback with the girls, we notice they, specifically Jennie, are trailing behind the boys. As the plot slowly begins to unravel, Clark and Korine execute a nauseating but powerful chase; always one step behind their destructive trail. This is a powerful structural device, as Jennie’s hunt highlights the awful pain and misery that the group leave behind without an ounce of consideration or punishment.

A wake-up call for areas that are often never conversed openly in the real world

It is evident that Clark was motivated to capture an insightful sense of intimacy in the film. The camera seems to float throughout; picking up on subtleties and impromptu remarks from the beautifully under-experienced cast. With a Cassavettes-like realism to the group conversations, we are gently guided through the dingy apartment rooms where our senseless and brash ‘kids’ hang out - smoking weed, huffing on balloons and talking-girls. Although we aren’t given an overt amount of information here, it is through Clark’s direction that we feel welcomed into the group and, with his history as a street photographer, the director achieves such an immense level of authenticity; a pivotal feature to the intoxicating nature of the story. 

Like a modern day Los Olvidados, Kids offers a coming-of-age story so far from the classic tropes. A prime example is Korine’s choice to focus on a deplorable and manipulative lead character. Telly is perverse and animalistic in his grooming of younger girls; he represents twisted and toxic masculinity, his lack of direction and grounding in life is nullified by heartless and transactional sex in which he seizes power and control. Leo Fitzpatrick is phenomenal; a true, unapologetic and mesmerising performance. Above all, Kids honest and heinous nature is what separates it from 99 percent of all adolescent tales. Whereas Hollywood’s approach comes from fairytale-esque inspirations, Clark and Korine openly tackle mature and uncomfortable issues in a frontal manner. They refuse to submit to an easing happy ending but instead provide a harrowing cyclical structure and as we watch the younger boys listen to Telly’s deplorable and objectifying description of sex. It’s hard not to see his idea’s manifesting in their young and impressionable minds; highlighting a societal plague of pernicious masculinity.

Although a wholly important watch, I feel it is rightful to note that Kids could become victim to crass misinterpretation from a younger audience. The fact that Clark invests so much into mastering a fashionable, street aesthetic could influence a younger mind to glaze over the injustices and clear barbaric nature which inhibits the entire story. However, it would not be merited to condemn either Clark or Korine, as the film confronts a plethora of stigmas surrounding teen sex and AIDS in an accessible and powerful manner. From Casper sexualising Telly’s mums breastfeeding, through to the girls having open conversations about the underwhelming realities of losing your virginity; the film acts as a huge, open conversation and wake-up call for areas that are often never conversed openly in the real world.

Kids is cinema at its most potent; infecting your mind with it’s shameful, yet encapsulating nature. Foraging into your brain, it will take you a while before you manage to leave this one behind.

Did you know? The film was highly controversial upon release. Roger Ebert was among the critics to praise its themes and characterisation, whereas others maligned its explicit content as exploitative.

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