I’m often a bit embarrassed to admit that one of my favourite films is Larry Clark’s Kids, and when people ask the plot I’m hesitant to disclose the truth. ‘It’s about a teenage boy with AIDS who goes around deflowering virgins’ is an answer that’s bound to raise a few eyebrows and questions about my taste in cinema. But there is so much more to Kids than its controversial storyline, which is itself centred around one group of youths on a summers day in New York. Put like that, there is the danger that the film’s slow pace, imitating the drowsiness and heat of the city’s streets, could run the risk of becoming dull and dreary. But from the opening shot it means to shock; the first scene depicting Telly (the aforementioned teen) persuading an uncomfortably young looking girl to have sex with him. This becomes all the more distressing when we find out that Telly is carrying the HIV virus, and has thus given it to numerous underage girls. First released in 1995 during the height of the AIDS epidemic, such a storyline unsurprisingly caused massive public debate. Although this plot is perhaps not so relevant now, Kids still has an undeniable pull in terms of its aesthetic.
Telly and Caspar off screen, Writer Harmony Korine and all round it-girl Chloe Sevigny, Rosario Dawson
From the film’s beginning there’s something different about it, something raw and natural and invasive. There is the sense that rather than watching a movie, you are in fact following the nihilistic adventures of a real group of New York teenagers. Perhaps this is down to the inexperience of many of the actors and actresses involved, some of whom (including Leo Fitzpatrick who played Telly and Rosario Dawson who played Ruby) were picked as they wandered their neighbourhood streets. Rather than ‘acting’ then, they were just playing an exaggerated version of themselves. Some cast members, such as skateboarder Harold Hunter really did just play themselves. So, whilst many films come across as pretentiously self-conscious in their attempt to imitate teenage life, Kids had no need to imitate - its rawness lies in its reality.
Going hand in hand with this effortless portrayal of youth is the authentic style of each and every character. The girls, in their ringer tees paired with loose fitting denim, look as if they’ve walked straight out of an American Apparel commercial. The boys are tall and skinny, swamped in their baggy jeans and oversized tees. Again there is the sense that this is not the calculated costuming of ‘teens’ orchestrated by a styling team, but rather the everyday wear of New York city’s ordinary boys and girls. The character of Caspar, played by OG Supreme Team member Justin Pierce, becomes synonymous with his oversized Independent skateboard tee and baggy chinos, a means in which he smuggles a stolen 40oz. This was one of three scenes from the film that were immortalised 20 years later in a Supreme capsule collection, Caspar’s trousers embellishing the front of tees, hoodies and a skateboard. The collection rapidly sold out in typical Supreme fashion, but I think no matter who had chosen to cash in on the film’s anniversary it would have been a success. For although Kids may never reach mainstream popularity, it has a cult following that will only grow stronger alongside our millennial dissatisfaction and desire for nostalgia.
A baby faced Korine, Still from the rave scene, An extra that looks suspiciously like Vincent Kartheiser
Yet although we may crave the free and hedonistic lifestyle that the film portrays, its important to remember that its plot is as saddening as it is enticing. The shocking final scene leaves us with a group of teens carrying a life changing virus from which they’ll never be cured. The futures of these characters is thus left uncertain, alike to the futures of the actors themselves. Some, like Chloë Sevigny (who played Jennie) have gone on to become household names, but others weren’t so lucky. Justin Pierce (Caspar) committed suicide at only 25 years old, whilst another Supreme team member Harold Hunter (Harold) was found dead from a cocaine-induced heart attack six years after this. We live in age where almost nothing can shock us, and perhaps if a film like Kids was released today it would not cause nearly so much controversy. On its release it was dubbed a ‘wake-up call to the modern world’ and accused by many as bordering on ‘pornography’. Yet I don’t think the same film could be produced now, even if a director so desired it. Although there are undoubtedly still kids like Telly and Caspar roaming the streets of New York, it would be difficult to achieve the same unwavering voyeurism of Clark’s cinematic masterpiece. By the film’s end you really are left asking ‘Jesus Christ. What happened?’
Words by: Saskia