September 15, 1995 in Seven

‘Kids’ Is A Grim Look At Mindless Street Action

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tags:review

One of the most popular stops at San Diego’s Sea World is the shark exhibit. People of all ages stand at the glass and stare at these undersea predators as they cruise back and forth, on constant lookout for simple gratification.

Hold that image for a second, and now segue with me to Larry Clark’s controversial film “Kids.”

Based on a screenplay by Harmony Korine, who was just 19 when he wrote it a couple of years ago, Clark’s movie is simplicity personified: A group of New York teenagers, one or two people who appear to be in their early 20s and a number of pre-teens, cruise the streets of the Big Apple in search of gratification in whatever form it takes.

That includes 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor, marijuana rolled in cigar leaves, shoplifting from the neighborhood store, theft from a parent’s secret stash of cash, breaking into a public pool after hours for a midnight swim, urinating on street corners, beating up a belligerent stranger and/or bragging about any and all of this to their friends.

Oh, and did I mention sex? To the young characters in “Kids,” sex is the ultimate high. But not just any kind of sex, mind you. Specific kinds of sex. The deflowering of a virgin, for example, or the rape of a drugged-out party-goer.

Such actions have nothing to do with love or even affection. They’re simply the slam-bang act best defined by using the gerund form of a familiar Anglo-Saxon four-letter word, if you catch my drift. They are mere means, obviously, to an end, which is gratification and which is frighteningly reminiscent of the hunger that drives any mako, blue or great white shark.

Korine’s screenplay, brought to life by Clark, immerses itself in this predator-prey world. It follows a trio of principal characters, beginning with Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), a scrawny lothario who specializes in being any young girl’s first lover.

When that act occurs, as Telly brags to his friend Casper (Justin Pierce), “You the man.” However many other lovers a girl might have, she’ll never have another first, Telly says. You’re a historical marker.

The conflict that Korine creates for “Kids” is an inherently late-20th-century problem: This is the modern era of unforgiving acts. And nothing - unless it was syphilis pre-penicillin - is less forgiving than the virus called HIV, which Telly is unknowingly spreading around his ever-growing circle of acquaintances.

One of those acquaintances, Jenny (Chloe Sevigny), tests positive for HIV. And she spends much of the movie looking for Telly, doing a kind of “Going After Cacciato” exercise that ends up being every bit as meaningless as the central action that inspired that Tim O’Brien novel.

Which means that finding Telly, even if Jenny ever does, will do little, or nothing, to change her situation.

And that, actually, is both the strength and the weakness of “Kids.” Clark, who is an associate of Gus Van Sant (who produced the film), has the same sensibility, if not sensitivity, to young adults mired in difficult environments. So as a documentary-like movie, “Kids” has a sense of undeniable power.

But this isn’t a documentary. These are actors, though largely untrained ones, and this is a fictional setting, even if inspired by real circumstances. And fiction demands something more. It demands, if nothing else, a context - a reason for being.

Korine’s script does feature a bit of complexity. It’s ironic, for example, that the very sexual acts that Telly brags about are termed hysterical during a girl-talk scene that refutes every swaggering idea the boys hold dear. At this point - especially when the two groups, independent of each other, debate the relative pleasures of oral sex - “Kids” is almost funny.

But laughter is hardly the first reaction that “Kids” inspires. Fear, anger, incredulity - all, in the end, seem more appropriate responses to what Clark has put up on the screen. In one scene, one stoned boy - barely into his teens - goes off on an extended angry rap about how AIDS is merely a lie that has been created to keep people in line.

Contrast that to Jenny’s reaction upon learning that her single sexual experience has doomed her to an early death, and suddenly laughter doesn’t seem like an option.

In fact, nothing much about this film responds well to typical critical evaluation, much less typical audience reaction.

As there is only a wandering story, the only meaningful comment about the plot line is that there isn’t much of one.

As the actors are mostly amateurs who, only through their adolescent wartiness manage to capture the discomfiting authenticity of real life, there’s little value in judging individual performances. (Although Sevigny does appear to have what it takes to warrant a mainstream career.)

And as Clark essentially acts like a fly on the wall, using his camera direct-cinema style to dispassionately capture his characters and their actions, there is little further to say about camera technique and/or framing, etc.

But then this is criticism in and of itself. For what a film refuses to do is every bit as important in gauging what it finally becomes.

Just as “Kids” resists easy classification, it avoids easy meaning. Clark is less interested in providing a message than in merely capturing what he sees as a ‘90s version of urban existence. And he can be faulted for this: If nothing else, he should give us some sense of why he believes this version of existence warrants our attention.

In the end, “Kids” is bound to enrage some viewers, enthrall others and confound most (even among those very teens who aren’t allowed in because of the film’s non-rated release to avoid the dreaded NC-17).

But the film’s ultimate ability to engage an audience shouldn’t surprise anyone. Watching “Kids” is, after all, a lot like watching sharks.

At feeding time.

, DataTimes MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story: “KIDS” ** Location: Lyons cinemas Credits: Directed by Larry Clark, starring Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloe Sevigny and Yakira Peguero Running time: 1:32 Rating: No rating (because of violence and sexual and drug references, no one under 18 is allowed without parent or adult guardian).

OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “Kids”: John Horn/AP Entertainment Writer: If you’ve seen the “Red Asphalt” deterrent films at driver’s ed class, you’ve seen “Kids.” Just substitute teenagers for the car wrecks. …”Kids” is a 90-minute portrait of juvenile blight. … It’s not 22 years from “American Graffiti.” It’s light years. Hillel Italie/Associated Press Writer: “Kids” raises some important issues, but you shouldn’t have to buy tickets to watch a public service announcement. Carrie Rickey/Philadelphia Inquirer: “Kids” is a chilling immersion into the stormy sea of teen life, impossible to watch - but, like an accident, you can’t look away. It is an SOS from the crisis zone. The film’s urgency is undeniable. Rene Rodriguez/Miami Herald: “Kids” climax allows no catharsis, instead taking an unexpected chilling turn, making it impossible to walk out and forget what you’ve seen. Yardena Arar/Los Angeles Daily News: “Kids” is the kind of movie that sends audiences out of the theater talking about these things, and that’s good. But if Clark’s vision is as close to reality as it tries to look, then we’re all in big trouble. Jay Carr/The Boston Globe: Mostly, it’s an indictment of an adult world that averts its eyes from kids falling into out-of-control lives filled with drugs, racism, homophobia, unsafe sex - unsafe everything. Joe Baltake/McClatchy News Service: Larry Clark’s already infamous “Kids” is disturbing not so much for its graphic, no-holds-barred depiction of a certain segment of American teenagers in the throes of cheap, empty thrills - drugs, booze and sex - but because all the sordidness here has been so passively and dispassionately recorded. Robert W. Butler/Kansas City Star: If (Larry) Clark wanted to leave his audience wrapped up in a cocoon of hopelessness, he succeeded. But it makes you wonder why he bothered. Michael H. Price/Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Larry Clark’s “Kids,” the feel-bad movie of the year, gives new meaning to the scandalous NC-17 rating: No Customers With an IQ of Under 17. Bob Fenster/The Arizona Republic: Just in case you’re not depressed enough, you can pay $6 to see “Kids’ ‘and become convinced that we won’t have to worry about future generations because there won’t be any.

These sidebars appeared with the story: “KIDS” ** Location: Lyons cinemas Credits: Directed by Larry Clark, starring Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloe Sevigny and Yakira Peguero Running time: 1:32 Rating: No rating (because of violence and sexual and drug references, no one under 18 is allowed without parent or adult guardian).

OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “Kids”: John Horn/AP Entertainment Writer: If you’ve seen the “Red Asphalt” deterrent films at driver’s ed class, you’ve seen “Kids.” Just substitute teenagers for the car wrecks. …”Kids” is a 90-minute portrait of juvenile blight. … It’s not 22 years from “American Graffiti.” It’s light years. Hillel Italie/Associated Press Writer: “Kids” raises some important issues, but you shouldn’t have to buy tickets to watch a public service announcement. Carrie Rickey/Philadelphia Inquirer: “Kids” is a chilling immersion into the stormy sea of teen life, impossible to watch - but, like an accident, you can’t look away. It is an SOS from the crisis zone. The film’s urgency is undeniable. Rene Rodriguez/Miami Herald: “Kids” climax allows no catharsis, instead taking an unexpected chilling turn, making it impossible to walk out and forget what you’ve seen. Yardena Arar/Los Angeles Daily News: “Kids” is the kind of movie that sends audiences out of the theater talking about these things, and that’s good. But if Clark’s vision is as close to reality as it tries to look, then we’re all in big trouble. Jay Carr/The Boston Globe: Mostly, it’s an indictment of an adult world that averts its eyes from kids falling into out-of-control lives filled with drugs, racism, homophobia, unsafe sex - unsafe everything. Joe Baltake/McClatchy News Service: Larry Clark’s already infamous “Kids” is disturbing not so much for its graphic, no-holds-barred depiction of a certain segment of American teenagers in the throes of cheap, empty thrills - drugs, booze and sex - but because all the sordidness here has been so passively and dispassionately recorded. Robert W. Butler/Kansas City Star: If (Larry) Clark wanted to leave his audience wrapped up in a cocoon of hopelessness, he succeeded. But it makes you wonder why he bothered. Michael H. Price/Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Larry Clark’s “Kids,” the feel-bad movie of the year, gives new meaning to the scandalous NC-17 rating: No Customers With an IQ of Under 17. Bob Fenster/The Arizona Republic: Just in case you’re not depressed enough, you can pay $6 to see “Kids’ ‘and become convinced that we won’t have to worry about future generations because there won’t be any.


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