A Week Before it Turns 20, the Movie ‘Kids’ is Being Remembered as a Classic
Rolling Stone called it “the most controversial film of the Nineties.”
With mid-’90s New York City as its setting, the Larry Clark-directed film Kids struck a chord with an entire generation, candidly portraying the sexual lives of a handful of teenagers. Released nationwide on July 28, 1995, the NC-17 drama was daring, igniting a conversation about HIV and AIDS at at time when the diseases were still largely misunderstood and taboo. With a cast of raw, unknown teenagers at its helm, the movie became a powerful commentary on sex, rape, love, drugs, and teenaged abandon, and 20 years later, its message remains visceral.
Last month, the cast and crew of the movie gathered for a special screening for the anniversary event, reuniting actors Rosario Dawson and Chlöe Sevigny (both of whom had never acted in a film before) with Clark, screenwriter Harmony Korine (who was 19 at the time of the film’s production), and others. Part solemn affair, part nostalgic celebration, the screening of the film at the prestigious Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City signaled the film’s arrival as a piece of classic film-making. The loss of Justin Pierce (Casper in the film) to suicide at 25 and Harold Hunter (remember the dick wagging?) to an overdose at 31 cast a somber cloud over the reunion, and while the tragic loss of such young, unbridled talent is still felt deeply by all those involved in the film, this landmark event is offering up opportunities for joyful souvenirs. As Dawson shared with Vulture writer Jada Yuan, “[Harold] bet me a box of doughnuts on the L train we were gonna get married. I’m still mad at him about that.”
In a beautifully in-depth conversation, the cast and crew sat down with Rolling Stone‘s Eric Hynes who begins the interview portion with “We would warn you about the explicit language and content to follow, but fuck that. This is Kids. You know what you’re getting into.” Korine, Leo Fitzpatrick (he played Telly), Sevigny, Dawson, Clark, producer Gary Woods, Cinematographer Eric Allen Edwards, film score Composer Lou Barlow, & studio executives Harvey Weinstein and Eamonn Bowles shared thoughts on the film’s history, what it was like shooting in New York City, the role sex played (both on and off screen), difficulties in finding a studio and distributor, and the film’s unexpected success and legacy.
While much of the discussion deals with the heavy aspects of the film – drug use on set, the deaths of co-stars, and AIDS – there are moments of levity throughout, which add a sense of lightheartedness and whimsy to a film that meant so much to so many. For example, while discussing what the events were which led to the movie’s creation, the cast and crew discuss how Korine and Clark met. It happened, of course, in Washington Square Park, New York City’s longtime bastion for the ostracized, weird, and nomadic. Clark was a photographer at the time, one who became drawn to the youth culture (particularly that of skateboarding) he saw developing in the park, and Fitzpatrick shares a smile-inducing fact about the future film director. “In order for Larry to photograph something, he has to be part of it. He can’t just be an observer. So, at 50 years old, he taught himself how to skateboard so he could keep up with everybody.” Korine, a skater himself, had caught Clark’s attention, and the two began discussing their shared desire to make a film. And make a film they did.
Dawson’s entry into the film was just as serendipitous; as a recently graduated 8th grader, she sat on the stoop of her Alphabet City apartment building and watched a crew shooting a commercial for Vibe. Korine and a few others were immediately drawn to the fresh-faced young girl, and Dawson mistakenly identified them as being involved with the commercial shoot. “I thought they were with the Vibe crew, because they were shooting sound that day and I thought they were coming over to tell me to be quiet. But instead Harmony was jumping up and down really excited, going ‘Oh my god I wrote this for you, I don’t even know you but I wrote this for you!'” As the proper introductions were made, Dawson was given a script of the film, which her parents surprisingly embraced. “They thought it was cool. Most people would have read that script and said ‘Oh hell no!’ But the only issue my mom and dad put their foot down about was that my character couldn’t be smoking. Otherwise they thought the film seemed really smart,” she shares.
For many, the film’s predominant theme is the one involving sex, particularly its negative consequences. However, as the cast shares, most of them had little to no experience with sex while filming the movie. “I had had sex once, maybe. Maybe not even real sex. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing,” Fitzpatrick says. Dawson chimes in with “I remember my first kiss happened during the middle of shooting…when I had gone to Tompkins Square Park with a bunch of my friends and we played spin the bottle.” What made her first experience particularly memorable was that immediately following, she returned to set to shoot the infamous scene of her at the clinic, awaiting results from her character’s HIV test.
As the 20th anniversary of Kids approaches, fans will surely be sharing their memories across social media and other channels. Perhaps we remember the soundtrack most, replete with Hip-Hop from the likes of Beastie Boys, Brand Nubian, the Crooklyn Dodgers, Jeru the Damaja, and more. Or, maybe the sexually explicit scenes are what stand out the most, the ones played in our minds when first encountering sex in our personal lives. Depending on one’s age, the film could have had considerably different messages. Perhaps a cautionary tale. Perhaps a reminder of the good ol’ days of teenagedom. Or, maybe most universally, a snapshot of a New York City long since vanished.