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‘Kids’ (NR)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 25, 1995

"KIDS," CREATED by photographer-turned-auteur Larry Clark, depicts a stark world of skateboard-soaring, morally impaired teenagers in New York City whose parents are practically nonexistent, whose sexual activities are devoid of human concern, and whose thoughts of the future reach no further than to the night ahead.

Released as a cautionary fable by the newly formed Excalibur Films (an auxiliary enterprise created by Miramax), the movie aspires to give you the quasi-objective lowdown on America's Nihilistic Youth. Instead, it's just an experiment in chic cynicism, a designer road accident for highfalutin rubberneckers. Originally slapped with an NC-17 rating (which would jeopardize advertising in many media outlets, bring out those noisy protest groups, and halt the flow of young ticket-buyers), the movie has been released through Excalibur without a rating. As signatories of the Motion Picture Association of America, Miramax and its parent Walt Disney would have to retain the NC-17 branding.

The movie, scripted by skateboarder-turned-auteur Harmony Korine (when he was 19), starts off with a bang—in the sickest sense of the word. Telly (played by 17-year-old actor Leo Fitzpatrick) hoodwinks a gullible virgin (Sarah Henderson) into sleeping with him. After satisfying himself with her in the most ignominious way possible, he departs to report his success to pal Casper (Justin Pierce). A veritable predator, Telly later decides to outdo himself by deflowering another girl on the same day. He already has his next victim staked out: Darcy (Yakira Peguero) a sweet, trusting 13-year-old he's previously set salacious eyes on.

The plot sickens as Jennie (Chloe Sevigny), one of Telly's previous conquests, discovers she is HIV-positive. Since Telly (who eschews condoms) is the only one she's had sexual contact with, it's clear he needs to be alerted and stopped. While Jennie goes in search of Telly, and Telly in search of Darcy, a stomach-knotting pall hangs over the film. As you watch in horror, you're supposed to tacitly congratulate yourself for recognizing its socially urgent issues.

The photographer, known primarily for his cultish drug-culture picture-book "Tulsa" (which influenced the work of filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Gus Van Sant), has said he wanted to create an honest portrait of teenagers, free of Hollywood sweetening. But "Kids" is rife with good old Hollywood manipulation, such as the aesthetic framing of one teenager urinating (or was he throwing up? gosh, I forget) in the foreground, while another—in the background—lies drunk and babbling in the bathtub. In another instance, boys talk with "bitch"-demeaning glee about sex, then Clark crosscuts to another scene, in which girls talk equally as graphically on the same subject. As for the HIV development, it amounts to the modern version of a maiden tied to the train tracks, while help hustles to get there on time.

Ostensibly about the banality of youthful evil, "Kids" is simply about its own banality. At best, it's a misplaced aesthetic experiment. At worst, it's glossy exploitation—with enough controversy to launch a thousand trite radio and television talk shows. Back in the old days, you'd have to hike down to the coliseum to catch the Christians being fed to the lions. Now, all you have to do is tune in to "Good Morning America," listen to a five-minute discussion about "this sensitive topic," then head to the movie theater.

KIDS (Unrated) — Contains sexually explicit and demeaning language, and graphic depictions of sex and violence.

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