article by Raisa Desypri
Styling tips and the “lower” side of New York in Larry Clark’s KIDS:
Kids come to play: The beginning
In 1995 a film portrayal of New York’s 90’s teenage subculture hit the theaters. Kids came to
shake us from our seats. Watching it when it came out felt like sneaking an unnervingly voyeuristic
peak into these children’s lives and still, watching it today, with the hard skepticism of age and
learning, the effect is almost as unsettling. It almost seems like a documentary.
In a screenplay written by a really young Harmony Korine, the director Larry Clark follows a
24 hour section of the lives of a group of born-and-bred New York kids, wandering around the center
of New York on skateboards and subway trains. They get drunk, use drugs, have unprotected sex (a
lot of sex) and get into fights like there is no tomorrow. And perhaps that is the whole point;
“tomorrow” for these kids is an uncertain entity, something that we, as audience, don’t get to
witness. At the end of the day we went our separate ways; we leave them behind.
What made KIDS such a hit, despite its noncommercial nature, is that it feels real. The
untrained actors echo the screenplay’s naturalism, as they exhibit none of the grown-up posturing
that often makes teenagers on screen seem glamorous and unnatural. On the contrary, they are
unconsciously and uncomfortably sensual. These kids aren’t trying to be stylish, but they are. They
don’t belong to a specific style group or have a ‘uniform’. They have multicolored hair ties, hoop
earrings, tight crop tops and baggy jeans that reveal their boxers as they wonder around the city.
Being non-commercial, plain and anti-fashion, they are unique. These are the KIDS we could find
chilling at any New York corner where they would greet you with a threat and ask you to step away
from their turf. This is their territory and Clark well knows to respect that.
Clack’s filming and the personal point of view
Clark succeeds in giving an authentic portrayal of New York because he does not intervene in
it but allows the Kids to guide his lens. Although the film is scripted, nothing is staged; things happen
naturally and he is there to document them. No third spectator narrations, no outsiders. New York is
portrayed intimately. It is seen through dirty small corner shops and half-basement flats with second
hand couches. He shoots on location in the streets, letting his characters negotiate their own world as
they like – and it works because they know better.
New York and its signifiers –or lack thereof-
KIDS is undoubtedly a movie about New York, but the interesting part is that, in a movie
about New York, we see so little of it. The camera’s point of view coincides with the Kids point of
view; what doesn’t belong in their lives is not shown on screen. New York is shown to the spectator
through their eyes.
The places where they go are New York. The skate park, the basketball court, the streets. No
great landmarks to signify their location, just them. But even in the absence of any landmarks by
which we usually recognise the city, we still know exactly where we are.(Henry A. Giroux) The shots of
New York have to be almost amateur to maintain the feeling of intimacy.
When New York and the Kids become one
The Kids strip from us this image of the glamourous “city that never sleeps”. They treat their
city like they treat themselves. They hurt it. After Telly (the main character) has sex with a 15 year old
girl, he and his friend Casper head out to wander through the streets of Manhattan. While walking
they polish off a 40 ounce bottle of beer, urinate in pubic, jump over subway turnstiles and steal fruit
from a Korean grocer. Later on, while smoking dope in the Washington skate park, they insult two
homosexual people and beat a black teenager with their skateboards. The city is identified with the
Kids and their actions. So, if there is a critique on these actions, it is shown by the way they are filmed
and by the likeness between how they treat their city and themselves. It is an unfriendly city full of
anger and pain that they try to make their home. As Leo Fitzpatrick (Telly) says: “I remember the first
day I came to New York: There was a weird, dangerous element to it. People would throw bottles at
you from out of their windows for skating in front of their buildings.” (Eric Hynes) The reason why, 20
years from its release date, Kids is still a topic of conversation speaks of its unique character. It works
because of all its elements combined and, if it was filmed in any other way, it wouldn’t have worked.
Kids could not be themselves in any other way.