The Sunday Film Review: Kids
Director: Larry Clark (1995)
Last week, in my exquisitely written badly constructed Star Trek Into Darkness (apparently there is no : between the title and the phrase, take that journalistic integrity) review, I introduced Sams Motherfucking Theory on Reboots. For this Sundays film review, I wanted to begin a practical application of said theory, with a look at The Batman Franchise (starting with the 1966 film), a franchise which it could be argued has been rebooted successfully 3 times (depending on how you feel about Forever) and pretty much only has one agreed upon ‘bad’ installment……………… Cool off Bird boy.
I write ‘wanted to’ because, thanks to a convoluted series of events involving John Lewis being a dishonest company, sent direct from the seventh layer of hell, ( a company perfectly happy to take my money, promise me great warranty, then kick me in the balls and tell me I’m a liar when I actually have cause to use said warranty, because they already have my money and make more than enough to not give a damn about my repeat custom, …… don’t shop there, it all looks nice, but they’re as evil a company as I’ve ever experienced and I’ve worked on T.V.) ………that won’t be possible.
Instead, and once again I emphasise this is because John Lewis are bastards, I’ve had to turn to Tom (in the middle of a herculean task involving key-framing) to choose a film at random. Normally, thanks to a previous experience involving Dragon Ball Evolution and tears, I don’t bother Tom with such requests. Fearful he may deliberately choose something he’d know I’d hate, I was (sort-of) pleasantly surprised to find he’d chosen Kids, simply because he (rightly) reckoned it was a film I hadn’t seen. He was correct, and lo it is so, here’s a review of Kids, starting with a plot summary.
Actually one minute………………. Fuck John Lewis
Kids is the misnamed story of teenagers living in that bit of New York that’s supposedly inhabitable. Said Teenagers are all nymphomaniac drug abusers. The principle story (and this is one of those films where that word gets applied loosely) focuses on two particular teenage nymphomaniac drug abusers named Telly and Casper. Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick, who gave a beautiful performance as drug abuser Johnny Weeks in The Wire), is a particularly careful nymphomaniac who only sleeps with virgins in order to avoid catching anything……………………………. And is unaware he has H.I.V, queue this sound effect.
Casper (English born Justin Pierce, R.I.P) is a heavily addicted drug abuser, who saves his nymphomaniac leanings for one particularly uncomfortable scene and skateboards a lot.
Telly and Casper’s days can be summed up as thus, talk about sex, have sex, talk about sex, do drugs, talk about sex, do more drugs, meet up with a larger group to do drugs or talk about sex, skateboard, do drugs, get screwed over by the monsters at John Lewis, talk about sex. That’s pretty much the entire plot of Kids.
The only real story comes in the form of Jennie, (Chloe Sevigny, she starred in television series Big Love, which I never intend to watch) one of Telly’s virgin conquests. Jennie discovers she’s H.I.V positive thanks to Telly, and sets out to tell him, via repeated drug use, a nightclub and a sweet scene involving a taxi driver.
Apart from that, there isn’t really much of a plot to Kids, it’s not that a lot doesn’t happen, it does, it’s just that a lot of stuff happens again and again and again, and by stuff I mean kids talking about drugs and sex. There is I suppose, a particularly cool scene in a park that involves a fight and some righteous use of Daniel Johnsons version of Casper the Friendly Ghost. A young Rosario Dawson also delivers a talented performance as one of the nymphomaniac drug abuser group which is head and shoulders above anyone else, but apart from that, I’ve pretty much rambled out of things to say.
Oh, except I have reason to believe John Lewis supports fox hunting and hates happiness.
Plot summary finishes.
Kids is written by a man named Harmony Korine (he also has a cameo).
Korine was the director behind a film named Gummo, I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s watched Gummo, without me recommending it first. This is something I hope changes because Gummo was a film that absolutely blew my fragile little mind in a good way. There are shades of Gummo in Kids, both in how the characters are portrayed, and the subtle, at times nonexistent plotting. If anything I’d call Kids a lighter and perhaps more accomplished version of Gummo, which is interesting (to me) because Kids came before Gummo and I’d have sworn blind it was the other way around. That’s a bit of a moot point really, I just wanted to drop Gummo into the narrative……………
Anyway, the big thing about Kids (and a fact the DVD case really, really wants you to know) is that it was considered an extremely controversial film, with images of underage sex, drug abuse and language that so shocked the American viewing public, the film was refused an age rating and blah blah blah.
I’m not saying any of that isn’t true, I’m sure it was controversial in its day, the problem is we’re not in 1995 anymore, and I’m scratching my head trying to figure out exactly what it was the pissed off the board of certification so much. The sex isn’t gratuitous, and is in fact really well/tastefully filmed, the drug abuse is there, but this was only a year before Trainspotting, and there’s nothing like the ‘dead baby crawling on the ceiling’ scene to shock and appal. It comes down to the language part then, maybe there’s just one too many excruciatingly drawn out scene of boys and girls talking about sex acts, but that sort of stuff had been in vogue since a decade earlier, with brat pack offerings like St Elmo’s fire, The Breakfast Club and Less Than Zero.
Maybe it’s just a case of studios getting away with things that independents got pulled for because of a little thing called money. Whatever the reason, it’s confusing, the only thing I can think is so shocking about Kids is the realistic, almost perverse way it’s filmed. The camera hovers and roams and feels a lot like another character filming everything for posterity. If that’s the case, it’s a predictable excuse to cause a fuss, but also a shame, because from a technical point of view, Kids is a great great looking film, well made, well constructed and well executed, a deftness of touch and a director/team who worked with, not against their performers.
The problem I have is, while I think Kids is a great example of how American independent film has always had style and substance, I don’t really know if I liked it. It just didn’t make me feel uncomfortable enough, I watched Kids, and apart from perhaps a particularly coldly done rape scene (and that’s what it is, drugs or no, that’s statutory rape), I walked away untroubled. I didn’t really care about the characters, didn’t consider their lives particularly tragic, or something I should aspire towards, and didn’t have any interest in seeing anymore of them. I should emphasise now it’s not the acting, while Rosario Dawson stands out, everyone acts well, and there’s a natural feel to everything, nothing jars and there’s no one on screen who doesn’t feel like they should be there.
The problem I think probably lays with me, Kids was supposed to be a reflection of how teenagers lived at the time, but I don’t think that’s true. No kid did as much drugs as frequently as the characters of Kids and not end up either A) Completely mashed in the head, B) arrested and in the justice system, C) having a complete breakdown or D) Dead. Likewise, while the conversations about sex between the boys and girls are frank and realistic in terminology, they just went on far far far too long for me. I did drugs and skateboarded, know what we talked about; sex, drugs, skateboards, the moon, where to eat, shoplifting, how terrible it was that John Lewis encouraged racism, whether life was worth living or not and a ton of other pointless things.
The point is, while all film is escapism, Kids aims to be taken as realism, and yet it doesn’t feel real. So either it’s an over the top a story, or New York in 1995 really was like that, but by the point my time came along, the abusers and nymphomaniacs had partied themselves into extinction. I can hear the argument now, but Sam, you grew up in Sheffield, light years from America, how do you know what it was like over there? To which I reply, ‘yes, but by the time my difficult teen period started, pretty much everything in our culture was American, what do you think, we wore flat caps and talked about the pits and how terrible Thatcher was? No, we listened to American music, protested American politics, bought American brands and watched American movies. The flat cap wouldn’t come back until the Hipsters poked their heads above ground, and I’m pretty sure that started in America too!
Finishing this review then, I don’t know if I recommend Kids or not, it’s certainly an interesting watch, and has merit in terms of its place in the ‘landmarks of independent American film’ sticker book. I just personally didn’t really get anything from it, but that might just be because those arseholes at John Lewis, who are on a secret mission of world domination, have put me in a bad mood and left me unable to feel.
Written By Sam ‘John Lewis can fuck off, come back, pay me the £600 they owe me, then fuck off again’ McKinstrie
Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP
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