Kids (1995)
By: Joe Lewis on August 18, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Reel (Australia), Region 4, PAL. 1:78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. English subtitles. 88 minutes.
The Movie
Credits
Director: Larry Clark
Starring: Leo Fitzpatrick, Chloë Sevigny, Justin Pierce, Rosario Dawson
Screenplay: Harmony Korine
Country: USA
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Who exactly does Larry Clark think he is?

At one point Clark made Another Day in Paradise, starring sort-of A-grade actors James Woods and Melanie Griffiths, and had the potential to shoot him into the mainstream. It didn't, and fast-forward a few years and he's helming an intelligent comment on violent, middle-class teenage society with Bully. It was a great film, borderline avant-garde, and cemented his reputation as a serious, albeit niche, filmmaker. Then there was Teenage Caveman, a remake of an Arkoff horror flick that was as misguided as its schlocky source material. Finally, Clark got himself maligned the world over with Ken Park, was awarded the dishonour of being banned in Australia and accused not of being a subversive filmmaker, but a filthy pedophile. One year ago, Clark went to porn – that's right, porn – helming a short for Destricted, a compilation film of highbrow raunch.

In amongst this tumultuous and uneven career sits Kids, Clark's best-known picture and admittedly among his weakest.

Working from a Harmony Korine screenplay, Kids tells the tale of Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick). Telly's about seventeen or eighteen, is a skateboarder and a boozer and dopehead, but he has an element of deep-seeded wickedness about him – he loves ('addicted to', he says) deflowering virgins. Forget any allusions to Nabokov's Humbert Humbert, though – Telly follows through with his intentions with predatory skill, bedding sexually inexperienced and more often than not underaged girls (though thirteen is the threshold) after wooing them in a web of deceit. His mate Casper is all too happy to cheer him on as Telly's amoral attitude takes over every increment of his life.

Running parallel to this is the story of two friends Jennie (Chloë Sevigny) and Ruby (Rosario Dawson). After a lengthy discussion, the duo decides to go for tests at VD clinic – mainly for Ruby's sake, with Jennie there for moral support. Both of them are tested and as they are questioned preliminarily by the nurses, their sexual history emerges - Ruby, seventeen, has slept with an indeterminable number of blokes (she puts the toll at seven, maybe six – no, eight) and at least half of these encounters were unprotected; while Jennie, a year younger, has only had sex with Telly. When the results are in, they're dire - Ruby's clean, Jennie has HIV.

Thus begins Jennie's quest – find Telly before he infects another girl, who he already has lined in his sights.

I remember watching Kids three or four years ago on VHS and being thoroughly disturbed by it – this digital viewing, though, left me pretty blasé. Kids isn't a well-made film by any stretch of the imagination, and half of Korine's script, which he wrote when he was nineteen, is profanity and filler. None of the characters resounded with me – not Jennie and her clique, who spoke candidly about their sexual exploits, not Telly and his 'homies', whose speech is peppered with 'motherfucker', 'nigga', 'dog' and 'yo'. It sounded contrived, certainly nothing like I've ever heard coming from the mouths of bona fide human beings, and it comes down to Clark's depiction of caricatures – he's not necessarily interested in realism (though the director may say his films are the most realistic around), but his own take on the worst-of-the-worst. Structurally, Clark paints these exaggerated portraits in Ken Park whilst focusing on several individual stories. In Bully, his best film, Clark shows showmanship and commendable mise en scène in a restrained filming environment and a very forward-moving story. Kids is too sprawling for Clark's abilities, too specific, and scenes are meshed by desperate attempts to make the picture coherent and make the time.

It's heartbreaking to see Jennie come to the realization that, at sixteen, her life is destroyed by one sexual encounter, while her friend – a colossal slag – gets off scot-free. Jennie is played well by Sevigny, who has made a name for herself as a cute indie queen. Aside from Jennie though, there's no one to side, or even sympathise, with – not even the young virgins, representative of purity, who appear infuriatingly dumb. Interestingly, Korine hasn't made it clear whether Telly knows he's HIV-positive and has such an appallingly nihilistic attitude that he doesn't care whether he infects young girls, or whether he only has sex with virgins to avoid the very diseases he has contracted. The latter would make sense after a few dialogues between Telly and Casper, which makes the situation less repugnant and more tragic – regardless of his actions, he's just a kid as well.

According to most critics, Kids showcases Larry Clark exploiting the cinematic medium most effectively, by showing disenfranchised American youth going to Hell in a handbasket – I certainly didn't think so, though. For Clark tapping into the old shocking, depraved, sickening kids vein, Bully and Ken Park are far better pictures. This is best avoided.
Video
Kids has been presented in the 1:78:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement. It doesn't look bad, and occasional artifacts and muted colouration doesn't detract from the film.
Audio
One English audio track in Dolby 2.0 – a shame that Reel couldn't source a 5.1 track. It sounds good, not great, with dialogue/background/foreground noise fluctuation that's typical to a 2.0 soundtrack.
Extra Features
Nothing. Not even a trailer. That said, though, a quick look on DVD Compare would suggest that every release of this picture is pretty much extra-free.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A meager release, but it's good to see cult films being given the light of day in R4 land nonetheless. As for the film, I'll go against popular opinion by saying I thought it was pretty poor – Clark has done this kind of thing far better with films that he shot later in his career. Kids isn't particularly well-written or well-directed, the dialogue's banal and most of the characters sickening to the very core, but there are a few saving graces – the plot, for one, is at once hard-hitting and bitingly original, and Sevigny turns in a good performance. It's barely enough to save it though; watch Bully instead.

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