Larry Clark I 1995 I USA
Seldom have I seen a film so vile and perverted, so evil and unpure. Kids blows in every sense. A disturbing portrayal of teenage life, AIDS, and the kids of New York City. Controversial in its content, the film exposes the grim reality of a group of skate-boarders in the space of 24 hours. Primarily the story consists of Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick) a 17 year old slacker whose mission is to de-flower as many young girls as possible, whilst unprotected. Things turn bad when an old flame finds out she has tested positive for HIV and the only person she has had sex with is Telly. She chases through New York to find him but is too late as he has already de-flowered yet another innocent pre-teen. From the very beginning we immediately realise that we're in for something completely different, as we witness a scene (which I'll try not to describe here) that, well, catches your attention in a very peculiar way.
First of all, I more or less admired the film, to tell you the truth. It dares, takes risks and proves to be one of the most provocative films of the past decade, as it deals with a very controversial matter. The stark cinematography, whose camera moves restlessly to and fro, throws you into the situations and makes them totally credible (no wonder it reminded me of some of the Italian neorealist pictures so much). The acting is impressive, as the actors who star in the film are not actors at all they're just kids who are doing what they do in real life: having fun. Every time they speak, the dialogue flows with natural life, and a sense of pragmatism is provided. That said, the characters in the film are for the vast part, lousily sketched and two-dimensional. Their feelings never truly emerge, their emotions seldom appear could this be why we couldn't care less about them? Because, to be honest, we don't. I didn't anyway; however, my guess is that that was the director's intention - if that really was the case, then I can affirm that he has succeeded. Overall, Larry Clark portrays the teen's lives with admirable skill and finesse, depicting them as fearless beings who think they know it all when in fact they don't.
While some of the film's components are rather good, there is so much trash in it that it becomes unbearably overwhelming. Clark's world is a sordid and uncompromising one, where anything you wish for can be easily obtained (or so it seems). Teenagers go from place to place, having sex with whomever they want, stealing, skating, taking drugs, trashing houses, lying and beating up anyone who gets in their way. As Casper says at one moment in the film, "When you are young, nothing much matters." It certainly does not look like it. It found it pretty clear that the director wanted to push the boundaries, but there were moments in which I could not help but think that this was sheer exploitation. Underage sex, smoking, drinking and taking drugs all seem to be illustrated as "merely okay" things. They're glorified and glamourised, telling us that it's cool to do so. We know uneducated and spiritually messed up teenagers often do such things, but I got the sense that the director thinks just like they do. The more I think about it, the clearer it looks to me: Larry Clark enjoys making his actors do all these things. This is called teensplitation, and it's wrong.
There is such shamelessly morbidity that can be found within the film, that it becomes painful to watch, not only because the film itself is bleak, perturbing and tormenting, but because it's all deliberate and seemingly purposeless. We actually watch teenagers "doing it", and it is all shown with harrowing accuracy and disgraceful gloominess. Larry Clark keeps hitting our heads with a bat throughout the entire film, showing us material that few people would have even dared to think about, but for what principle? With what intention? He shows us what we don't want to see, and while audacious it is, appropriate it's not. Kids is as superficial as a film can get - there is nothing to be found at its core, as it doesn't even have one. It deals with the AIDS theme (which is senselessly Hollywoodised), raises very few questions, let alone answer any of them and discriminates homosexuality. Besides, women in the film are represented as measly objects. Use and throw away kind of stuff, you know. You have sex with them, you take pleasure, and then you completely forget about them and go away. They're all portrayed as lesser and inferior beings, which is another thing that concerns me, although it all does depend on your viewpoints, anyhow. Kids is a film so negative, so selfish and masturbatory that it becomes difficult to watch.
The morality of the kids, for me, seems to reflect the morality of the director himself. The teens in the film are ignorant. They simply don't have a fucking clue about life. Yet they think they're almighty, that they can do whatever they feel like doing. Perhaps there are kids who think like so. No, in fact, there most likely must be. But if the director exposes them as such, perchance he's like them just the same. In one of the most pivotal scenes in the film, a bunch of kids, which includes Telly and Casper, are in a skate park, chilling out and taking things easy while smoking dope. Casper is skating round when suddenly a black man absent-mindedly bumps into him and he gets all mad. An argument is caused, and suddenly all hell breaks lose. The black man insults Casper, and all of the latters friends instantly jump up and decide to help him. They grab their skateboards and violently smash them into the black mans face, while simultaneously kicking him everywhere with obdurate aggressiveness. In the end we see the black man lying on the ground, half-dead, his countenance beaten up and oozing blood. And then he gets spat on by the two kids. Having seen that scene I thought to myself, "What the hell?"
Another problem of the film is that, when looked at from an overall level, it is not engaging whatsoever. Not even once did I relate to or identify with the characters situations; we were supposed to care for at least one of them (the HIV-stricken girl) but the truth remains, we didn't. Not even once, let me say again. Personally, I didn't find the film to be compelling. In reality, it became rather dull and dragged a bit in some parts. This was partly due to the fact that its message was non-existent. The film is, as I've already said, about a group of teens who seldom go to school and do things they shouldn't do. Okay. Haven't we heard this before? It may be a good point, and the director may have a good way of telling it, but this has already been said. Innumerable times, really. And because it's been spoken about in so many places and for such a long time, its power is diminished. No, rather, its power is not palpable. Because the film contains no delicacy, no philosophy, no nothing, the director can't communicate with us. He's just not able to. The storyline is an unabashed excuse to show the near kiddie-porn, which at the same time is used for shock value. It's blatantly repulsive, and vile beyond description. I'd be much surprised to find out that Larry Clark is a devout Catholic, or a highly religious man, because really, just where the hell is the optimism?