6 November 2010 | TheUnknown837-1
Clark's brilliant and hauntingly accurate portrait of the bad side of humanity in our younger generation grips you by the throat and never lets go.
There are two highly, and deservedly, controversial movies dealing with the issues of drug and alcohol abuse, underage sex, lack of control, and the preteen and teenage minority of urban America. One of them is "Kids" and the other is "Bully." The former is a haunting work of art; the latter is a clunk of garbage. Both were directed by the same man, Larry Clark. I saw "Bully" first about a year ago and I was blown out of my mind by how offensive and atrociously cruel that movie was and how it redeemed itself in no way. I initially condemned Mr. Clark as a director and vowed never to see another movie of his again.
Then I happened to see the Siskel & Ebert review for his first movie "Kids" and after much deliberation, decided to give this controversial filmmaker a second chance. I am so glad that I did.
In many respects, "Kids" and "Bully" are much the same movie. They're both frighteningly brutal, appalling in their explicit content and vulgar dialogue, and they expose the nasty undercurrents in the younger generations of today, especially in urban cities where parental control (or control of any kind) seems all but present. So why is "Kids" a great movie and "Bully" an awful one? Because while "Bully" only pretended to have a purpose, "Kids" *has* a purpose and it never once dumbs down on that. It's a sick and disgusting picture, but it's also somewhat of a wake-up call. And I can fairly say now that as a reviewer and film-goer, I can forgive Mr. Clark.
"Kids" is set in the drug-riddled streets of New York. We see very little of parents, or adults for that matter, and focus on a group of rambunctious, vulgarity-spitting, lecherous teenagers who are devoted to getting drunk, abusing drugs, and giving away their virginity. The most sickening of them is Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick). Not because he can charm young girls enough to seduce them into deflowering them, but because he's simultaneously signing their death warrants with the HIV virus. One of his victims (Chloe Sevigny) discovers she has AIDS because of her one-night stand with him and as she slowly suffers, searches the city to confront him. Meanwhile, Telly is trying to seduce his next victim while he and a group of other nasty individuals roam unsupervised through a place as horrific as any drug underworld. More shocking is that this is just a day in the life for them.
Even more shocking is the daunting realization that this is one hundred percent accurate and we must commend Mr. Clark and screenwriter Harmony Korine, the latter in particular. His screenplay is the core of why this picture is so powerful. He writes his dialogue without any apparent flow or structure, as if the behavior of his characters are not even up to him. The actions of the characters are unpredictable, as they would be. I also really commend him for his choice to not close up with an obligating-style ending, but to choose a really haunting, crusher of one instead. And Mr. Clark shoots his film in a strong, visual-focused documentary approach with long takes from his camera swinging back and forth between the gossiping teenagers. He also pays good attention to their surroundings, showing the conditions and lack of concern from their peers and elders that resulted in their being this way. Because he has a screenplay that is focused and sharp ("Bully" did not) his movie has a purpose and even his seemingly pornographic shots have a purpose as well.
The content is oftentimes appalling, but it also has a purpose. This time I must appreciate Mr. Clark's boldness and reluctance to be contrived. Whereas I got the sense he was indulging the drug use and sex in "Bully," here he clearly defines his intentions of turning our stomachs. These particular kids are scum and they are a product of their scummy environment. He wants to show us that. So the scenes of underage sex are jaw-dropping. They do not turn on the audience; they appall. Furthermore, he does not flood the screen with images of naked teenage bodies and relies on our imagination at crucial moments to exploit the real horror. He balances the explicit and implicit with professional craftsmanship.
"Kids" is a very tough movie to watch and tough to enjoy, but I must confess that it is, to my mind, a truly great film. As I sat there watching it, I was appalled and disgusting and flabbergasted, but at the same time, I was drawn in. Mr. Clark's brilliant portrait of the bad side of humanity in our younger generation grips you by the throat and he never lets go. Not once. He's also got some very strong performances from his cast which include Leo Fitzpatrick, a very young Rosario Dawson, Chloe Sevingy, and the late Justin Pierce whose brilliant performance reminds me so much of the scumbags that I had the displeasure to know in my adolescent years. I personally managed to avoid their paths of life and now looking at "Kids," I am even more thankful that I did.