The second movie Scott and I watched in my series of Films I Never Wanted to Watch was Kids (Larry Clark, 1995). After a really totally awesome day of Soul Caliber II and crocheting teddy bears we figured a little AIDS epidemic-inspired drama was needed.
Let me come right out with it: I hate hate hated Kids. I thought it was perverted and pornographic (in bad ways), silly and melodramatic, unrealistic and overpraised. And while I certainly had moral dilemmas about forms of representation at play here and the actual mechanics of filmmaking, my biggest issue with the film was the representation of the characters themselves.
It seems clear to me that Larry Clark and Harmony Korine hate these characters almost as much as I hate this film. Bad haircuts, rotting teeth, clothes that don’t fit, squalid living conditions, not to mention the fact that they shot in the summer (and what disgusting, supposedly shocking movie isn’t shot in the summer through a sheen of sweat?) are all visual decisions that single these children out as pure monsters. Put aside their deplorable actions and you’ve still got a raggedy, sweaty, horribly unattractive group of kids. And this is accomplishing a lot, because this film marks the beginning of Rosario Dawson’s career. Making that adorable hottie ugly is quite the feat.
This seemed to be the problem with Harmony Korine’s Gummo (1997), as well. Korine claimed that he thought all his characters in that film were “beautiful” and then featured them whipping dead cats and bathing in filth while eating spaghetti. There is something very high-falutin’ and annoying about that statement. Here is Korine, filming people in ways that show them at their most horrible and then claiming that all the judgments we (as viewers) are about to make about them are just wrong because they are, indeed, beautiful. I call bullshit on that one, buddy.
Korine must have learned a lot from his mentor Larry Clark, who shoots Kids with the same type of disdain that I see in Gummo. None of the children represented here have any redeemable qualities. Arguably, not a one! And there are about 50 acid-droppin’, weed-smokin’, virgin-humpin’ assholes to choose from. In all the talking that they do with one another, no one mentions one nice thing that we could possibly hold onto as a ray of hope. Not only do I find that ridiculous and unbelievable, but I think it’s what adds to the pornographic feel to the movie. Clark seems to hold this really pretentious high-ground while he criticizes the kids for their bad behavior, but he is the one that is actively putting them in these situations. There were reports that the kids on the set were actually drunk and high, and the adult that should know better is the one facilitating the scene for the sake of “art.” What is that? An effort to still be hip while also pretending to be conscientious, it seems to me. Not a bit classy.
While Clark condemns the behavior he shows by making is appear repellant, he also continues to show it, in close detail. Whether this is an effort to shock or an effort to entertain is an interesting question. Because of all the things Kids is (silly, perverted, etc.), it is not boring. From one scene to the next there is a plethora of disturbing, yet fascinating behaviors played out on screen. And Clark never cuts away.
Unprotected sex is bad, AIDS is bad, drugs are bad, alcohol is bad, beating up guys with your skateboard is bad. We get it, Larry Clark. So how are all those things bad and yet you still get to profit from them so effectively?
Go check out Scott’s review over at He Shot Cyrus. I made him sit through this one for a second time, it’s the least you could do.