Comfortable and Furious

Fucked-Up Films #11: Kids (1995)

Synopsis: Contraception disguised as moviemaking. Who the hell would want to reproduce after sitting through this one?

Director: Larry Clark

Cast: Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloë Sevigny, Rosario Dawson, Harold Hunter

What are these sick bastards doing? Living in the present. No one gives a second thought to consequences. It’s just an onslaught of hedonism where such silly things as education, a career, a plan or the possibility of arrest and prison don’t exist.

Is the villain any good? Our seventeen-year-old ‘virgin surgeon’ Telly (Fitzpatrick) deserves a place on any list of moviedom’s best villains. Like Chad in In the Company of Men, he thankfully doesn’t undergo a case of The Darth Vader Sell-Out in which a main character sees the error of his ways and does a groan-inducing about-face. He does, however, suffer from a giant case of plausibility. He’s not the best-looking dude, has a voice like a frog, isn’t rich, lacks a car, isn’t in a band, has no trace of humor, quick-wittedness or muscles, and yet still manages to rampage through untouched pussy land. How is this possible?

Surprisingly, I don’t mind, perhaps because Fitzpatrick is somehow able to overcome his physical limitations and go with the venomous flow. You won’t find a more obnoxious fucker, Telly’s philosophy underlined early on when he gets his way with a twelve-year-old girl and gloatingly reveals: “Virgins. I love ’em. No diseases, no loose-as-a-goose pussy, no skank, no nothing. Just pure pleasure.”

How do the lovely ladies fare? Given the amount of insincere deflowering, rape and HIV infection, you’d have to say this isn’t a chick flick. Then again, perhaps some girls might recognise the foul-mouthed, graphic sex talk in which everything from semen swallowing to hymen puncturing is discussed. Some think foreplay is the best, but others are into ‘hardcore pound fucking’ so I guess this explains why they don’t get too many marriage proposals. Dissatisfaction with and humiliation by the boys is common, such as one reporting after the loss of her virginity that she was serenaded with U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday.

Mind you, I remain unsure of how easily girls in this plotless flick give away their virginity. Wouldn’t they be able to see through a shitkicker like Telly? If they were skanks from skanky homes then fine, but all of Telly’s victims seem sensitive and refined. I’m also confused why no one sees Telly as a pedo. Yes, Kids takes place thirty-odd years ago, but surely even then it wasn’t cool to boast about fucking a child. “You like ’em kinda young, right?” one girl says to him, but there’s not much disapproval in her voice.

Anyhow, Jenny (Sevigny), boned and discarded by Telly a year earlier, is the heart of our movie, the only main character that appears to show enlightened feelings and some potential for growth. Of course, she gets shat upon.

How skuzzy are the men? Telly’s sycophantic, similarly unemployed best mate Casper (Pierce) proves just as bad. He’s the sort of comic-reading moron that waits two hours for Telly to complete his latest conquest so he can smell his fingers (“Butterscotch, yo… That’s the best.”) No doubt a future alcoholic, he pisses in the street in broad daylight, shoplifts, sprawls around watching skateboarding videos, perves on Telly’s breastfeeding mum and channels his hardcore misogyny into its inevitable conclusion. Like Telly, he’s a lying bludger, happy to take from and use people anyway he can. The only nice thing he does is give a few cents to a legless beggar on the subway, but as you don’t actually see the coins enter the jar he probably handed over buttons.

I’d love to tell you there are some nice guys hanging around, but the best on offer is an elderly, immigrant taxi driver who tries to console Jenny. Even he ends up talking about his decades-earlier crush on the prom queen, adding: “She was the first girl I put my tongue in her mouth.” Cheers, mate, I’m sure all distraught teenage girls need to hear that.

Would the violence make a vicar faint? Kids only offers one episode of violence where an aggrieved teen in a skateboard park thinks he’s taking on Casper but ends up bloody and bruised beneath a pile on. It’s partly a territorial thing, but also strongly suggests spontaneous violence is another type of buzz. Interestingly, the girls encourage the beating.

How fucked-up is this film? Well, it sure caused a stir back in the day, and I’d have to say it retains its potency. It depicts a disconnect between the sexes, best revealed when director Clark cuts back and forth between two explicit discussions of an all-girl and an all-boy group at separate locations in which they often flatly contradict each other about sex. No one appears to be looking for romance, stability or anything constructive. They’re just vampires, fixated on their own needs.

Elsewhere, ignorance and hostility abound. Homosexuals are abused in the street. Girls are nothing but ‘bitches’, encouraged to kiss each other and routinely propositioned and pressurized. Sex is conquest. Nutrition, exercise and healthy living are never considered. Drugs are voraciously consumed. Where does this mindset and behavior come from?

Now I imagine the uncompromising Kids concentrates on an extremely narrow seam of teenagers, but that doesn’t make it any less plausible, especially during its convincing vignettes of gatherings, rituals and New York City street life. Parental presence, let alone control is absent. The only mother we meet is Telly’s, a somewhat worn-down woman that doesn’t keep him in line, but that’s hardly an explanation for his self-centered nastiness. Perhaps our best clue in understanding this noxious culture is through the handful of pre-teens that always seem to be hanging around Telly and his odious mates. They watch, listen and try to copy, suggesting a toxic socialization, an absorption of misogyny and all the rest that Telly has already undergone.

Kids is also notable for the way Clark’s camera leers at the naked flesh of his subjects. He likes them sinewy, typified by a lengthy sequence in which a racially mixed bunch of boys sit topless on a sofa smoking weed. There’s an awful lot of face-eating throughout, complete with icky sucking and saliva-stretching sounds, but the camera inevitably slides down their bodies to linger on taut stomachs and lean thighs. When a solitary chubster puts in an appearance at a party, she’s roundly condemned (“Why don’t you go lose some fuckin’ weight?”)

Clark admirably sticks to his guns right through to the bitter end, but that doesn’t mean the brisk, non-judgemental Kids is a likable or enjoyable film. In fact, it will make you grimace. I’d say it’s a cautionary tale, especially for any watching females, but it’s also clear to all but the most myopic bloke that this is not the way to behave. Grubby and horrible as it is, the distinctive Kids still retains a weird sort of purity.



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