Kids

By David Sturm, Copyright 1996


A decade or more ago there was a traveling exhibition of photos by Larry Clark called "Tulsa" which depicted the domestic lives of various prostitutes, drug addicts, and criminals in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

It was sordid and grotesque, but undeniably authentic.

Clark has latedly turned film director and his debut feature, "Kids," now out on video, makes his "Tulsa" photos look downright quaint.

"Kids," rated NC-17, is an aggressively disturbing portrait of teenagers as vile, feckless id monsters.

The movie depicts 24 hours in the life of Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), a New York guttersnipe whose goal is to deflower two virgins in one day. He and his dim friend Casper (Justin Pierce) spend the day planning seductions, shoplifting beer, smoking pot (included is a how-to portrayal of the construction of a "phillie blunt") and beating a man senseless.

What Telly doesn't know is that he is HIV-positive. One of his earlier conquests, Jenny (Chloe Sevigny), learns that Telly has infected her with the AIDS virus. She searches for him to tell him the news.

The movie concludes at a party where we are shown sexual encounters that spread the virus even further. It is Casper, now part of a ghostly circle, who awakens at the party and utters the film's signature line, "Jesus Christ, what happened?"

"Kids" has been touted as a muckraking film, a "wake-up call" for America about its troubled youth.

It is nothing of the sort. In its obsession with androgyny, early death, innocence despoiled, tainted love, drugs, and cruelty it is a landmark of American cultural decadence.

For all its vaunted truth, Clark's movie gingerly sidesteps issues such as the commodification of sex in late capitalism and the pathologies that take root in urban poverty--issues whose toxic effects are the source of what he shows.

Films like "Just Another Girl on the IRT," "American Heart," "Clockers" and the documentary "Streetwise" are X-ray views of "the street" that include a social context.

The antecedents of "Kids," however, are absurdist and nihilistic movies like Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange," Paul Morrissey's "Mixed Blood" and Alex Cox's "Repo Man."

Clark's movie is not the clarion call of the crusader but the languid riffing of a jaded sybarite.


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