Larry Clark, Harmony Korine, & Chloë Sevigny Dish on 'Kids'
“It is a very special night. This is the first time the cast of Kids is together in 15 years,” says the emcee at the BAM Cinema where Kids is celebrating its 20th anniversary. To call it a special night is to downplay it. Not only are we told that the version of the film we just watched is Larry Clark’s personal 35mm film (which has only been played three times), but all the iconic characters who have just made us laugh, cringe, and maybe even cry, are sitting on the stage together – no longer kids.
“That movie could never exist today for a lot of reasons – it’s pre cell phone,” writer Harmony Korine tells the panel, his characteristic smirk never leaving his face. “You can’t get lost in movies now because everyone has GPS.” When he says this everyone laughs, but there is an element of nostalgia and truth to what Korine is saying. Everything is more immediate in this day and age, something that would have made a great difference in the storyline of the film, which centers around Jennie (Chloë Sevigny) trying to find serial devirginizer Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick) so she can tell him that he gave her the HIV virus. Even Korine jokes that “she would’ve just called him, end of movie.”
It’s this nostalgia for a simpler – albeit more dangerous – time (“We didn’t know anything about [AIDS] except that we didn’t want to get it,” says Korine), that has made Kids such a cataclysmic film, one that’s transcended its release 20 years ago. When asked if they expected the film to be such a polemic and iconic film everyone in the panel (which included Clark, Korine, Sevigny, Fitzpatrick, Rosario Dawson, and producer Cary Woods) all immediately shake their heads in unison. After all, they are the first to tell you how out of nowhere this movie happened – it was Larry’s first directorial pursuit, Harmony’s first screenplay (written at 19 no less), and the first acting roles for most of the actors; it was a project with no foreseeable future but with the pure intention “to make something that had never been made before,” says Clark.
The purity of the film is only one of the inimitable qualities that have made Kids become a cult classic. “It started out having a lot of documentary factors in it because I had hung out with skaters for about three years…but I didn’t want to do a documentary,” says Clark, whose booming voice kept hijacking the questions, to the laugh of the cast and the audience alike. One of the factors that made it so documentary-like was, of course, Korine’s hyper realistic language, but the sincerity of the actors playing their first on-screen characters also had a big weight. Dawson, who plays Ruby, Jennie’s sexually experienced 17-year-old friend, shares how funny it was to play a character so contrary to her. “All I can remember is us sitting when we were waiting to get our results, and I’m telling [Chloë] that I just had my first kiss playing spin the bottle in Tompkins Square Park. And I said, ‘He put his tongue in my mouth like this’ and she’s like ‘ROSARIO!’ And then I go in [in the film] and I’m like ‘I take it every way!’”
But it’s disputably Telly, Fitzpatrick’s character, who made the biggest impact in the film, and, as Clark shares, was the most fun to cast. “In all the Hollywood films – the hero, the guy who gets the girl, is always some blond, blue-eyed kid and I wanted to something opposite from that because the guys that get girls are not particularly the best looking guys,” Clark said, the audience laughing at the gentle teasing. “The guys who get girls are the guys thinking about girls all the time — all they think about is pussy. That’s all they want. You see an old bald guy smoking a cigar, who is 5 feet tall, with beautiful models because they want girls. And so the reason that I was so happy with Leo was that he wasn’t typecast like that. He wasn’t a blue-eyed blond kid.”
In fact a lot of the decision to cast Leo as Telly was his distinguishably incomprehensible voice, heard by Clark when Leo kept cursing and yelling every time he couldn’t land a skate trick. But as Leo jokes, “I wasn’t so comfortable with my voice either. I knew it was off. Other people have asked me ‘Why don’t you watch the film?’ And I tell them, ‘Well it was a long time ago, I don’t need to re-watch the film,’ but it’s really because I don’t wanna hear my fucking voice. It’s like purgatory listening to that.”
Of course it was all these factors – the originality, the honesty, the novelty – that have made Kids such an enduring force. And even though the cast and makers of the film haven’t all been together for 15 years it’s hard to tell – their dynamic is just that pure. In that sense the documentary factor lives on; they didn’t have to act like friends, they were friends, and it’s clear to everyone in the audience. Korine describes the sincerity best, "You have to remember they were all just kids at that park. That really was just it."
Check out the Kids anniversary collaboration with Supreme here
Photos via BAMcinemaFest/GODLIS