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“I wanted to make a film that had never been made before,” Larry Clark explained after a standing-room-only screening of his 1995 film Kids at New York’s Angelika Film Center on Thursday night.
Twenty years after its release at that same theater, the room was crowded with now grown-up members of the original cast — including Leo Fitzpatrick, who played the lead character, Telly.
“Besides the sex and the AIDS, I didn’t understand why Kids was considered so shocking,” the graying actor said in his thick New Jersey accent during a boisterous Q&A session after the screening.
Among the movie’s many memorable scenes: Kids opens with a six-minute French kiss between Telly and a young girl played by Sarah Henderson, who he cunningly talks into having sex with him. In the next scene, Telly and his best friend Casper (the late Justin Pierce) walk the streets of New York, stealing beer and peaches from a Korean grocery. Telly’s obsessed with girls, the younger the better. He has his eye on 13-year-old Darcy (Yakira Peguero). As they walk down a block, Casper stops and takes a piss right on the sidewalk.
“That was our daily life,” Fitzpatrick explained. “We were kids and skateboarders. Larry thought we were interesting. It gave me self-worth that I didn’t have before.”
Telly and Casper head up to an apartment filled with boys smoking blunts and doing whippets. While they talk about sex, girls in a nearby apartment do exactly the same. It’s a terrific bit of call and response.
Two of the girls in that scene — Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson — went on to have major acting careers. (Due to previous commitments, neither was able to attend the screening.) They go to a clinic where Jenny (Sevigny) learns she has HIV from having unprotected sex with Telly.
“The hook was Jenny had AIDS,” Clark offered. “She was like the maiden on the railroad tracks. Casting Jenny was the hardest. I casted Chloe three days before shooting.”
Born in Connecticut, Sevigny had moved to New York, where she worked at a rave shop, Liquid Sky, and soon met budding screenwriter Harmony Korine, who penned the script for Kids. They later became a couple.
As Jenny searches for Telly, the boys congregate in Washington Square Park, where they hurl insults at gays and rabidly beat-down an African American denizen of the park. It’s among the most violent scenes in the film.
This is where Clark met and bonded with the skaters that would eventually appear in the movie. Prior to making Kids, he was a photographer and a drug addict. “I always wanted to make a film,” the director said. “I wanted to make a movie that wasn’t about me, that I knew nothing about. I was 47. I cleaned myself up. I had learned to skate. I hung out with the skaters for three to four years. I wanted to make a film that was age appropriate. The parties, the drinking, the fighting, the f—ing — everything.”
After meeting Korine in the park, he offered the neophyte the opportunity to write the script. “It took Harmony three weeks,” Clark recalled. “It was brilliant writing. That’s how it happened.”
While most of the characters have little redeeming value — the movie is bookended by a disturbing rape scene — the goal of the movie was to truly represent a moment in time in New York when skate punks merged with hip-hop kids and formed an unusual bond. Many of the players were from broken homes with little parental guidance; they were wild children driven to explore the seedier side of New York life.
To a person, everyone on the panel agreed that a movie like Kids could never happen today, for a variety of reasons, but mostly due to the gentrification of the city. “We shot it in 1994,” Clark pointed out. “A couple of years later, it never could’ve been made.”
Ronald Hunter, brother of Harold — the film’s main African-American character — contended that “this generation doesn’t really have a culture.” Sadly, Harold died of a drug overdose in 2006, six years after Pierce committed suicide in a hotel room in Los Angeles. Fans of Next Friday will remember him in the role of Roach.
The 20-plus year saga of Kids, including those who inspired the story and its aftermath, is being documented in The Kids, directed by Hamilton Harris, who was on hand to help lead the Q&A and show a teaser of his upcoming film.
As far as Clark, he’s since made such films as Bully, Another Day in Paradise and Wassup Rockers. In 2012, Korine wrote and directed Spring Breakers, which has a lot in common with Kids. Fitzpatrick also starred in Bully, Clark’s take on Florida youth culture.
Why the fascination with youth culture? “I had an unhappy childhood,” Clark ventured. “It just kind of became my territory.”
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