When photographer Larry Clark’s Kids was released 15-years-ago, today, I was a runting little tyke of 15, concerned with beating Legend of Zelda and fitting into school. The movie was like a kick in the nuts, an awaking, a call to arms for not fitting in and never having to; and along with Trainspotting a year later, probably sent me in a different direction than my life would’ve gone otherwise.
Perhaps the movie holds unhappy memories for some. While two members of the cast, Sevigny and Rosario Dawson, found significant success after, another two died young—Justin Pierce killed himself in a Las Vegas hotel room and Harold Hunter died of a drug overdose in the same East Village project housing that he grew up in (friends and family later donated money to pay for a funeral). It’s evident that despite being in an important film, few members of the cast were able to convert their bad beginnings into a good career.
One man who hasn’t moved on as much appears to be Clark. “With “Kids” I thought I got it right,” he told Salon in 2001, “I worked hard on the film. I hung out with Kids all the time. I got the idea and the story for the film from hanging out with Kids.” His later, progressively less successful films, such as Bully and Wassup Rockers, deal with extremely similar themes. His current project, Savage Innocent, sits in classic Clark territory—a teen running away from an abusive home (his remake of Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa, apparently to star Mickey Rourke, appears to be on hiatus). Clark’s intentions are, as ever, difficult to dicipher. Is he some kind of permanent teenager, celebrating the life he lives, or is he ultimately cynical, selling teenage self-abuse to voyeurs around the world?
Fifteen years on, the cast, city and audience of Kids might have moved on, but the film itself remains troubling. It walks a tightrope between exploitation and art. Clark still seems completely comfortable with that, both in film and in photography. Kids portrayed a city that I never knew—and what’s most worrisome is to think that maybe, just maybe, it never existed, except to be sold to me.
It’s a movie that hasn’t aged well, and even at the time, I remember thinking are their kids who are actually like this? Probably. But like the movie Thirteen, it seems constructed as some sort of modern day parable for parents. Watch out or your kids may end up like this.