Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s gritty Kids—a sort of porn-y, kinda cautionary tale about a bunch of young teenagers roaming New York—turns 20 this month. Along with a small handful of others, it was of the most important movies of my adolescence.
I remember the movie was the first piece of popular culture I knew of that felt at once alien, dangerous and totally resonant. I saw it when I was 12 and my introduction to it was by way of a number of other preteens my age telling me that it was shocking and dirty. I remember finally seeing it and feeling like I was watching something I wasn’t supposed to be watching, but finding all of the characters and the motions they were going through uncomfortably familiar. It was beautiful and terrifying and felt like a documentary and an exploitation flick and a horror movie all at once. The monsters were AIDS and rape and the absence of sensible adults and that adolescent pressure to embrace masculinity as a means of surviving growing up but at what cost?
The year I first saw it I had left Maine to live with my mother in Everett, Massachusetts. Kids came out that Summer. That year was big for me because of that transition, where I moved to a place that was decidedly more suburban than Maine—and really even comparatively more urban than the small Maine town in which I had grown up. My mother was busy with a lot of stuff like work and what I realize only in retrospect were the stresses accompanied by the disintegration of her marriage to my father, and I remember being loved and cared for but generally unmonitored. I felt the same was the case for a many of my peers in this new place. There were all of these kids who were more or less floating around unsupervised, and partying and fighting and fucking around, mostly on their own. In Kids, I saw my existence in Massachusetts and when I moved back to Maine a year later and friends asked what it was like, I said it was like the movie. In that, I meant that I felt like we were sort of left out on our own, and we felt feral and sort of dangerous.
But then what I arrived back to Maine—I moved back in with my father the next year—it turned out the scene was different but not much else. Most of the parents back home had their own demons and distractions and us kids were generally left to do our own thing, get into our own shit. I’d eventually realize that Kids was about a lot of things, but what was most resonant for me was that it was about what being a lower/lower middle class adolescent is like and presented without sentimentalization. [And there’s that too. It was the first time I had encountered art—photography in particular—stripped of overt sentimentalization.] Kids is about being in the wilderness of adolescence on your own, sorting things out with similarly wayward creatures, and you’re lucky to make it out in one piece, or with your health or sense of self or compass. That the stage between childhood, where, in my fathers words, you “ain’t between a shit and a fart,” is impossible and brutal and it can feel like there is virtually no winning when you’re in there.
All that and the soundtrack introduced me to Slint, Sebadoh and Daniel Johnston, for which I am forever grateful.