Kenneth Turan’s slamming of Larry Clark’s “Kids” appeared below Turan’s somewhat generous review of “Waterworld,” leaving people to assume they would be better served seeing a mindless film than a challenging one, as long as they take the Hollywood action-epic on its own terms, which is exactly what Turan refuses to do with “Kids” (“Grossing Out the Old Squares,” Calendar, July 28).
Larry Clark’s film attempts to take an honest look at kids. The real-life drama of sex, drugs and violence, presented in all its pathetic beauty in a shockingly accomplished cinema verite style, is dismissed by Turan; exactly the reaction of most adults to this reality, which is why these kids are the way they are.
Clark’s film brings to mind Cesare Zavatinni’s description of the ideal neo-realist film: 24 hours in the life of a worker. That is the cinematic tradition “Kids” comes out of. Clark’s approach consciously avoids Hollywood melodrama.
Turan talks about the use of melodramatic devices in the film, but the devices are not used in a melodramatic fashion. When Jennie finds Telly, he’s already deflowering another virgin and she does nothing. There is no melodramatic payoff; nor is there closure.
The film subverts all Hollywood devices that it uses. It may disturb you, anger you, frustrate you, but is that bad? The real question is not how can we judge these kids, but how can we judge them without judging ourselves?
Turan is offended by “a few loving close-ups of a legless beggar on a city subway car,” because he believes that Clark is trying to get a “rise out of the squares.” First, the beggar is real--he exists in the New York subway. Second, the sequence obliquely refers to another look at kids--Luis Bunuel’s “ Los Olvidados, " where the kids throw a legless beggar off his cart, with no compassion whatsoever.
In “Kids,” Caspar gives the beggar money, one moment of compassion for a character who will later rape the passed-out Jenny. This sequence adds complexity to the characterizations of Caspar and Telly and shows us the world in which they live, a world that also includes Telly’s mother, who breast-feeds while smoking a cigarette.
“Kids” attempts to de-romanticize its subjects, yet the more it strips away dramatic conventions, the more we see how compelling and, yes, how attractive its subjects are. That’s the uncanny quality of teens, not innocent children, not corrupted adults, but somehow in a magic nether world that Turan recognizes sarcastically as the “apogee of human existence.”
Why do you think Telly is so obsessed with virgins? They represent something pure, so different from the world around him. The film ends with Caspar waking up out of his stupor saying “Jesus Christ, what happened?” The question is addressed to the audience.
Larry Clark doesn’t give easy answers because he wants the audience to grapple with the issues the film raises.