Twenty years ago today, Larry Clark’s film, Kids was screened at the Angelika Film Center in Downtown New York. The controversial art house film—released with an NC-17 rating—follows teenage protagonists Telly, Casper, Jennie, Ruby, and crew through a heated 24 hours of debauchery and casual sex in the streets of New York City, hallmarked by skateboarding, hip-hop, and street drugs.
“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 fucking, everything,” explains Clark in an anniversary screening of Kids at the Angelika.
The film, written by 19-year-old Harmony Korine, tells the story of a group of kids on the loose through New York in the summer. It’s a dark narrative rife with gripping scenarios—rampant sexuality, rape, the spread of HIV, drug addiction, group violence— compounded into two hours of dizzying decadence. From Telly deflowering virgins, Casper pummeling a dude with the back of his skateboard, Jennie dropping ecstasy, and Ruby priding over blow jobs, Kids felt real and very much like a living document to a lawless era of pre-Giuliani New York City.
In the 20 plus years since the making of Kids, the real life Kids-turned-adults have inspired a new documentary titled The Kids, directed by Hamilton Harris, a skater who made a cameo in the original film.
“Skateboarding was healing us from life. I skated because the reality I was living seemed incomplete. Metaphorically, I wanted to get away,” Harris tells The Creators Project.
The realness and grit captured on camera came, in part, from the actors' inexperience. For most cast members Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloe Sevigny, Rosario Dawson, it was their first time acting. Off-screen many of the characters knew each other, hung in the same circles, learned about Clark’s filming from word of mouth. Many of the scenes captured on film were skateboard hangouts, Washington Square Park, Houston Street, the Lower Eastside or NYC nightclub institutions like The Shelter that housed N.A.S.A. on Fridays.
Fitzpatrick, who played the lead character, Telly, says “skateboarding was insular and Larry exposed it to the rest of the world.” That insular world was made of real skateboarders who Clark befriended and captured in his film. The group of kids became cult pop stars on screen and off. They became representational of “making it,” “being at the right place at the right time,” and finding success as their own charismatic selves. The film was elevated as cinema verite partly for its sensationalism and partly for its authenticity. Hollywood careers were made for Dawson, Sevigny, and Korine, while others, including Fitzpatrick and Pierce, struggled with the limelight.
With this documentary, Harris hopes to unearth the realities of the New York skate life Clark captured on film. It was a culture and a way of life and he’s been collecting archival footage, some of it predating Kids since 2010 to weave it into a docu-narrative with the help of photographer Tobin Yelland andex-pro skater and Kid extra Peter Bici. Harris says, “It’s a community. The real kids behind kids in homage to them.”
Part of that homage deals with loss of life. In 2000, Pierce committed suicide, and in 2006, Harold Hunter (who plays himself in the movie as a charismatic ambassador for skater culture), died of a drug-induced heart attack. Hunter was a pro-skater, iconic to 90s New York. He had the beguiling ability to transcend social classes and groups. Hunter and Pierce became close friends and Pierce was known to visit Hunter’s family apartment in the projects. He was the first “white” visitor in the family’s apartment, recounts Mike Hunter, Harold’s youngest brother, at the anniversary screening of Kids.
These are the behind-the-scenes stories that Harris wants to expound on. He says his documentary will contextualize the “racism, poverty, lack of identity, gentrification, sexism,” that the original Kids appeared to “recognize, claim, accept. I am pretty sure that’s what Larry captured. Not just about the kids but the time frame.”
The New York City of today is certainly a different place then it was 20 years ago. The downtown clubs like Shelter no longer exist, they’ve been overshadowed by a burgeoning Meatpacking District. The Lower East Side, known for its grit and immigrant families, has become a hotel district.
Fitzpatrick says that even Washington Square Park, known back in the day for its interesting mix of people from skaters, ravers, and drug dealers, has become sterile. He explains, “I was arrested for riding my mountain bike at [age] 34 in the park at 2PM in the afternoon. I’d rather it be scary and sketchy like it used to be then get arrested in the park in the day.”
“I see a big difference between then and now. The perception of New York now is based on class, gentrification, transformation, evolution,” says Harris. “[The doc will] express those experiences. I am going to speak for my generation in New York.”
The Creators Project interviewed some of the skaters who acted in Kids about their experience shooting the film in and around NYC. Here's what they said:
Upper Eastside Apartment:
Leo Fitzpatrick: The apartment we filmed in was alluded to in the script as being on 70th and Lexington on the Upper East Side in a brownstone. I had never been to that neighborhood before. I was just so used to being downtown. This was the first day of shooting and it rained so we decided to start with the sex scene first. It was uncomfortable and we were finding our way.
Washington Square Park:
Mike Hernandez: Relative to everything going on now, that scene was the nucleus of the movie. Visually speaking, it was a representation of what was going on culturally. A lot of things weren’t regulated. We really were just smoking weed in the park. We were a rolling pop-up group home. The city was our playground and we mobbed the city together.
Hamilton Harris: WSP become a hub because that’s where you would go to after Skate NYC closed in the afternoon. It’s an interesting place. It was a burial place for poor people. It’s such a significant historical context. We had no other home.
Nick Lockman: I begged my grandma to let me go to DC. I knew [photographer] Dave Schubert. Geez [Gary Smith] said they were filming a skate movie in New York so we got some random kid to drive us there. We drove from DC at 1 AM and got to New York at 6 AM. It was the first couple of hours ever in New York City. We were cast as kids in the background at Washington Square Park, but Larry was so hyped on us being so young that he wanted to give us speaking lines.
Javier Nunez: This was a house party we threw. We did what came naturally. It was in the clock building [Red Square apartments] on Houston and Avenue A. We started filming that night and finished in the morning. For the scene on the couch, we were there for an hour just talking.
Nick Lockman: The place was all set up with cameras everywhere, tracks everywhere. They gave you a subject to talk about and let you go from there. It was awkward as hell. I was 14 and it was the first time messing with girls, trying to giggle and laugh on call and it was like 4AM… That scene where there were a lot of people sleeping all over each other. A lot of them were really asleep… When we finished shooting, we got paid $300 dollars and we went to Times Square like we were rich.
Kids returned to Angelika Film Center on July 24 and 25 for special 20th anniversary midnight screenings. Click here to learn more, and here to learn more about Hamilton Harris' upcoming The Kids documentary.