"Harmony's writing the sequel," jokes producer Cary Woods during Thursday night's 20th anniversary celebration screening of Kids. "Adults." The mood is upbeat, though not without a tinge of sadness, inside the BAM Rose Cinemas theater, as cast and crew, including Chloë Sevigny, Rosario Dawson, and Leo Fitzpatrick, writer Harmony Korine, and director Larry Clark, reminisce over their uncanny filmmaking experience, two decades after the international acclaim—and uproar. It's the first time in over 15 years that the group has been assembled, and from the hoots and hollers of audience members, many of whom had been extras, plucked from New York City sidewalks by Clark's trained lens, their reunion is long overdue.
Following the rare screening of Clark's personal 35mm copy, the director sits between Korine and Dawson, cane in hand, ever dour as he explains the film's documentary origins. "Everything in the film had happened—except for Jenny," he explains, revealing the device at the heart of the all-too-real narrative. "I told the story to Harmony, that I didn't want to do a documentary. We had to have a hook; we had to have the maiden tied to the railroad tracks. And I came up with this thing about a girl getting HIV from one sexual experience. And that was what tied it together that made it into a feature."
Directed by Larry Clark and written by a 19-year-old Harmony Korine, production was a litany of firsts: Clark's first time directing, Korine's first screenplay, Fitzgerald and others' first times acting—in fact, as she laughed out her confession, the then-14-year-old Dawson had her first kiss around the time of filming, during a Tompkins Square Park game of spin the bottle, a stretch from the sexually-seasoned 17-year-old she plays in the film. "Leo [Fitzpatrick] was nothing like Telly [Kids' star]," Clark explains to the bemused crowd, echoing his sentiments about many of his other amateur actors, as well. "He did a really good job of acting."
From getting past Fitzgerald's now-immortal speech patterns, to the casting process, which Clark admits "Was the hardest part," it's an evening of fond memories throughout, perhaps felt in the absence of the Kids' two larger-than-life characters, Harold Hunter, who played the part of Harold, and Justin Pierce, who played the film's second male lead, Casper. "That was the craziest thing to see: Harry and Justin, and hearing their voices was pretty heavy," Korine says wistfully during the post-screening Q+A. "They were real street stars in real life, and so it's weird hearing their voices. It recalls a lot. It takes you back there. That was crazy. They're both not here, [he gestures up to the screen] but they're here."
20 years later, Kids is every bit as evocative and incendiary as it was when it first made waves at Cannes, earning rave reviews for its director and writer, as well as, perhaps, careers for its young stars. The laughter that sprouts up at times during the screening is less of the awkward one its intense subject matter may have elicit during its most shocking moments, but one of nostalgia, familiarity, and shared experience. The kids are all older now, but on the silver screen, they're immortal. In their world, following 24 hours of sex, drugs, and wandering in New York City, it's just another day. Answers Clark, to an audience question of What happens next?: "At the end of the film, you know, life goes on."