Kids opens with a teenage couple smooching in a manner so sloppy and uncinematic, viewers are perturbed from the start. The kiss alone is uncomfortable to watch but what follows is an increasingly disturbing and voyeuristic journey through the life of teenagers in mid-’90s New York. Groundbreaking in its time for its realism and uncensored depiction of youth, the film—directed by Larry Clark, written by Harmony Korine, and produced by Gus Van Sant—continues to provoke 20 years after its release with its shocking subject matter and accurate—often depressingly so—portrayal of kids.
Focused on 16-year-old “virgin surgeon” Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), his friend Casper (Justin Pierce), and their skater chums, the film gives us a glimpse into their life in a 24-hour window. Here’s a quick itinerary of that day: smoking weed, stealing 40s from bodegas by stuffing the bottles in JNCO cargo pants, beating up a black dude in the park, harassing a gay couple, trying to steal the virginity of two girls in one day (to quote Telly, “to have a virgin suck your dick—it’s so basic”), taking a quick pit stop at home to kick the family cat and say hi to a mom who’s breastfeeding and smoking at the same time, doing drugs in the club, telling a girl her body is “dope,” and raping an unconscious girl on a couch while a bunch of kids surround the scene, too faded to function.
When the film—a directorial debut for Clark and Korine’s first screenplay—was released in 1995, Variety claimed it was “poised to become one of the most controversial American films ever made” (Korine followed Kids with his film Ken Park, so Variety definitely spoke too soon.) New York magazine referred to it as “nihilistic pornography.” And the Washington Post cast it off as “child pornography disguised as a cautionary documentary,” and pondered, “except for pedophiles, it’s hard to imagine who’ll be drawn to this irresponsible Little Bo Peep show.”
In the 20 years since its release, the kids of Kids have moved on. Some pursued acting, others resumed their lives as skateboarders or created successful skate brands, a few started families, and others passed away, as was the case with the film’s stars Justin Pierce, who died of suicide in 2000, and Harold Hunter, who died from a drug overdose in 2006. After Hunter’s death, Kids actor Hamilton Harris began work on his forthcoming documentary, The Kids, which delves into the lives of the kids from Kids. Fellow Kids co-star and pro-skater, Peter Bici teamed up with Harris in Spring of 2014. They are currently raising money via Kickstarter to fund their film.
To commemorate the film’s 20th anniversary, I spoke with Kids actors Leo Fitzpatrick, Jon Abrahams, Javier Nunez, Michele Lockwood, Hamilton Harris, and Peter Bici, as well Zoo York founder and Kids title designer Eli Morgan Gesner, about making one of the most provocative films of our time.
“They Gonna Tell Their Grandkids About That Shit”
Larry Clark (above, with Justin Pierce) was already an established photographer before he started integrating with the New York skate kids in the early ’90s. At that time he was known for “Tulsa,” his 1971 book of photography showing Oklahoma teens using heroin, shooting guns, and having sex, as well as “Teenage Lust,” published in 1983. For these photo books Clark participated in the activity along with his subjects. So, when it came to preparing for “Kids,” he continued with this immersive practice—despite his age difference—and started hanging out with the teenagers of downtown New York.
When “Kids” came out, Clark told The Village Voice, “After about six months, I’m just one of the guys, they’re just totally open and honest with me, and I find out no one is using condoms. Hence the safe sex thing is ‘Let’s have sex with a virgin.’ And when I’d say, ‘What if she gets pregnant?’ they’d just say, ‘That’s not meant to be.’ But the girls do get pregnant and they have abortions and their mothers never know. And some of them get herpes the first time they have sex. You can make a list of the things that can happen to you the first time you have sex.”
Leo Fitzpatrick, “Telly”: Larry had started infiltrating the skateboard scene a few years before the film was even known about. He was really intrigued by skateboarders and knew that to earn the trust of skateboarders that he would have to hang out with them and eventually learn how to skateboard himself.
Eli Morgan Gesner, Zoo York Founder/Title Designer: We’d all go down to Brooklyn Bridge banks to go skating and there, in the crowd, is this old guy with gray hair and a mustache—and nobody had mustaches then—and a ponytail and he’s dressed like a skater. He has baggy pants and skate sneakers on and a skate shirt. He’s running around taking pictures of the kids. Immediately I’m like, this guy’s a pedophile [laughs].
Michelle Lockwood, “Kim”: I remember being on Avenue A and seeing all these kids skateboard down the street and Larry was one of them. He was over 50 and had a really long skinny ponytail. And I thought, oh, what a creep, who’s this weird guy?
Fitzpatrick: After a few months of seeing him around, he started introducing himself to people, kids started feeling more comfortable around him.
Gesner: People would go skating and [Larry’s] like, “Everyone, let’s go back to the loft!” We’d all go back to his house and throw a party—and he’s giving underage kids beer and booze and drugs are going on. Even all the skaters who would come in from out of town, a lot of them would end up at Larry’s house.
Lockwood: I knew he was a photographer. I didn’t really know his work back then. I just thought he was going to be another guy to hang onto our group and try to profit from it or exploit it. But after a while I realized he actually had more of a vision and he wanted to include a lot of people in on what he was thinking.
Gesner: He was an anomalous little satellite that was orbiting it. He couldn’t be a part of it because he was far too old, but he was still supportive of it and excited by it and there taking pictures and giving people photos. And it’s flattering.
Fitzpatrick: I remember being brought home in cop cars when I was 11 and 12 for trespassing. Silly stuff like that. Before we met Larry, every adult told us that we were fuck-ups or had no values, that we weren’t going anywhere. And Larry was the first adult to step in and say, “No, what you guys are doing is cool and I think it’s cool enough to want to make a movie about it.” So, for the first time there was an adult in our lives that got it and that was really nice for us.
“I Have No Legs, I Have No Legs”
As Clark explained to The Village Voice, “I didn’t want to make a documentary. I wanted to make a film that could play in malls across America.” He called upon one of the kids in the skate gang, Harmony Korine (above, with Harold Hunter), to pen the story he had in mind. He was initially impressed with Korine, who had already written a few screenplays in high school and had talked his way into a job as a production assistant on the Paul Schrader/Susan Sarandon flick “Light Sleeper.” As Korine said to Roger Ebert when the film came out, “I wrote my screenplay when I was 18 or 19. I was the youngest in history; I looked it up.”
Gesner: One of my close friends at the time was Harmony Korine and Harmony used to be a sponsored skater and was in the city going to film school and writing. Me and him were very close and we had film in common, we both wanted to be filmmakers.
Lockwood: Kids wasn’t the first thing that I worked on with Harmony and Larry. We worked on quite a few photo shoots leading up to the film. I was a friend of Harmony’s and it was often, me, Chloë [Sevigny], Justin [Pierce], and there was another kid from Tennessee—I believe his name was Draper. We would do shoots with Larry for a weird German magazine. We did a music video that never aired because it was way too racy.
Hamilton Harris, “Hamilton”: [In] ’91 Harmony was talking about this shit all the time. “We gonna make this movie, I’m gonna make this movie about you guys, blah blah blah blah blah.” And I heard this shit so many times and I was just like, “Alright man, I’ve got a whole other bunch of shit that I’m dealing with in my life, but if that happens, cool.” I’m down with it but I wasn’t counting on it.
Gesner: [Harmony] was that kind of a character, a prankster, and had a really weird sense of humor and I really enjoyed his company. Harmony comes to me and is like, “Do you know Gus Van Sant?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” And he said, “Well, Gus Van Sant’s a huge fan of Larry and he wants Larry to make a movie and Larry came to me to write it.” It just seemed all talk and I was like, “That’s cool.”
Fitzpatrick: The fight sequence and the drinking and hanging out at the apartments and stuff, all that was pretty much our day-to-day lives. Larry might have seen all those things while hanging out with us—those things might have happened over a year’s time, then Larry just crammed it into a 24-hour period. But everything else in that film is 100 percent real. And I think the smartest thing Larry could have done was hire a kid to write it.
Gesner: The day that I was like, “This is for fucking real,” I skated over to Supreme on Lafayette and Prince. Harmony was living with his grandmother all the way out in Queens. So, Harmony is running up, “Guess what? They bought me an apartment so I can write—Gus Van Sant and the guys—so I can sit and I don’t have to be disturbed and I can write this script.” They bought him a little studio apartment that was directly across the street from Supreme. He was like, “They bought me a computer and a printer.” Back then that was expensive.
Harris: By ’93 there was something in me saying, whoa, something is happening. I don’t know what it is but something about what Harmony was saying and Larry being around, it feels like something is going to happen. Next thing you know in 1994 it’s like, yo, we’re shooting this movie, we got the budget.
“Mmmm, Butterscotch Yo”
Clark had little interest in casting professional actors for “Kids.” He was tired of seeing the Hollywood model of teenage films, those saccharine tales with happy endings and teenagers played by actors who are actually 25. This led to a cast of unknowns—kids from the skate scene he had befriended—that he called upon to play the roles. At one point they did have professional actress Mia Kirschner for the role of HIV+ Jennie, but it was clear that it wasn’t going to work out, and she was quickly replaced with Chloë Sevigny. For some, “Kids” did propel an acting career—most notably Sevigny and Rosario Dawson. But for a bulk of the “Kids,” skateboarding was their main interest and acting in the movie was just a way to kill time and have fun during the summer of ’94.
Gesner: They immediately wanted to use all the skaters in New York City, and I had to go find all the skaters. I didn’t realize it but I was acting as the junior line producer trying to get everything together, trying to do auditions, and everyone was looking for different people to play different characters.
Jon Abrahams, “Steven”: I was just walking down the street one day and Larry Clark and Harmony stopped me and were like, “Oh, we’re making this movie, do you want to come audition?” I said, “Sure, why not? It’s sounds fun.”
Javier Nunez, “Jav”: One day we were skating at Astor Place with Harold [Hunter], and Harmony just happened to walk by and they were getting ready to film this movie. Harold told Harmony, “Oh, you should put Jav in the movie,” and Harmony was like, “Okay.” That’s how it all started.
Peter Bici, “Kid in Park”: I actually was on my first skateboarding tour with Thrasher magazine at the time. While I was on tour they were casting for the film and when I came back they were in the middle of filming. Justin Pierce, who was a dear friend of mine, was like, “I want you to be in this scene, this Washington Square Park scene.” All of my friends were in it, it was a family thing, so I was like, “Of course I want to do it.”
Abrahams: I went [to the audition] with my best friend, who had been dating Chloë a couple years prior when we were freshmen in high school. We knew Chloë was going to be in it, and we knew those people because we had seen them around. I knew the skater kids even though I wasn’t really part of that. Harold was a really good friend of mine already.
Fitzpatrick: The way they originally cast the film, which was really smart, is they would have five guys and five girls go into a room and talk about sex, much like in the film. That way they could see people in their natural habitat, I guess you would say, or a natural habitat.
Abrahams: They would mix and match us and have us read the Vitamin C scene, the scene where all the guys are hanging out doing whippets and talking about how sperm has Vitamin C in it.
Fitzpatrick: Then, slowly they started weeding down people. Originally, I was cast to play a different part because they had wanted some other people to play Telly. And eventually, somehow, I got the part.
Gesner: Justin Pierce skated for me and had the voice and the swagger and the attitude and was always really cool and was like, fucked up childhood, fucked up family, was always getting way too drunk. When we read the script we were all sure that Justin was going to play the virgin surgeon because he’s the most charismatic or cinematic dynamic character there of all the skaters who were cast. But Larry and Harmony saw something in Leo that none of us really got.
Fitzpatrick: We were all really naive, so I didn’t even know what that meant, per se, to be a star of a movie. Luckily, I tend not to overthink things and I just kind of dive in.
Abrahams: I had no interest in anything beyond like, “What? I get paid to make out with two girls? That sounds amazing [laughs].” I went away to do a summer program at Bennington College. While I was up there Larry called me and was like, “Listen, Steven Cales got into some trouble and we’re wondering if you want a bigger part in the movie?” I didn’t really care about anything at that point except that I didn’t really want to be up at Bennington College. So I said, “Well, if you buy me a bus ticket I’ll do it, sure.” They laughed at that and said, “Yeah, sure, we’ll get you a bus ticket.” I came in and, sure enough, I ended up having a bigger part of the movie.
Nunez: We didn’t even take this movie thing seriously. I don’t even think my friends cared who was directing it or what the case was. It was like, oh, they want us to do the movie? Let’s do it. The homies are in it? Let’s do this.
Fitzpatrick: I never even thought about being an actor at all my entire life. So, it was a challenge for me. I don’t think I ever even thought the movie would come out. I didn’t understand the implications of being involved in a movie like that. But I definitely knew [being cast as Telly] was an odd choice because I would say me and Chloë were more outsiders in that scene. I mean, Rosario was completely opposite her character but a lot of the men in the film played similar characters to who they were in real life, whereas I’m a super awkward and shy guy. For me to play that character was a real stretch.
Lockwood: None of us were actors, we never thought about it. It wasn’t like it was a huge stretch. It wasn’t like we were fucking rehearsing Shakespeare. We were talking the way we speak and we were all comfortable with each other. Some of the stuff that Harmony threw in there was a little “Harmonized,” but it was funny and it was very Harmony.
Abrahams: Larry came to my house before we filmed to get my mom’s approval and I remember my mom was aware of his legacy as an artist. My mom was like, “Yeah, I don’t care. Jonny is his own guy and if he wants to do it he can do it.” But she was like, “I don’t want him to be nude. He has to wear underwear. That’s my rule and I’m not going back on that.” Larry was laughing, said, “No problem.” And my dad was just like, “Wow, this is awesome.” My dad’s an artist.
Fitzpatrick: My mom had to read the script and sign off on it and give me permission to do it. And she’s always been really understanding of my life and my lifestyle. I don’t think she enjoyed the sex as much, but she understood that it was an honest depiction of teenagers and not some Hollywood version of it. She could respect that. Her and Larry are actually friends. She respects Larry for telling the truth, but I don’t think she would tell her friends to go see it.
Gesner: [For the role of Jennie, Mia Kirschner] flew in and she came to Supreme to hang out with everyone. She was a young girl, 17 or something like that. She just got plopped into the viper’s nest with all these real skaters.
Lockwood: She basically stood out like a sore thumb and had a Canadian accent and just wasn’t part of our crew.
Gesner: She starts hanging out with the skaters and they just hate her guts. They think she’s a prissy stuck-up girl and brow beater. And she’s crying and miserable, it’s not going to work.
Fitzpatrick: Even though me and Chloë were a little bit more outsiders, we were still privy to that world. Our friends drank 40s because they couldn’t afford good beer. But this actress is trying to drink 40s and learn the lingo, she was just trying to do her job but it was very apparent that she was an actress. It didn’t work and it only took a weekend to discover that.
Gesner: Harmony and Chloë start hanging out. So, you go over to Harmony’s house and Chloë is just getting dressed in the morning, and you’re like, “Oh okay, you guys have a thing going on here.” They were like a couple. Gus and [producer] Cary [Woods] go to Harmony and they’re like, “Well, what do you think of [Mia]?” and he’s like, “I hate this girl, she’s totally wrong, she’s not who this character is supposed to be.” “Well, who do you want to play the girl?” “I want Chloë to play the girl. I want my girlfriend to play the girl.” [laughs] So she got the part.
Lockwood: The 13th hour they decided to make Chloë the lead girl. She was kind of freaking out because she hadn’t really acted before and was suddenly thrust into this major role.
Fitzpatrick: Chloë was already pretty cool at the time. Chloë’s always had an energy about her and whether or not she was going to be an actress, I don’t think anyone knew. But you knew she was going to be something. Things fell into place and that’s why we didn’t necessarily know what the success of the film would be because we didn’t even understand how the hell we ended up in it. Like, I can be in it? It can’t be very good.
Abrahams: I remember Harmony being like, “You gotta see this girl we got to play this part. She’s 14-years-old and you can’t believe that she’s 14. She seems 17, it’s insane and we just found her sitting on the stoop.” Harold was like, “Oh yeah, that’s my homegirl Rosario, she grew up in my building.”
Gesner: The other major role was Rosario, and she lived across the street from Harold. Her family lived in a squat, abandoned building. We would see her around. She was always this really beautiful young girl. Chloë was young but she was trying to act mature, whereas Rosario would still be putting on roller blades and short shorts and playing with water balloons. That’s literally how she was when we did Kids. And Harold was like, “You gotta get Rosario.”
Bici: You take a girl from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Rosario Dawson—at the time she lived in a really bad neighborhood—and you pluck her out of the neighborhood and put her in this film and now she’s this global Latina icon.
“You’ve Tested Positive For The HIV Virus”
Korine (above, with Michael McNabb and Hamilton Harris) wrote the script for “Kids” in the short span of one week, replicating the way he and his friends spoke, which lent to the film’s authentic voice. In an interview with Roger Ebert he explained, “I think one of the reasons why everyone’s so angry is because it doesn’t give you a definitive YES or NO—this is bad, this is good. If you have any kind of sense you’ll take away some kind of message, but if you can’t see past the shock, you’re not going to get anything.”
Lockwood: It was Harmony’s cinematic version of us. It was all sort of there, more or less. Drug use, unprotected sex, stealing things, getting in trouble, maybe inciting some violence—never to the point of what it was in the film—a lot of underage kids getting into trouble. We were all getting into trouble.
Fitzpatrick: I thought it was almost 100 percent accurate except for the sex side of things. Because at that time I didn’t really know too many people who were having that kind of sex. I mean, when you’re a teen you talk more about having sex then you actually have sex. I maybe, sort of, kind of had sex once by that point. Or maybe not even. I’m not even sure.
Harris: Of course it was sensationalized and glamorized and it had the Hollywood pixie dust on it, which is fine, it needed that too. But the energy that was captured in it, the way Justin moved, his energy was captured 100 percent accurate. That park scene when we were hanging out, the energy, 100 percent accurate. Even Leo. And Leo did the most acting out of everybody.
Lockwood: There was no moment where it’s like, oh, this is the nice part where we have some popcorn. Nothing like that. It smashes you the whole way through. And it was real, to a degree. That’s also why it was so powerful. You could see it as a documentary when it really wasn’t a documentary. Sort of bastardized versions of us.
Bici: It felt extremely familiar to me because all my friends were in it and at the time all we did was hang out and all we did was skateboard. And the film doesn’t show the skateboarding aspect, we were hard-core skateboarders. The film just scratched the surface of the skating. That’s all we really did. We weren’t bad kids, we really weren’t. We just looked out for each other.
Gesner: To my recollection, this is a true story that Larry witnessed first hand but it was with the gay Latin, Puerto Rican, and Dominican boy prostitutes from 42nd Street. There was one who was like the alpha stud and didn’t know he had AIDS and was running around right at the beginning of AIDS and giving it to everybody. That was sort of where the story came from.
Fitzpatrick: [AIDS] was fucking very real back then and I remember when people didn’t know what it was. It really fucked up a lot of people’s puberty. It’s this black cloud hanging over sexuality of any kind. It all was a package deal. If you had sex you potentially could have gotten AIDS and I knew people with AIDS.
Bici: At the time HIV was so huge but I was so young and I was blind to all of it. We actually had a friend who had HIV but when you’re young you don’t really realize how hard and deep something like that is.
Harris: I was experiencing HIV and AIDS in my community, neighborhood, in my home. So none of this was foreign. But then again, I wasn’t running around sleeping with mad chicks, I didn’t sleep with dudes, and I didn’t shoot dope. So in many ways I was protected from the virus. But psychologically and emotionally—to have loved ones or relatives or friends of parents who were dying from it—I was just as affected.
Gesner: It was shot for a million dollars, which was no money, and real fly-by-night problems popping up, people getting arrested, police, fights breaking out, actors getting drunk and high and disappearing. Everyone is running around trying to find where everyone is.
Fitzpatrick: The first day of shooting was supposed to be the scene where me and Justin walk down to the subway station after the opening scene, which is the sex scene. That first day of shooting it rained, so we couldn’t shoot outdoors, we just had to go right into the opening scene, the sex scene. I guess because that was the first day I had ever acted and it’s the first thing you ever see on that screen, everything else after that was kind of easy. It’s one hell of a way to start a career. But I never really sweated it.
Abrahams: I might as well say, I was pretty stoned a lot of the time. In retrospect that was probably not a smart move [laughs]. But I didn’t know any different. They were like “cut” and somebody was smoking a joint, so I thought, okay, I’ll smoke a joint. Then they were like, “We need you again,” and I was stoned. But that’s just how it was.
Fitzpatrick: At the time I was straight edge. I think the rule was if you’re going to drink on set or smoke weed you better bring your own because production isn’t going to buy it for you.
Lockwood: A lot of scenes we had to drink apple juice instead of 40s. And we weren’t really smoking weed. But a few scenes we were like, “Larry, can we please have some real weed for this scene?” [laughs]. Things like that. With the party scene things got a little bit loose and we were getting a little bit faded. That actually added to the element of realness to that scene.
Harris: Real talk, when the scene came when I was rolling up the blunt we switched that shit out for some real weed because I was like, “Ain’t no way I’m rolling up some fake weed and smoking it.” I can act like I’m on heroin and I can act like I’m on crack because I saw that at home but I can’t fake no weed high. So like a fucking prima donna on a set I was like, “Yo I need some real weed.” I shit you not, in less than two minutes I had some real weed and Larry was like, “Yo you gotta do that in one take,” But woman I’m like, “One take, c’mon, I do this every day, I got this.”
Abrahams: When [Leo’s character] is having sex with Yakira [Peguero] at the end of the party, that was a closed set. They cleared us all out. We were in the other room when they were filming that stuff. Had I been around for that I probably would have felt a little, ooof, oh fuck, when I left at the end of the day. But most of my stuff in the movie is hanging out and having a party.
Harris: We did feel it was dark and heavy but there were so many other darker things happening that that shit was like tea and crumpets compared to the story that we’re going to share now [with the documentary]. We’re going to get into the real grit. Which I ain’t going to tell you right now [laughs]. Yeah it was dark and Harmony’s writing style is dark, but in his world, and we’re going to go into our world.
Fitzpatrick: Strangely, we were all pretty young and slightly innocent at that time. We didn’t have anywhere else to hang out anyway. We would just skateboard. The movie sort of became a summer camp for fuck-ups. Even if you weren’t shooting that day you’d still go and hang out because you didn’t have anywhere else to go. If nothing else, there was free food and shit.
“You Takin’ Big Hits For A Little Guy”
While shooting, there was no deviation from the script. Everything stayed true to the lines written by Korine, right down to the way he and Clark wanted words pronounced. There is, however, one scene of improvisation that also tends to be the most memorable scene in the film: this occurred when Clark noticed four kids all around ages 12 and 13—Javier Nunez (above, with Harold Hunter), Gary Smith, Nick Lockman and Lavar McBribe—sitting on a couch smoking weed, discussing life, waxing poetic lines such as “You got gold on your neck too? That’s crazy. That’s nice, Christ on your neck… I like that. Jesus Christ, our savior.”
Abrahams: There are so many moments in the move that ring true for me now. The scene I like most, and a lot of people probably say, is during the party scene at my house with the little kids on the couch and they’re smoking weed. To me that’s the most truthful moment in the entire movie.
Nunez: It’s kind of sad to say but I did smoke before that movie. That movie didn’t start me to smoke or anything like that. That was just the thing I was involved in. When we were on the couch we were doing it already.
Fitzpatrick: Those kids, that’s what they were doing just off to the side. Larry just put a camera on them. That wasn’t in the [script] at all, that’s just what was happening. That’s one of the most memorable scenes in the film. And I still know those kids. Those kids are still around. They’re not embarrassed by it. They don’t feel exploited. That’s who they were when they were 12 and 13.
Abrahams: People were really shocked by the movie at how young the main characters are to be doing what they’re doing. But the truth of the matter is we were doing some of those things when we were a lot younger.
Gesner: We had the first rough cut to go see Kids. So we sit down and it’s quite similar to what you saw. But this is the one thing that was really bizarre. There’s a party scene then BOOM–it cuts to the boys on the couch. That scene goes on for over 30 minutes. It’s a 30-minute scene of these three kids smoking joints, talking about everything, getting high. It’s like watching a car wreck. But it goes on and everyone’s like, “Notes? What do you guys think?” And the first thing was, “What’s up with this half-hour long thing?”
Nunez: The other guys that were involved in it, Gary [Smith], Nick [Lockman] and Lavar [McBribe], those guys were from California but the skate community is so strong that when they would come here we’d look out for them. And when we’d go to San Francisco or L.A. they’d look out for us. It was just that bond between skaters that they had. They happened to be in the city that summer and they got involved in the film just the way I got involved in the film, just being around skaters.
“It’s Supposed To Make Special K Look Weak”
Once editing was complete on “Kids,” Clark and Korine (above, with Michele Lockwood) held a screening for Harvey Weinstein of Miramax, who agreed to distribute the film. The film made its public debut at Sundance, and much to the surprise of many of the film’s actors, it was an actual movie that caused quite the commotion. It impressed the likes of New York Times film critic Janet Maslin, who wrote that the film was “far too serious to be tarred as exploitation, and its extremism is both artful and devastatingly effective. Think of this not as cinema verite but as a new strain of post-apocalyptic science fiction, using hyperbole to magnify a kernel of terrible, undeniable truth.”
Abrahams: After it went to Sundance and before it went to Cannes, they came around and gave us all bonuses because I think they realized, oh this movie is going to make some noise and we don’t want these people to turn around and say we exploited them. At that time I remember being savvy enough to say, oh I guess this is going to make some noise.
Fitzpatrick: I’ve only seen the movie once. It was before it actually came out. It was a pre-screening and I had to watch it with my family because they didn’t want my mom to be shocked [laughs]. That was the only time I saw it and that was enough for me.
Harris: I saw it at a private screening and it shocked the shit out of me. Hearing my voice and just seeing this on the screen. In my own personal evolution, I couldn’t handle that. It was too much. I was already running from experiences, previous traumatic experiences, so that only brought those traumatic experiences back to the surface that I was trying to oppress.
Abrahams: I was somewhere else when it came out and my mom called me and said, “You were really good in the movie! I really liked when you flicked your tongue at the gay guys in the park!” That’s all I can remember her saying [laughs]. And I didn’t think I was good in the movie. I was mortified when I saw the movie. Look at me, I look terrible. I’m looking down all the time. I have no idea what I’m doing. I was really judgmental of myself when I first saw it.
Fitzpatrick: My voice drives me the craziest out of everything. My voice is obviously kind of an odd voice. It’s also the height of puberty and I had a really bad haircut. It’s everything you don’t want to see in a photo but in a two-hour film where your voice is over speakers and shit. It’s like hearing yourself over an answering machine. It’s just not pleasant.
Harris: I saw it a second time and after that I just couldn’t watch it anymore. It really made me introvert further to where I felt like I need to figure something out about my life and my existence. There’s got to be more to it than just this. That sent me on my quest and search. I needed time to reflect.
Lockwood: I didn’t think to go to the premiere because I had other things on my agenda. I was traveling with a boyfriend and I remember calling home from this little island in Greece and my mom was freaking out going, “Oh my God! You’re on the cover of The New York Times and New York magazine! And oh my God, this movie, Michele! I see you on the television.” I was like, oh wow, that’s weird.
Fitzpatrick: A lot of people were confused as to whether or not we were those people in real life. And so we all went back to our regular lives and we were pretty accessible. We were all just doing the same thing that we were doing before the film but now we had these projections put on us as to who we were.
Nunez: People really thought it was a true story. People really came up to me like, “Oh man, sorry to hear about what happened.” They really believed it.
Abrahams: To anyone who doesn’t know us, when they watch it it’s like, oh, obviously they just turned the camera on all these kids. It seems very natural the entire movie.
Harris: People never recognized me and I loved it. Because I was fucking traumatized from that shit. I didn’t want nobody coming up to me, fuck that. It was like I had a Darth Vader mask on, they never recognized me.
Nunez: [I was] 13-years-old skateboarding in the city and having adults come up to me telling me I saved their life, that the movie saved their life. They went to go get checked out to see if they had AIDS. To me, when I was young, I looked at it like, “Damn, alright,” and kept skating. But as I got older I realized this movie meant a lot to a lot of people. It was a reality check for a lot of people.
Fitzpatrick: I was always really surprised to hear how many people moved to New York because of the movie. To them it looked like a really cool lifestyle. But this is a cautionary tale. This isn’t something you want to emulate. That was always really strange when people were like, “Oh yeah, I just wanted to move to New York and be like you and Casper.” Like, did we watch the same movie? I don’t know.
Abrahams: I remember people being shocked. “This is what kids are like? This isn’t what kids are like!” I was like, yeah it is. Every fucking kid I know is like this. And more so, any fucking kid I knew in suburbia was way crazier than we were and way crazier than the kids in that movie. I remember being like, y’all mother-fuckers need to open your eyes because obviously you’re blind.
Gesner: After the movie ended everyone thought they were going to be famous and go off and act in different movies. It happened for some of them and for some of them it didn’t. Some people died and the film faded away into the stuff of legend.
Abrahams: Somebody saw it at Sundance and called me up and was like, “Hey, I saw you in Kids and I’m an agent and I think you could have a career. You’re really good,” and I said, “No thanks,” and hung up on them. They called back and were like, “No, no, I’m not like a crazy killer. I actually work for a big agency and I’m serious. Will you please come meet me in a crowded hotel lobby?” I was like, “Okay sure.” But I was like, “I’m only going to be in Martin Scorsese movies or Quentin Tarantino movies.” I had no idea how it worked.
Lockwood: With all that acting stuff, it all kind of fell into my lap. Not acting per se, but attention, publicity attention… whatever you want to call it. I never actually had an agent. We all were just being ourselves, hanging out. I never really pursued it. I just moved on.
Fitzpatrick: The best compliment I ever got was, we went to some sort of Independent Spirit Award ceremony or some shit and Roger Ebert was there. And he said, “When I first saw you in the room I wanted to punch you in the face. And then I remembered what a good actor you were.” So, that was really reassuring.
Abrahams: I think I took a lot of it for granted. First of all, none of us, none of us, had any idea that it would be as big of a thing as it was. I had no idea that it was going to end up on the cover of Newsweek.
Lockwood: My mom, I wouldn’t say she liked it. She’s an Italian Catholic immigrant. I didn’t really invite her to see the film and it wasn’t like I said, “Mom, come check me out in this pool scene naked kissing another girl.” It wasn’t something I was proud of even to this day. It’s like a skeleton in the closet.
“Jesus Christ, What Happened?”
The kids of “Kids” recently reunited to re-watch the film with their cohorts during 20th Anniversary Screenings at BAM and the Angelika Film Center in New York. In the 20 years since the film’s release, their perceptions of the movie, and the roles they played, have changed. For some, re-watching the movie is of no interest.
Nunez: Just to watch the movie is depressing. It’s definitely because our friends who were involved in it aren’t here.
Bici: I recently watched it for the first time in 10 years and I was like, wow, this film is fucked up on all angles. Now that I’m older and I have a family, I have children, it’s like, holy shit. For parents back then to watch that film, it must have been horrific.
Lockwood: It was so nice to actually sit down and watch that movie again and just to watch it all and to see Justin and Harold on the screen again and hear their voices. It’s quite amazing. And also to know the impact that film has had. It still has a great impact now, 20 years later. I’m grateful to have been part of American cinema history to a degree.
Fitzpatrick: I’d like to see parts of it to be able to see Justin and Harold again. But in the same respect, I don’t feel any need to watch it again. They just showed it a few times recently and I didn’t bother to go see it because I don’t need to see it. But I’ve never really watched anything I’ve ever done because some people can’t do that. Some people can’t watch themselves. It would drive you crazy.
Nunez: When I watched it [at the reunion] I was like, wow, this is offensive. Some scenes you don’t really want to watch. But when you’re young, you’re not really caring. I do remember being young and being like, “Oh, fuck that faggot,” that kind of stuff. Because when I’m little I’m following the older people. I ain’t caring about anything at that age and I don’t think anybody else did because we didn’t really think of it like that. We weren’t worried about other people’s feelings. We were just doing our own thing. We had our friends and that was it. Nobody could tell us nothing.
Lockwood: My life is so different now. I live in rural Australia. I have two children, I’ve got three cows. For a long time living here, a few of my friends found out I was in the movie and I was kind of embarrassed. It wasn’t something I wanted to make very public. And also, my relationship with my children, I didn’t want that to be affected by this film.
Abrahams: I’m at an age now where I could easily have a couple kids and so there’s a part of me now that looks at the movie from a parent’s eyes and wow, what the fuck, man? This is heavy duty shit we went through as kids. What we were doing in New York City at that time, because we were babies. We were all babies. I look at it and I just see us as babies [laughs].
Nunez: We were definitely derelicts on skateboards just not giving a fuck but as you get older you realize and go, wow. Looking back, this shit was crazy. We were really fucking badass kids.
Harris: Now, as an adult with kids, that experience had consequences because that experience translated to the global community. All youth could relate to that no matter where on the planet they were. And that’s what makes, not only that film, but the energy that Larry captured in that film, that’s genius. That’s a masterpiece.
Abrahams: I’m forever grateful. I’ve had an amazing life because of that movie and because of Larry and Harmony wanting me to be in it. Absolutely. And I don’t take that for granted, ever.
Lockwood: Larry is a pervert to a degree, for sure, but he’s brought art into it, I guess. I don’t think he’s ever violated any rules outside of photographing underage kids doing illicit things that they were probably already doing. So, more power to him.
Fitzpatrick: I have a very close relationship with Larry to this day. I’ve never met an adult who respects and listens to teenagers more than Larry. I don’t think another filmmaker could have necessarily made a movie like that. If that script was given to another director it wouldn’t have the same feel. We trusted him. Teenagers are jerks so it’s pretty hard to infiltrate a band of teenagers. They don’t trust adults, for good reason. But we trusted Larry and we knew that the story he was telling was an honest one. And so he got the best out of all of us.
Gesner: It really helped everybody out. It helped make Zoo York happen. It helped make Supreme happen. And Supreme helped make Kids happen. It all tied in together and made this big really great whirlpool of a really important time of American culture.
Nunez: You wouldn’t be able to make that film today. You’d get so many complaints from so many people that they wouldn’t allow it. So, for us to be a part of that and at that time and for it to still be strong in the skate culture, just this culture we come from, it’s a blessing.
Harris: After Harold passed in March of 2006, that’s what ignited the idea [for The Kids].
Bici: The reason we’re doing this documentary is because of [Pierce and Hunter], because their voices, they went out on such a low. We want to show people who they really were. This documentary is not based solely on them but they’re going to be a big part of it. We’re going to show the inspiration behind Kids from all the kids who were in it. Their real stories, their backgrounds, and why they acted the way they were. [It] was because of our upbringing. It was because of our surroundings. From living in fucked up families, unfortunately. My uncle use to beat the shit out of me and we all had some type of scarring and skateboarding was our release, our magic carpet.
Harris: Larry got involved [with The Kids] in 2014. I got to hang out with him at his place and it was like full circle because the last time I was there was when we were doing Kids. To be in Larry’s home and telling him about the project and the intent with the project, and for him to be telling me that he cosigns me to be doing this and he stands behind me, that was like, wow, okay. I didn’t know it would come to this.
Bici: It’s all our friends in this film, that’s what made it so special and that’s why it’s so dear to me. And that’s why we’re doing this documentary because it was a special time in the ’90s that we’ll never see again. It’s like a capsule, a little ‘90s capsule in this film.
Fitzpatrick: [Larry is] making movies to please teenagers. That’s his audience. That’s all he really cares about, getting it right. I think he does get it right and teenagers do relate to it, so for me he’s told a similar story basically all over the world. He’s done one in L.A., one in Texas, one in Paris, and it’s showing that these kids are the same all over the place. And now it’s almost like an anthology of teenagers [laughs]. It’s almost, in a weird way, showing this unification amongst teenagers. They’re all pretty fucking screwed up and you should watch out [laughs].