Kids Review

Michael Brooke has reviewed the Region 1 DVD release of Kids

Until I saw Kids, I ranked Christiane F as the most grimly nihilistic film about teenagers that I’d ever seen – and what makes Kids so particularly uncomfortable to watch is that while the dead-eyed Berliners in the earlier film at least had some kind of excuse, even though it came out of a needle. Whereas here, the kids here don’t take anything stronger than alcohol and soft drugs, so one can’t help feeling that their behaviour is rather closer to their real personalities.

There are virtually no adults in the film, and certainly no parents – the kids live in separate societies with their own rules of behaviour and dress, and their only aim in life is to bed as many members of the opposite sex as possible (one scene leaves us with no doubt as to their attitude towards homosexuals, and there are no other scenes that betray any other interests at all).

When I got to the end, I thought I disliked the film intensely – though on reflection it’s less the film I disliked than the characters: there’s a horrible honesty about the way they’re depicted. Writer Harmony Korine (who went on to direct Gummo and julien donkey-boy, and was still a teenager himself when he wrote Kids) cites British director Alan Clarke (of Scum and Made in Britain fame) as a key influence, and this is all too easy to spot – although his near-namesake Larry Clark is nowhere near as accomplished a film-maker, there’s the same unflinching refusal to romanticise his subject-matter or to play safe.

The title rams home the basic point – for all their sexual precocity, they’re just kids: the only one who has any contact with the real world is forced into it after she’s declared HIV positive (and she didn’t even take the test on her own initiative – she was just accompanying a rather more promiscuous friend who thought she had more to worry about). I won’t say who it is to avoid plot spoilers, but much of the film’s plot structure – insofar as there is one – is about her search across her friends’ various haunts for the boy who passed the virus onto her, while at the same time he’s planning another conquest. This is the film’s only real moral focus – significantly, just about the only adult we see for longer than a fleeting glimpse outside the HIV centre is a legless beggar on the subway.

Insofar as there is a lead character, it’s probably Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), who has notched up an implausible number of virgins on his bedpost – but he knows the patter: he loves them, he cares about them, it’ll be a wonderful experience for both of them, and so on. Any adult would see through him in a second – it’s not just that he’s physically unattractive, but his intentions are so transparently obvious that it’s hard to imagine anyone with any experience in these matters giving him a second glance, let alone a second date. Telly’s speciality is “devirginising”, and once his mission is accomplished, he dumps them and moves onto the next, having achieved some kind of warped immortality (“Fifty years from now, she’ll still remember me”).

The boys walk around with at least three inches of their boxer shorts protruding from the tops of their jeans, as though it’s the work of a moment to remove them and get down to what really matters. I can’t think of a single male-female conversation that isn’t entirely about sex – or rather fucking (I might as well be as blunt as they are), and most of the single-sex conversations run along similar lines. Unlike most films about teenagers, Clark and Korine don’t draw a line across the usual divide – the girls aren’t caring, intelligent civilisers of their primitive male opposites: there’s no essential difference between them and the boys. When one of them is casually raped in a drunken stupor at a party, it’s highly unlikely that either rapist or victim would see it in those terms: it’s just one of those things that boys and girls do – the idea that there might be consequences seems unthinkable.

Incidentally, if you’re thinking of buying Kids because of the sex scenes, think again – although the film was cut in Britain under the terms of the Protection of Children Act (apparently everyone who took part in any remotely sexual sequence was over 18, but the producers were unable to prove this), the emphasis is on painful realism rather than soft-focus fantasy. You may have heard rumours of an orgy scene, but that’s just tabloid gossip – it’s a drunken teenage party, not Caligula, and there’s nothing that you won’t have seen before, even in this uncut version.

This is not a film for the prurient by any stretch of the imagination – and most halfway intelligent adults will probably find it as hard to watch as I did. But it’s worth seeing, if only for a thankfully brief glimpse of what happens when you remove all sense of responsibility or morality from teenagers’ lives. And what’s most depressing about Kids is that although they appear to have a remarkable degree of freedom – certainly more than any teenagers I know – it’s wasted on them: even those who aren’t already HIV positive clearly have no future, or any idea of how to move their lives forwards. They don’t see anything wrong with what they do right now, so why change?

Kids isn’t the sort of film where the picture quality matters that much, and in the event it’s been given a resoundingly average non-anamorphic NTSC transfer. Framed at the correct aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the print is in good physical condition (a tiny number of spots and scratches, but nothing distracting), and there are no obvious digital artefacts.

The drawbacks are what you’d expect – on a 16:9 set, the line structure is a little too obvious, and shadow detail is somewhat lacking, but there’s nothing to seriously complain about. There’s a 4:3 version on the other side of the disc, but it’s not worth bothering with unless you have a 4:3 TV and insist on filling the whole screen.

The sound is the original Dolby Surround, though the resoundingly naturalistic recording means that there’s nothing in the way of elaborate surround effects. As with the picture, it’s a perfectly competent, unexceptional transfer that occasionally reflects the film’s low-budget origins in that some of the location sound is a little distorted. But in many ways this adds to the overall fly-on-the-wall effect, so it’s not necessarily a criticism.

There are fourteen chapter stops, each scene displayed like a Polaroid in a photograph album with a handwritten caption – but sadly that’s the only sign of creativity on the DVD, since there are otherwise no extras at all. It should also be noted that the disc under review is now out of print, but it’s due for reissue in November – I’ll update this review if there are any significant differences.

Michael Brooke

Updated: Feb 27, 1999

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