It was kind of surreal watching Rosario Dawson, Chloe Sevigny, and Harmony Korine walk the red carpet at BAM last night, before the 20th anniversary screening of Kids. Sure, they’re all part of the Hollywood establishment at this point (when I rolled up to the Peter Jay Sharp Building, Sevigny was signing DVDs of her films), but you can’t help but think of them as, well, the kids that Larry Clark plucked out of obscurity over two decades ago for his controversial work of cinema verite.
Everyone knows the story: the photographer, who had picked up skating at age 49, was encouraged by Gus Van Sant to make a movie out of his experience hanging with skaters. One day in Washington Square Park he approached Korine, then 19 and living in his grandmother’s basement in Queens, and asked him to write the story of Telly the Virgin Surgeon. Korine wrote the script in a few weeks, with his and Clark’s skater friends in mind for the roles. Rosario Dawson was 15, and living in the East Village, when she was cast. “I mean, they found me on a stoop,” she said during last night’s Q&A, conveying her thoughts at the time: “If they’re picking people off the street, this is going nowhere.
But on the heels of a buzzy midnight screening at Sundance and the threat of an NC-17 rating, the film became a phenomenon. It broke Angelika’s box office records when it opened there without a rating, but with a warning: “Kids is a film about adolescent sexuality and contains very explicit language. Some people may be offended. There will be no refunds.”
Far from offending, the misbehavior of Casper, Telly, and their cohorts (breaking into swimming pools, scoring weed in Washington Square Park, passing blunts by the fountain, chugging 40s at house parties that ended in cuddle puddles, pissing in the street, doing a “euphoric blockbuster drug” at a NASA rave) made many suburban kids want to move to New York City. And it still does, to the surprise of Leo Fitzpatrick, who played Telly. “I mean, it’s kind of a cautionary tale…” he said last night, to laughter.
Here’s what else we learned about Kids during last night’s Q&A.
1. “It was a comedy.”
Or so Larry Clark deadpanned when producer Cary Woods said he forgot how funny the film was.
2. It could never be made today.
And not just because “you could never get away with it,” as Korine recently told The Guardian. But because the plot is driven by Jennie trying to track down Telly to tell him he has HIV: “It’s pre cell phone,” Korine said last night, “so you could never make that movie because then she could just call him on a cell phone.”
3. AIDS is the “Jaws” of the movie.
According to Larry Clark, basically everything in the movie actually happened during the three years he was hanging with skaters – except for the part about Jennie getting AIDS. “I didn’t want to do a documentary, so 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.” Korine added: “We didn’t know anything about the disease except we didn’t want to get it, that was really the only thing, but it was like Jaws in the film. And then everything around that, what Larry and me were really excited about, was the ambience, and was like, the tone and the feel and the realness of the moment. We knew it was special.”
4. Chloe Sevigny came on as the lead at the very last minute.
Clark: “We couldn’t cast Jennie and we were like two days before shooting and we hadn’t cast Jennie and we finally realized we couldn’t cast Jennie because there was no Jennie [in real life]. We’re like looking for Jennie but there was no Jennie – Jennie was made up. And then like on a Friday night (and we were shooting that Tuesday), we called Chloe up. And Chloe said, ‘Give me the weekend to think about it.’ And then she played Jennie.”
5. “Every dude was trying to bone Rosario on the movie.”
Or so Korine said.
6. In real life, she wasn’t quite as experienced as the character who says (above), “I looove sex, girl.”
“It’s hilarious, I’m actually supposed to be older than you in the film,” Dawson said, speaking to Sevigny, “and I’ve had all these experiences [in the film]. And all I can remember is us saying [on set], when we’re waiting to get our results [in the film], and I’m telling you [on set] that I just had my first kiss playing spin the bottle in Tompkins Square Park. ‘And he put his tongue in my mouth like this…’ And she’s like, ‘Rosario!’ And then I go and I’m like [in the film], ‘Yeah I take it every way.’”
7. And Leo Fitzpatrick was closer to a virgin than a “virgin surgeon.”
“I’d only had sex maybe once and that’s a strong maybe,” he confessed. “But I’m sure I must have spun a yarn when I was in casting, I must have claimed I had some sort of sexual life.”
8. But that’s part of why he was cast.
Clark explained that he wanted a leading man (or, kid) who played against type: “All the Hollywood films, the hero, the guy who got the girl was always some blonde-headed, blue-eyed kid and I wanted to do something opposite of that. Because guys who get girls are not particularly the best looking guys – guys who get girls are the guys thinking about girls all the time, all they think about is pussy, that’s all they want.”
Even though people had trouble understanding him.
Clark: “When I cast him the producers came and said, ‘We need to give him voice lessons or something because we can’t understand him.’ And I said no.”
9. There’s a reason Fitzpatrick hadn’t watched the film in forever.
“Just to be clear I wasn’t so comfortable with my voice either,” he said. “I knew it was off. A lot of people ask me, ‘Why don’t you watch this film?’ And I say like, ‘Well, you know, it was a long time ago and I did it and I don’t need to rewatch the film,’ is what I tell people. But it’s really because I don’t want to hear my fucking voice. It’s like purgatory listening to that. You don’t understand — this is when we were at our most awkward, this is pure puberty at its height.”
10. And there’s another reason the film is tough for cast members to watch.
Dawson used to watch the film, her first, once a year – until Justin Pierce, who plays Casper, died at 25 and Harold Hunter died at 31. “I had such a crush on him; he was brilliant,” she said of Pierce. Hunter, meanwhile, “was so talented and so free and just such a remarkable being. He bet me a box of donuts on the L train we were going to get married – I’m still mad about that.” Korine agreed: “Just watching and hearing their voices was pretty heavy.”
12. Most of the street shots weren’t blocked off, which made for some fun.
Clark: “We were doing one scene outside with Javier [Núñez] and I’m not sure who else, and this homeless drunk guy kept busting into the scene, busting into the scene. He fucked with about five or six takes in a row. We had New York policemen hired to protect the set, so I went over to the cops and said, ‘Can you do something about this guy?’ And they said, ‘What do you want us to do, shoot him?’”
13. The guy who plays the cabbie who tells Jennie to smile was actually…
“…a rug salesman who was a friend of the production designer or somebody,” Clark recalled. “They brought him in and Harmony and I just loved him, we thought he was Moses.”
14. Leo Fitzpatrick originally read for the small part of Fidget, who doses Jennie at the rave.
15. Harmony Korine ended up playing him, but didn’t want credit.
“Harmony did not want to do it and then he was brilliant,” Clark said. Korine ended up crediting his brother Avi because “I wanted to mess his life up.”
16. There’s only one improvised scene.
According to Clark, it’s the one where Javier Núñez, Lavar McBridge, Gerry Smith, and Nick Lockman pass a blunt on the couch while shirtless. “They were skaters, about 14 years old, and they came to the set and I just looked at them and said, ‘Harmony, we got to get them in a shot.’ There was no time at all so we set them on the couch, suggested stuff for them to say, and they just improvised.”
17. “There were no real drugs used on set.”
Or so said Sevigny.
18. There’s a reason you see a lot of condoms and safe-sex ads in the film.
Clark: “They were going to start giving condoms out in school that school year of ’94 and the Catholic Church was up in arms about it. So Planned Parenthood was giving condoms away to everybody and in the parks all the kids had strings of condoms around their necks. It was in the news: HIV, condoms, everything was in the news. That’s kind of where the idea for the plot point came from.”
19. Fans of the movie could get kind of creepy.
“I went back to work at a skateboard shop and we’d get a lot of threatening calls and weird things like this,” said Fitzpatrick. Whereas Sevigny would get “a lot of tearful hugs” and whispers of “Don’t worry, it’s me, Caspar” (a reference to the disturbing ending where Casper rapes Jenny while she’s passed out). “I got quoted my lines a lot,” said Dawson. “Which is a bit awkward depending on where you are, like when you’re in Disneyland.”