Kids celebrated its anniversary at BAM last month, but it was actually 20 years ago today that it hit the big screen at Angelika Film Center. So it makes sense that on July 16, director Larry Clark and his star Leo Fitzpatrick reconvened at Angelika for another anniversary screening of Clark’s personal 35-mm print. This time, they were accompanied not by Chloe and Rosario, but by Hamilton Harris (you’ll remember him as the guy who taught everyone in Washington Square Park how to roll a blunt), who premiered a sizzle reel for his in-the-works documentary about the kids of Kids.
Joining Clark, Fitzpatrick, and Harris for the q&a – moderated by Caroline Rothstein, who wrote a memorable “where are they now” piece for Narratively in 2013 – were some other lesser known cast members, including Jonny Abrahams, Javier Nunez, Jefferson Pang, Mike Hernandez, and Harold Hunter’s brother Ronald.
It’s undersung skaters and scenesters like these who will be the titular subject of The Kids. “This documentary is not the making of Kids,” Rothstein, now one of the doc’s producers, clarified to us. “It’s the kids who inspired Kids.”
“They found each other and they found skateboarding in the late ’80s and early ’90s and it really became their therapy,” she said. With the help of director of photography Tobin Yelland, their story will be told through interviews and behind-the-scenes footage as well as through home videos of skating, house parties, and other clips from an era of NYC skateboarding that — with a few exceptions — is sorely underrepresented.
Harris, a Bronx native, left New York City in 2012 in order to move to the Netherlands with his Dutch wife. We spoke to the music producer and first-time filmmaker while he was back in town for the anniversary screening.
Where were you were coming from when you appeared in Kids at age 20?
My family grew up in poverty – right above or below the poverty line, whichever you want. I’ll say below. At the time of Kids, when I was skateboarding, I lived in the housing projects in Harlem on 131st and Amsterdam. I always knew, growing up in that area, that that could not have been all [there was] to life. If I would walk south about nine or 10 blocks I was at Columbia University and the whole social demographic and landscape fuckin’ transformed. We’re talking like the ’80s, crack was making a swarm, AIDS was starting to come, so that was the climate then. That’s the catalyst of the climate I was in. Only to notice that when I started meeting other guys through skateboarding, they were in different parts of the city in the same climate, and it didn’t matter whether they had different skin color or different nationalities, or different economic backgrounds – all that shit was obsolete.
Who were you skating with on the day-to-day?
Harold Hunter, Justin Pierce, Ryan Hickey, Jamal Simmons, Peter Bici [a producer of The Kids]… I mean, I could give you so many names — and I think, to be honest, the names are irrelevant. Because it’s a community. Skating is what we used to fully express ourselves – like, spiritual shit. That was our way to connect to the perfect being within each of us. And that’s what Larry got on tape, that’s what you saw on film.
Were you around for much of the shoot?
We would just be hanging out on the set. Justin had a long day, so sometimes he’d be like, “Yo, we’re going to be over here,” and we’d just show up and be all hanging out, just having fun, just being regular. We knew they were shooting a movie but it wasn’t that deep, it was just an experience. Being on set was more like a playground, we were having fun. We were kids, man, people were making a narrative that was documenting our action live. It was awesome, it was great, it was refreshing, it helped allieviate some of that pain and some of that turmoil.
During the BAM reunion, Larry Clark said Chloe Sevigny was a club kid at the time, and there’s that scene where she goes to NASA. Is nightlife going to be represented in the film, as well?
Totally, it was all of that. When we skated, we took ourselves to any situation or any experience, so yeah, we went out to clubs and partied, but with our skateboards. If we didn’t feel like being there we left and went skating.
Where were you hanging out? Max Fish?
Yeah, there’s Max Fish but at that time we were too young, really, to be hanging in bars. The older skaters that we came up under, they introduced us to Max Fish. Jeremy Hendrix used to live around the corner on Stanton Street – that’s how we got into Max Fish. Him, Harry Jumonji, the Shut dudes, Rodney Smith, Eli Gesner – Max Fish is where they used to hang out when they wanted to drink and as younger guys coming from the different skate shops like Skate NYC, that’s where I used to hang out, Harold used to hang out, Ryan used to hang out, Jamal, a bunch of us used to hang out there from all different parts of the city. Then you had Benji’s in the housing projects down by 1 Police Plaza.
But in the ’90s after the skate shops closed the hub became Washington Square Park and also skate parks like Brooklyn Banks, that’s like the international mecca for skateboarding. Astor Place was like our stomping grounds, Tompkins Square Park, downtown Financial District, midtown Financial District, all over the city.
Who have you talked to for the film?
The whole community, I talked to all of them. And let me make clear that this is not some Hollywood glamour story, this is not that story. This is not about having big famous people in it, although Chloe, Chloe is like family. Chloe was coming to Washington Square Park to hang around us and we’re like, ‘Yo, this white girl is cool.’ Larry is supporting the film. I’ve talked to Rosario, she said she was supporting it. I talked to Leo – Leo is like, “Whatever you need.” But most important is the community. This film right here is for the community that inspired Larry Clark’s Kids, and that community is a global community. We’re dealing with the people who were there but we’re reflecting the global community.
Overall, what kind of effect did Kids have on that community – did it boost it up or tear it apart as some people got famous and others not so much?
At this point in time there was no right or wrong, it was just an experience. Watching it now makes me accept having that experience and the depth of it, because none of us knew what Kids would do, we were just going off of intuition, we were just being. No one knew the effect that this film would have. For me today I don’t have any resentment or problems with those experiences, I’ve accepted them. But this documentary is going to dive into that because that’s the story that people saw when they saw this film 20 years ago.
To what degree do you plan to go into the deaths of Harold and Justin?
I’m going to go into everything that wasn’t spoken of – whatever you saw that triggered in you something that you couldn’t explain but that you just intuitively knew, it’s going to be explained clear as day, and it’s going to make sense.
What are some of those things?
I’m not trying to be a jackass, but I gotta leave that for the story. But for example: race relations, poverty, gentrification, lack of self-identity, class, AIDS, and then evolution, spiritual growth, acceptance, humility.
Do you have any thoughts about why Harold and Justin died so young, and do you think their early fame had something to do with it?
I have thoughts, but I’m not going to share them with you. That’s for the film. But all that shit is glamor shit, and I’m not here to glamorize nothing. Justin was there for me in situations in life that many would’ve turned his back on. So, you know, I’m going to give it in first person with the community who was with him and we’re going to share it in first person, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it. Because there’s a lot to it, but we can’t get into it right now.
During the BAM Q&A, Rosario Dawson said that, at the time, she was a lot more innocent than the character she played. To what degree was Kids a sensationalized version of your crew back then?
I mean, some things in the story were fabricated, some of the lingo was fabricated. But the energy? 100 percent. Smoking weed? 100 percent. Stealing beers? 100 percent. I mean, we weren’t jumping people and calling homosexuals “faggots” and stuff like that, but we were a tight band and we stuck together. But we skated. And that’s what you didn’t see in the film – you didn’t see skating.
Speaking of the lingo, to what degree did screenwriter Harmony Korine, who grew up in Nashville, succeed in getting New York City street talk down?
He was around on the set with Harold. Harold brought him around and Harold was that dude. Maybe Harold only got that little bit of screen time but in the skateboarding community he was the mayor, he was like a diplomat. He brought everyone in and made everyone feel welcome and comfortable and loved. But as far as the lingo, don’t get me wrong, during the Washington Square Park days Harmony was around but some of the lingo, there were certain things I would just never say. But does it matter? That’s how he sees it, that’s how he wanted it to go down, fine. But the intention, context, that was real. The lingo was a little off but the context and energy, that was 100 percent.
Were you surprised when the movie caused such a stir?
I was shocked when I heard that maybe after a few months of the movie’s release they were talking about it in sociology courses in Ivy League schools. I was like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” No, seriously, I was like, “Whoa this is heavy shit and I’m not ready for all this. I still got some things to figure out. I haven’t gotten over those dysfunctions or why I even starting skating.”
Where are you in production of the documentary?
We’re fundraising and collecting archival material, those kinds of things. As far as time, technically I’ve been working on this story for 41 years, and then to be like even more technical, this has been happening since Harold passed, which was the catalyst for doing this. So 2016 could be crazy, I could get a check cut right after I have this conversation with you and we go into production right away, but you can’t really try to put experience in linear time, it don’t work that way. You need to have certain experiences to grow in order for things to translate, or they won’t make sense. This film couldn’t have been made any time but now. It took 20 years for us to accept those experiences. So, I would like it to be done in a year or something but then again, what’s the rush? It’s going to get done regardless. It has to.
What kind of archival footage are you working with?
Tons of archival footage, pictures, artwork, poetry, love letters, there’s so much stuff. Again, as this experience keeps expanding there’s people I reconnect with: “Oh, I have this, I have that, oh, I have pictures of that.” So it seems like it’s taking longer, but it’s just making the story that much stronger.