When you look at certain things or the accepted practice in the past, it might be inappropriate and outrageous for today’s time…this past in the question here is, a sensational cult classic film in mid-1990’s, ‘kids’ which not only blossomed some actor’s career who appeared in the film, but also it created a cult following for director Larry Clark, particularly how he captured the reality of New York street kids. But what we don’t know is what was going on behind that curtain. A documentarian Eddie Martin revisits the non-professional actors cast in that film in ‘The Kids.’
Story : 26 years after indie cult classic Kids was released to an unsuspecting nation, this documentary explores the divergent paths of the original cast, delivering an unflinching look back at one of the most iconic films of the 1990’s.
An Exclusive Interview with Director Eddie Martin.
Q:Let me start it off by asking what was your reaction of the original film, ‘Kids‘ when you saw it for the first time, and what made you want to make this documentary?
EM: Uh, well, I did see the film when it first came out, but it didn’t impact me in the way that it impacted so many others. So, for me, I could have totally taken it or leaven it. But I totally respect that it’s a cult classic and it means a lot to a lot of people. To be honest, I never really thought about it that much until I was introduced through Hamilton Harris(Harris is in the original film) and getting to know Hamilton, and when he shared his story with me. He was so passionate, he’s such an incredibly passionate storyteller. This really meant a lot. I was really taken aback by his story and the story of his friends, Justin and Harold, and the rest of the community, they had such an alternative narrative to this one that has been out there for so many years. That was probably five years ago, so that was probably twenty years since the original was released. I was really more just struck by Hamilton and his friends’ story. But I was aware of some of those characters also growing up skateboarding and knowing the culture of skateboarding, so I was aware of some of the characters beyond just the realm of the film Kids.
Q: So how did you two meet?
EM: I made one of my earlier films, called All This Mayhem, about two brothers that was also set in the world of skateboarding. One of the people involved in that is an artist who lives in Los Angeles by the name of Danny Minnick who was also quite a prolific skate videographer. He was involved in that, and he knew Hamilton, and he knew that Hamilton was looking to tell his story and introduced us. Me and him connected, and the journey went from there.
Q: Hamilton grew up in poverty, not just economically, but also psychologically, where it’s very difficult for them to get out of this poverty. The only way to get out is skateboarding, because most of the family members do drugs. It’s really scary to think that they have no choice but to become street kids.
EM: Yeah, that was one of the things I learned in making this film. We all knew of the problems of what was going on in New York, what an incredibly hostile environment it was. Digging in and making this film, I realized how bad that environment that was, with the crack cocaine and the AIDS and poverty, and all these extreme traumatic things going on in this environment. It was really like a war zone. What essentially was happening was that they just had to find a way to survive, and they formed their little functioning family, this little functioning unit to cope with the world around them.
Q: Some people even burned part of the building trying to get insurance money, money that will probably buy drugs, which is scary as well. What really struck me about this film is that Justin, Harold, and Javier supported each other without family and really had a strong bond prior to the film. It’s really fascinating, because those kids are bonding without family, making their own lives as teenagers.
EM: Yeah, that’s what happened. They did form a family, this little functioning unit, in this really dysfunctional world. That’s when this kind of thing landed in their world and went off like a bomb, and broke that up essentially.
Q: When Harmony Korine came into the picture and started hanging around those kids, I don’t want to use the world exploitative, but do you think that he did exploit them to make a film?
EM: Well, you know, it’s fascinating. This is kind of one of the things, this complexity between opportunity versus exploitation, right? I think we’ve just put the experience on display, and I hope that audiences can make up their own mind on that. Also, Harmony, it can be argued, was young himself at the time.
Q: Yeah, he’s just getting to know the cool kids, probably not intending to exploit them.
EM: Different members of the community had different experiences, and felt a particular way.
Q: I’m curious, did e ever hang around with all those kids after the premiere?
EM: Well, you can see in the film that many members of our group, our protagonists, say that he did start to disassociate himself from the group. Many of them felt that. I believe Hamilton says that they didn’t treat one another like that, some of them did feel that way. Especially Harold towards the end felt kind of abandoned. So yeah, it’s complex. I personally can’t speak for each individual member, but within the film, we let those individuals and sharing their experience speak to that.
Q: I initially thought that Larry Clark, when he made the film, took time to get to know those kids and get down and dirty with the nitty-gritty stuff that he actually went through prior to the film, but what happened was that the kids were very suspicious of Larry, because he was forty-nine and trying to hang around with baggy clothes and all that. The kids might have given him a chance to hang around if they thought he had drugs. I was surprised that there wasn’t a mutual respect or trust going on while they were making the film. It seems like they just wanted to be in a cool movie rather than trusting him.
EM: I think being in that environment, there weren’t a lot of opportunities. And Larry was dangling a carrot, right? So yeah, it’s like, this is where things start to become questionable, because you’re essentially targeting kids that don’t have guidance around them, opportunities around them, these types of things. It’s almost easy prey.
Q: Larry is a very talented photographer, and he knows a great way to capture those kids. I have nothing against his artistic point of view. But when you think about it with the background and now that it’s two decades later, it seems very exploitative. He said in a press conference that none of them did drugs, but obviously they did do drugs during shooting. I have a mixed feeling about this film considering it is a cult classic. Do you feel the same way?
EM: Do I feel it’s a cult classic?
Q: No, I mean I had this mixed feeling because he’s exploitative. Knowing this film for the past two decades as a cult classic, do you have the same mixed feeling that I have?
EM: I don’t know, is it the same as old Woody Allen films? What was the price of this art? What was the cost of this piece of art? Was it too high? Does the art match the destruction? I’m not sure. Does there need to be some kind of balance? These are all the questions that hopefully are raised, and it’s good to shine a light on these kinds of things, so that moving forward, there can be more balance in these spaces. It feels like the nineties were an incredibly exploitative time. You have the Weinstein brothers involved in this.
Q: Rosario Dawson and Chloe Sevigny are two actresses in the movie who I initially thought were hanging around those people and became the stars because they are really talented actresses to begin with, but they are completely brought in from the outside. They’re not the kids that Justin and Harold hung around with. Those kids who hung around with them, like Heidi Young and Priscilla, they’re in the movie but they didn’t want to be one of the lead actresses because they didn’t want to deal with the script that Larry wrote.
EM: I think that, for them, given that they were part of the core group, it was offensive that the females were portrayed in such a manner because that wasn’t their truth. It didn’t ring true to them, and again, we talk about their really tight-knit unit. To have the females portrayed in such a way was really offensive to them because it wasn’t their truth. This fictional narrative that Larry came up with was distasteful to them. And then I guess the double-whammy was that it was marketed and portrayed that it was real and it was true.
Q: Harold and Justin had some success after the movie premiered, and Justin went to Hollywood to pursue a movie career. Like they said in the movie, do you think that Justin would still be alive if he had stayed in New York, because he obviously had friends who were close to him, instead of just being alone in LA?
EM: Yes. I think many of his friends believe that Justin was a complex character, and he needed support and his friends in New York provided a lot of support for him. Getting separated from that, many believe, made it really tough for him. He had to leave his family and his support network behind.
Q: That’s got to be really tough, particularly growing up in a dysfunctional family. Speaking of a dysfunctional family, Michael Hayes, Justin’s father, it must have been devastating to learn that he had a son, and then that his son has already died. I just can’t just imagine how he must have felt that he could have saved his son.
Q: What did he mention, besides what’s in the film? It’s so sad.
EM: Yeah, it’s just really tragic. But again, this speaks of the core themes in our film, breaking the cycles, breaking the cycles of poverty, breaking the cycles of domestic violence, breaking the cycles of drug addition, breaking the cycles of keeping family secrets. They can just have devastating effects on people.
Q: Obviously, she’s died and so we can’t ask her, but I wonder why Mary was married to Michael. He seems very steady, and just seeing this movie, I can’t picture why Mary didn’t mention that she had a son?
EM: I think we’ll never know. As Michael says in the film, I’m sure she had her reasons, but we’ll never know.
Q: This is another story behind a classic film. What do you want audiences to take away from this film?
EM: For me, this is much bigger than Larry and Harmony and whatever. This is ultimately a human story, and a cautionary tale. If people can just, on that human level, connect with the tragedy and the loss, and the power of characters like Hamilton to break through these cycles that we’ve talked about, and today have functioning families of their own is incredibly empowering. Despite all the hardship for him that he went through, for him to come out the other end.
Q: It seems like Harold has an organization?
EM: Yes, the Harold Hunter Foundation, which is a great organization. One of our producers, Jessica Forsyth, is in charge there. They do great work.
Here’s the trailer for the original film.