At the end of The Kids, Eddie Martin’s where-are-they-now documentary tracing the fortunes of the street kids featured in the hedonistic 1995 teen movie spectacle Kids, a closing title card tells us that director Larry Clark and screenwriter Harmony Korine declined to participate. This news will come as no surprise, given that The Kids basically accuses them both of exploiting the inexperienced non-professionals who acted in their film (and who were paid a pittance), then immediately abandoning them after the shoot, while parlaying the popularity and notoriety of Kids into lucrative careers lasting to this day.
The story of the documentary is largely told through the perspective of Hamilton Harris, one of Kids’ actors, who originated the project and is a producer and co-writer. Harris didn’t have a big role – he’s the guy who gives a tutorial on how to properly roll blunts – but he was a major participant in New York’s East Village-based skateboarding scene that inspired Kids and was a major source of the film’s casting. What’s made very clear in Harris’ narrative is that it’s the outsiders to this scene — most notably Clark and Korine — who profited the most from Kids, while those like himself, who represented the film’s ersatz “authenticity,” were largely left behind.
The tragic qualities of this story primarily derive from the fates of Harold Hunter and Justin Pierce, two of Kids’ most prominent performers. Hunter was especially magnetic, able to instantly befriend just about anyone, and who eagerly welcomed people into his social circle. He brought Midwestern transplant Harmony Korine into the skateboarding scene, and assured his initially skeptical friends that this weird old guy named Larry Clark who started hanging around, dressing like the kids to try to fit in, was actually alright. Pierce was also an instantly memorable character, a good-looking guy whose cheerful demeanor belied his hard life as a homeless street kid.
By all accounts, the Kids shooting atmosphere more resembled the site of a potential orgy than a professional film set, with alcohol, weed, and other drugs readily available. Nevertheless, a completed film somehow came together, and after making a big splash at the Cannes Film Festival – which the kids in Kids were not invited to – it did gangbusters box office business, grossing over 20 million worldwide on a 1.5 million budget. Long after the Kids shoot wrapped, but before the film was released, Clark invited the cast to a lavish shindig that included a screening and the handing out of $1000 bonuses, making the cast sign away rights to future profits. This, along with Clark and Korine’s subsequent ghosting, disillusioned most of the kids, but Hunter and Pierce still held out hope for future careers, both moving to Los Angeles to pursue acting. Pierce made some initial headway, while Hunter struggled to find work. They partied hard, sinking deeper into alcohol and drug addiction, and after the work and fame dried up, they both suffered early demises: Pierce in 2000 by suicide at 25, Hunter in 2006 by a drug-induced heart attack at 31.
The Kids, however, isn’t all tragedy; some made it out intact, notably Harris, who eventually was able to come to terms with his experiences and do some self-healing, and thus live to tell the tale he relates so compellingly here. In its own way, The Kids is just as cautionary as the original film that inspired it.
Published as part of Tribeca Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 3.