Throughout the history of American cinema, few films have been as beloved and reviled as Larry Clark’s 1995 ode to teenage delinquency, Kids.
Released nationwide twenty years ago today, July 28, the movie charts the exploits of a gang of unrepentant skate punks as they drink, drug, and fornicate their way through the wild streets of New York City. In 2015, it remains a strikingly vivid window into the grit and grime of Nineties Manhattan, the final years before Rudy Giuliani’s controversial “quality of life” campaign forever transformed neighborhoods like Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side.
But while the years have largely scrubbed the city clean — and moviegoers have become increasingly desensitized to graphic depictions of violence and sex on film — Kids and its unadulterated look at the depths of teenage nihilism are as disturbing today as they were two decades ago.
Kids was a movie that seemed at once shockingly close to reality and terrifyingly removed from it. Today, New York City has changed dramatically. It’s unlikely you’ll find a group of teenagers perched on a bench in Washington Square Park openly passing a blunt, or a crew of kids beating a man senseless with the tail ends of their skateboards. For better or for worse, we now live in different times.
Here is a then-and-now look at the New York City locations of some of the film’s most memorable scenes.
Opening Scene (515 East 84th Street)
Kids begins with sixteen-year-old Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick) taking a young girl’s virginity in her parents’ home. After leaving her bedroom, Telly joyfully spits down the stairwell of the family’s townhouse onto the dining room table below. His friend Casper (Justin Pierce) is waiting for him on the stoop outside, reading an issue of Peter Bagge’s early-Nineties alt–comic book series Hate and drinking a 40-ouncer out of a paper bag.
“The opening scene with Telly in the townhouse coming down the stairs, we sort of lucked into that location in that there was an owner who was going to allow us to do it in a really nice house like that,” Thomas Whelan, the location manager on the film, tells the Voice. “The owner of that townhouse, to let us shoot that scene — we told her what the story was and we told her what was happening — I’m just impressed that people still let you in and still let you do your work.”
Here’s that stoop today:
Korean Grocery Store (1716 Second Avenue)
Making their way through the city, Telly distracts the cashier at a Korean grocery store (“Do you happen to have ‘this dick’?” he asks over and over) while Casper slides another 40 down the leg of his pants. On the way out they steal a couple of peaches from the fruit cart, just to add a little more insult to injury. The grocery, located at Second Avenue and 89th Street in Yorkville, is now called the High Point Deli.
Here’s the outside of the grocery today:
Paul’s Apartment (interior: 501 West 43rd; exterior: 64 St. Marks Place)
Telly and Casper head to their friend Paul’s house in search of drugs and microwavable burritos. Before entering, Casper gives one of the peaches he stole to a little girl holding a doll. Inside, kids are sprawled out on couches watching skate videos and huffing nitrous oxide out of balloons. The place is a flophouse — home to about eight or nine seemingly parent-less adolescents — and the walls are lined with graffiti. Invariably, the conversation centers around sex, and Telly reveals that he doesn’t like to use condoms with the girls he sleeps with.
And here’s the exterior today:
The Door (555 Broome Street)
Jennie (Chloë Sevigny) agrees to accompany her friend Ruby (Rosario Dawson) to the STD clinic to get checked out. While Ruby is more experienced, the only boy Jennie has slept with is Telly, the summer before. Ultimately, Ruby tests negative, but in a cruel twist of fate Jennie is diagnosed as HIV-positive. During a June panel discussion at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMcinemaFest, Clark said he came up with the idea of a girl getting HIV from one sexual experience. “The AIDS thing was like Jaws,” screenwriter Harmony Korine added. “It was a device that propelled it. We didn’t know anything about this disease other than that we didn’t want to get it.”
Here’s the building today:
77th Street Subway Station
After jumping the turnstiles, Telly and Casper wait for the 6 train. They watch an old man in sunglasses play “Danny Boy” on the accordion while a boy does a strange, awkward jig beside him. “Man, this guy is really good, yo,” Casper says. These days the 77th Street station is known as one of the most crowded rush hour stops in the entire subway system. It’s also been the site of several fatal accidents over the years.
Here’s the platform today:
Washington Square Park
In many ways, the legacy of Kids revolves around Washington Square Park. It was there that Clark became acquainted with Korine and a number of the skaters who would come to star in the movie, and some of the film’s most jarring sequences take place amid the backdrop of the park’s iconic fountain and arch. “Some of the locations [for the film] were known by Harmony and Larry and some of these places were friends’ houses,” Whelan tells the Voice. “Washington Square Park was a place where they all met and hung out and got started knowing each other to begin with, and then some of those Washington Square Park friends took us to their houses and things like that.”
The scene starts off innocently enough, with Telly and Casper picking up some weed, dapping about a dozen of their friends, and passing around brown-bagged 40s and blunts. But things take a darker turn when a gay couple walks by holding hands, causing the kids to shout a flurry of homophobic slurs in their direction. Then, after Casper bumps into a guy on his skateboard, the entire crew proceeds to stomp the man senseless until he’s lying in a bloody pulp on the pavement. The scene culminates with a kid holding the man’s head up as Casper slams his deck across his face. Telly spits on the man. Later, they’ll casually wonder if they killed him.
Here’s a shot of the park today:
East Houston Street and Avenue A
As the sun begins to set, the kids walk along the grassy islands that divide East Houston Street near Avenue A. Cars honk as they pass by, and with the dissonant, thrashy music playing in the background, Telly, Casper, and their crew look like a ragged band of marauders in the distance. The shot was used for a number of posters during the film’s release, as well as the VHS and DVD cases. Save for a few condos that certainly weren’t there at the time the film was shot, most of the buildings that the actors would have been looking at as they walked remain virtually unchanged.
Here’s that stretch of Houston today:
Carmine Street Swimming Pool
Hopping fences and sneaking into swimming pools is about as American as apple pie. But like most chapters of Kids, normal teenage antics are undercut by something more sinister and unsettling. The scene is perhaps most memorable for the thwacking sound Harold (Harold Hunter) makes with his dick before cannonballing into the water, but the situation gets increasingly uncomfortable as he and Casper try to pressure two girls into kissing each other. At the same time, Telly sits at the far edge of the pool and begins his seduction of Darcy, the younger sister of one of his friends. Though the characters are unaware, the audience now knows Telly is HIV-positive. Now surrounded by shiny new office buildings and trendy bars and restaurants, the pool’s probably not a great candidate for sneaking-into today.
Here’s the pool today:
The Tunnel (220 Twelfth Avenue)
Jennie’s quest to find Telly takes her to NASA, the infamous rave held in Manhattan throughout the Nineties. In a cameo, Korine leads Jennie through the club, eventually feeding her some mysterious pills that are supposed to “make special K look weak.” Though in real life NASA took place on Friday nights at the Shelter in Tribeca, the scene for the movie was filmed at the Tunnel, the legendary nightclub owned by Peter Gatien in Chelsea.
Here’s the space today:
Steven’s Apartment (240 East Houston #2C)
The final moments of the film take place at Steven’s (Jon Abrahams) apartment. At first the scene is filled with all the images one might expect at a party — drunk teenagers puking into toilets, kids smoking weed, etc. — but the movie ends in tragedy. Jennie fails in her efforts to reach Telly before he can sleep with Darcy and, after passing out from the drugs she was given at NASA, is raped by Casper. The final frame is of Casper sitting shirtless on Steven’s couch. Looking into the camera, he says what much of the audience has been thinking the entire time: “Jesus Christ, what happened?”
Here’s the apartment building today:
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 28, 2015