Larry Clark’s Kids and the tsunami of decadence that follows a pubescent cast acting unabashedly on their basest urges hasn’t gotten any easier to watch since premiering in 1995. Encompassing the sexual depravity, “Telly’s” HIV positive pursuit of any virgin he can bed practically smothers the viewer and demands whether such a mindset actually prevailed amongst the Washington Square Skateboarding scene it was based.
Hamilton Harris, who hailed directly from the whirlwind and the film, allays the long smoldering anxiety. “It’s completely overblown,” he says by Skype from Holland and plans to release The Kids next summer to give voice to the real polymer wheeled occupants of the iconic arches.
“You never hear it from the people at the core of the story,” he says.
In turn, the untold story Mr. Harris unfolds stays the course and steers away from the external controversies. “I come at this from an angle of growth and healing, and how skateboarding was used as a tool to evolve,” he says. “That’s what the world needs to know.”
Displacing the salacious fictions that attracted so much attention, Mr. Harris assures that skateboards still necessitated usage well beyond their horizontal plane. “You got New York City in the early 90s. The crack era, the height of cocaine, the murder rate, racial tensions – there’s quite a lot to heal from,” he says.
Life at home – regardless of ethnicity - also presented problems and the skateboarding bond again served as elixir. “It wasn’t just black kids whose moms and dads were all crack smoking and dope using. You know what I’m saying. That s… was everywhere, and we all got the same things in common. But we also skate and skating was like our antidote,” says Mr. Harris.
He’s living proof. “If I didn’t have that. I’d be the typical poor ‘African American’ who grew up in the housing projects. Doing what they are still doing today,” he says, “I’d be dead.”
But the sheer thrill and ability of busting a can is still something he marvels at. “It had its purpose in dealing with the psychic and emotional traumas, but I also had incredible focus and balance,” he says.
Not to dismiss that it was usually under the influence, Harris remembers how Tobin Yelland’s photography proved a revelation for Clark. “Who are these dudes, I need to meet these guys,” Mr. Harris relays Clark’s “epiphany.”
Thus immersing himself, Clark tabbed Harris, Leo Fitzpatrick and Justin Pierce, among others, from Washington Square to roll out his vision. And the unknowns jumped at it. “You have the opportunity to be in a movie, it was a great experience,” says Mr. Harris.
So the script a stretch, the hurt feelings that possibly followed didn’t trump signatures on the dotted line, according to Mr. Harris. “That’s a choice,” he says.
Still, Harris understands that not everyone involved let it roll off their sleeves so easily, but he hopes The Kids puts them in a pensive mindset that facilitates moving on. “I did this for whatever reason, and now X amount of time later, I can reflect on it. I’m here now, and my life revolves in this direction. That’s what I hope people get in the end,” he says.
The same goes for those that didn’t make it into the film or deferred but were stigmatized by Clark’s interpretation. The young women, depicted by the likes of Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson, were particularly vocal. “The girls it was based on that we used to hang out with was like F… that. That’s not how I am,” he remembers.
For himself, he wasn’t all together happy that he was always rolling the joint with no explanation of its use as a coping mechanism for the chaos.
Even so, Mr. Harris is able to attribute Kids to the filmmaker’s vision, and the inspiration it’s derived from. “Tulsa and Teenage Lust – that’s Larry’s life,” he says of Clark’s hometown and autobiography.
As for the criticism likening Kids to child pornography, Harris doesn’t hesitate to question all those lined up to shoot the messenger. “Who’s anyone to judge an experience,” he asserts.
20 years later, Harris marvels at how the true nature of Washington Square Park can be found in Clark’s subtext - regardless of the window dressing. “Yeah, there was the image to the five senses, but there was something behind that you pick up on. Larry caught that s… on film,” he says.
But The Kids isn’t about capturing a time or freezing a moment. “I was told the only way out is through,” he says.
Going through the racism, the poverty, drugs, self-doubt and abandonment was something he knows that put him here today. “I’ve chosen to take responsibility for all those experiences, and I’m grateful or I wouldn’t be able to tell this story,” he concludes.