I have no idea where this came from. Maybe I was just thinking of teen movies and these two popped into my head randomly. It happens. But it got me thinking of the stark differences of the film “Kids” released in 1995, directed by Larry Clarke and written by then 19 year old Harmony Korine; and “Dazed and Confused” released in 1993 written and directed by Richard Linklater.
OK, obvious thing jumps out first: one is a comedy, a retrospective piece of nostalgia; the other is a realistic drama of the present times in teenage culture. I realize that there are major differences. But I find the differences interesting and that’s why I’m writing this. Linklater’s film is almost a love letter to the 70’s; but also, to those last days of “innocence” that we have when we don’t have to pay for the consequences we ultimately will when we become adults.
“Kids” shows us the price we do pay.
I’ll say right off the bat, that I like both of these films. But it took me a while to appreciate “Kids”. I was a teenager when this film came out, and I rented it after seeing all of the praise. Honestly, I didn’t care for it when I first saw it. I was in the wrong mind-set. I knew these kids. I saw this almost every weekend with people I knew. And I hated these kids. I resented them and hated the fact that they were being given this kind of screen time. But I missed the point. That was the idea. You weren’t supposed to condone what these kids did. Meanwhile, in “Dazed and Confused”, which I saw when I was in my 20’s, I enjoyed it as I would any nostalgic film about adolescence or growing up.
So let’s go ahead and get into the plots of the two films. If you’ve never seen it, “Kids” depicts a sort of “Day in the Life” of street kids from New York that seemingly have no parental influence at all. The gang is led by a kid named Telly (played wonderfully by Leo Fitzpatrick) who has a pretty dark secret and loves deflowering virgins. But not only virgins…young virgins. We’re talking 13, 14 year old girls. That’s his whole MO. And that’s actually what I hated first of all about this film. Its protagonist, it seemed, was such a scumbag. As the plot progressed, there were no consequences for him at all. He got away with everything. It was disgusting. It was vile. He was such a pig. And yes, all of this was lost on me. I really thought there would be some kind of redemption. Years later, I’d realize that all of the stupid things these kids do in a 24 hour period are exactly what we see every day while we’re growing up, and we do nothing about it. Larry Clarke and Harmony Korine weren’t trying to say that these kids have any hope at all–they’re showing kids for what they are. And these kids were hopeless. But there are some characters we do take pity on. Well, for one thing, the innocent virgins that are sacrificed at the hands of this total pig named Telly. And I think giving him a spreadable disease was a stroke of genius by Korine because we take for granted all of the promiscuity of our youth. We don’t think of the consequences, and that’s exactly the point of “Kids”. Now, is he offering what we can do to stop it? No. Is that irresponsible? Well…maybe. But maybe we try to bury all of that truth. Certainly in the 50’s, the youth culture is depicted as Soda and Ice Cream Shop farers who think that holding hands is a real sign of true love. But was it reality? Maybe what “Kids” is just trying to do is expose the truth in any generation of youth, not just the 90’s. 90’s youth culture wasn’t so innocently depicted. We were depressed and we had Nirvana, and we had flannel. But parents, in any generation, will put the ear muffs and blind folds on and think their kids are fine when they’re not. “Kids” is not a dated movie.
Now, moving on to “Dazed and Confused”–this movie is dated as far as it’s stamped with being in the 1970’s. But it’s not dated in its depiction of youth. The story revolves around the final days of some of the students, and some of the first days of freshmen, and some even in between. They’re all going to the same party, and some are smoking weed, all are drinking, and some are going to have sex. But there’s a sense of fun about this film. The kids aren’t ever depressed or reflective. They’re simply acting upon what’s going on in their world. Some are nerds and geeks, some are princesses, some are burnouts. All of them are there for a common purpose, even if they’re at odds with each other. But even in the few tension filled instances, we’re never worried about these characters. And so we’re presented with the difference between the two movies: “Dazed and Confused” is a comedy that shows very little of the consequences. But it does show promiscuity, underage drinking, all of the things those parent groups rail against. So why is this movie so damn charming?
Well, tone says everything. First of all, there isn’t one mention of a sexually transmitted disease, which I’m sure was rampant in the 70’s, just like any other teenage generation. Second, these kids don’t get caught. They don’t really suffer any consequences. They represent the idealistic way we think about our past. We don’t remember the bad things. We just remember how much fun we had. Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m simply pointing out the tone of the film, which is on the other spectrum from “Kids”.
“Kids” wants you to see the reality. The scabs, the scars. “Dazed and Confused” is the make-up and photoshopping. And both serve separate purposes. “Kids” will make you sick to your stomach, even though you’re watching kids do almost the same things you’re seeing in “Dazed and Confused”. But “Dazed and Confused” doesn’t show things in a negative light, either. And there is an innocence to it, with the focal point of the freshman who has a crush on a sophomore that also thinks he’s cute. The way these two communicate and develop is so adorable, you can’t help but root for them. That isn’t present in “Kids”. In “Kids”, those two kids would’ve had sex and one of them or both of them would’ve regretted it.
So now you’re probably wondering why I’m wasting all of this word count on such an obvious argument. Well, what I guess I’m trying to say is, we need both of these films. We need to be reminded that the past was fun, youth was fun, youth needs to be celebrated and youth needs to be innocent. But we also need to be reminded that it isn’t all fun, it isn’t all games, and the harsh reality is just what it is.
The kids in “Dazed and Confused” would most likely look back 20 years later and say, “Man those were good times.” The kids in “kids” would most likely look back and say, “How are we still alive?”
Well both of those are valid, and the great thing is…if you are still alive, then you at least have the chance to remember those good times. Whatever you still have to live with, you’ll never get those times again. “Kids” and “Dazed and Confused” remind you, in very different ways, that they’re precious, and that taking anything for granted is part of youth–and whether you treasure it or you throw it away or you plague others with your self-destruction, it’s all still just a parth of youth. Kind of profound…something you’ll never appreciate while you’re that age.
“Kids” reveals something harsher, “Dazed and Confused” reveals something more enjoyble. It’ll depend on how you are as a filmgoer to determine which movie you’ll appreciate more. But coming from me, appreciate both. Equally. Just on different terms.