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.
I still remember the hot summer day back in July of 1988, my twin sister and I were 9 years old, and our mom took us to see a movie called “Mac and Me”, a cheap rip-off of the ever successful “E.T.”, that I don’t recall either my sister and I ever asking to be taken to. At the time, of course, we had already seen “The Lost Boys” on VHS, and my sister was heavily instituted into the Corey Haim Crush. I just thought “The Lost Boys” was a cool movie. I wasn’t too young to appreciate the great chemistry between the two Coreys, and because that formula worked so well, here they were again, a year later, in another summer blockbuster film. This time, it would involve something neither my sister nor I could really relate to yet, and that was of course, driving.
But we wanted to see the movie regardless. And so, my sister being the more clever sibling, decided to “go to the bathroom” during one of the many painfully long and boring scenes in “Mac and Me” (a movie in which I can remember little about). She actually went to the bathroom a few times, and finally disappeared until the end bit of the movie, when she returned. Of course, Mom and I didn’t realize what she was doing. But she was sneaking in to watch “License to Drive”. She told me all about the scenes she did see–Corey failing his written test (on a computer! how radical!), but passing his driving test, Corey sneaking out and getting into mischief. That was enough for me to be convinced I had to see this movie. 9 year olds clearly have pretty high standards for film viewing. I maintained that year that “Willow” was an instant classic. How right I was!
Of course, later that year, when it came out on home video, thanks to a neighborhood friend that recorded everything he rented onto home VHS’s, I saw “License to Drive” in all its glory. It was instantly one of my favorite movies of the 80’s, along with “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “Gremlins”, “The Gooniest”, “The Monster Squad”, and “The Princess Bride”. The funny thing is, I loved most of the teen comedies that came out in the 80’s (most of them starring Molly Ringwald or John Cusack), but I wasn’t a teenager and didn’t understand their situations pretty much at all. I didn’t really think of girls “that way” yet, they mostly just bugged the hell out of me and were tattle tellers. But these movies were fantastic!
And “License to Drive” was one of the best ones ever! I even went on a mashed potatoes and ketchup binge once or twice, until I realized how disgusting it was. I wanted to change my name to Les (not realizing how horrendous the full name of that abbreviation is). I wanted to take a driving test on one of those computers! And for some reason, I wanted to go on a date with Mercedes. I wanted to “get out of her dreams and into her car”, as it were.
But those days are long gone now. It’s twenty years later, Corey Haim is now the victim of excess and Hollywood binging, Core Feldman is just a jerk, and “License to Drive” is now an “old” movie. I recently caught it on one of the many movie channels there are on Comcast cable (remember when it was just HB0?), and once again, recaptured my youth for an hour and a half. The interesting thing was, I not only was appreciating it on the level of nostalgia, and laughing at how 80’s the movie was–but I was catching things I had missed when I saw it when I was too young to “get” most of what was going on, especially with being a teenager. See, unfortunately, by the time I became the age of Les Anderson, it was the mid-90’s, and the 80’s were not old enough to be vintage. If you were watching “License to Drive”, you had some problems, or you were “stuck” in the past.
Now, of course, since it’s been so long, the 80’s are the new 70’s. There is so much nostalgia and enough time has passed that the 80’s era can be appreciated. Trust me, if you were wearing a Nintendo shirt in 1996, you were castrated. I speak from experience. Because of this new found nostalgia, we can look back at movies like “License to Drive”, and find ourselves again. In some cases we can find a few versions of ourself. The too-young-to-appreciate innocence, and the one in which we know how funny drunk driving can be–if it’s an old man, and not you.
So I suggest a viewing of “License to Drive” now if you’re between the ages of 27-37, because all of you know what I’m talking about, and some of you were old enough to appreciate what was going on between Les and Dean, and probably went to a few “Archie’s” yourselves. Treat yourself to some nostalgia, and laugh again at how awesomely cool this movie was.