We Were Once Kids Review – Eddie Martin’s Powerful Documentary Will Make You Reevaluate Larry Clark

This review contains mention of mental health issues, suicide, sexual assault, and drug use.

In 1996 the controversial film Kids directed by Larry Clark and scripted by Harmony Korine burst into cinemas with its terrifying cinema verité style portrait of poverty stricken and aimless NYC youth who spent their time obliterating themselves in sex, drugs, and violence. It put photographer Clark and the young Korine (nineteen at the time he wrote it) on the map as major voices in independent cinema. It also kick started the careers of actors such as Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson. It was, in short, it was a sensation – a brutal look at unanchored youth that Clark would try to replicate several times.

Australian director Eddie Martin’s documentary tells a story audiences possibly felt was already there – inside Kids was something shadowy, something that went beyond Korine’s fiction. Over time as the tragic deaths of two of its non-professional main cast came to light questions arose about what happened to all the kids in the background of the film. Justin Pierce hanged himself at the age of twenty-five. A slower death, but just as tragic, was waiting for Harold Hunter. Both Harold and Justin were vital to the film being made and allowed Korine and Clark access to their found family of Washington Square skater kids. Clark watched like a vulture, he plied the non-professional cast with drugs and alcohol, and perhaps more importantly to them gave them a sense they could escape the projects for something more.

Hamilton Harris provides most of the narration for the documentary which is filled with archival footage of the kids. Martin speaks to some key people including other background kids and Hunter’s brother. Clark was met with scepticism by the group but Harold and Justin’s enthusiasm for the project and their love towards the Washington Square group meant many went along with it, even if it just meant some extra cash and a decent meal.

Clark and Korine famously responded to questions at Kids Cannes premiere that there were no drugs on set, and everyone was of “an appropriate age” – the documentary proves these claims false. One young actor was so stoned that he actually did pass out during the infamous party scene. Clark and Korine used and abused already marginalised youth and when the time came to ensure they had some kind of support system to deal with the success of the film both were nowhere to be found.

There are many documentaries and films that explore the dark side of the industry but what makes We Were Once Kids stand out is just how much Korine and Clark pushed vulnerable youth into darkness (and told a story which wasn’t actually as reflective of their reality as they made out) with a carelessness and callowness that is almost criminal. It could be argued that Korine himself was very young and he too descended into drug addiction, but there is nothing that alleviates the responsibility of the then forty-nine-year-old Clark.

Hamilton Harris himself pushed through and made a life for himself post Kids. He did not allow the trauma of his upbringing to be brought upon a new generation. His narration is an elegy to the friends he lost and the cost they paid for fleeting fame. He and others also give insight into how important their found family was and how they protected each other in a world that was hostile to them – a world where family violence, addiction, and death were baked into their existence.

We Were Once Kids is part bittersweet reflection and part scathing indictment of the fame machine. Revisiting Kids with all its cultural impact becomes bleaker knowing what went on to make the film. Clark and Korine refusing to take part in the documentary speaks for itself.

Director: Eddie Martin

Featuring: Hamilton Harris, Jon Abrahams, Peter Bici

Writers: Hamilton Harris, Eddie Martin

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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