Obviously the style you had developed as a photographer carried over to the look and feel of the movie.
I had to teach the D.P. and the lighting guy and everybody what I was doing. They had no idea what I was doing. Some of the production team just thought I was crazy.
In what way?
That I didn’t know what I was doing. Because I knew exactly what I wanted the film to look like: I wanted it to look like you were eavesdropping on this world, and you wouldn’t have a chance to know about it otherwise. And so I wanted it shot like that. I had to fight and contend with everybody — the producers, the D.P., everybody.
What were their concerns?
They just had never done anything that real before. I was doing things differently.
You cut the film, it premieres at Sundance, it has one of these sensational Sundance premieres —
A midnight screening, yeah. The screening was, I dunno, 350 people, maybe? But probably 10,000 people have told me, “I was there.” It’s one of those. Incredible.
And then the Weinsteins buy it. They had contemplated getting involved before, right?
They were involved. They were gonna give us the money, and then at the very last second they pulled out, because they had just been bought by Disney, and they were afraid of Disney. But then they came back after I made the film, and bought the film, and created a company just for the film, but it was really Miramax doing it all. But they created a company called Shining Excalibur, as a goof on Disney, The Sword and the Stone kinda thing. And bought the film – for much more money than it would’ve cost them to make the film.
But then, incredibly, we couldn’t get a rating. So it went out unrated which really hurt the prospects of it at the box office. But y’know, it’s 2018, everybody’s seen the film, everybody sees it.
I heard somewhere that part of the reason it’s kind of hard to see now — it hasn’t had a proper American Blu-ray release, the DVD’s out of print, it’s not streaming anywhere — is because they maintain an ownership, through that one-off company, and especially in light of recent events, that could keep it unavailable for a while. Is that gonna change anytime soon?
I have no idea.
Okay. But is that accurate, that that’s why it’s hard to get your hands on?
I do not know. Everybody’s seen it, but it’s not really around, huh?
Not really! So it comes out, it’s this big sensation, and it doesn’t do huge numbers, but it’s very profitable. What kind of things were getting pitched to you after? Was it all just Kids rip-offs?
All Kids rip-offs. I turned down a lot of money. The first movie that I turned down was American History X, right after that. And all kinda films, right after, the same film over and over and over. I didn’t do it.
(‘Another Day in Paradise,’ Lionsgate)
You did Another Day in Paradise instead. That was the first time you made a movie with “Movie Stars,” like above-the-title people?
Right, and the reason I did it was because, as I said, nobody in Kids had ever acted before. And so I wanted to make a film with actors! So I went to Hollywood and I made that.
James Woods stars in that movie. He’s become quite the colorful personality as of late. What was that working relationship like on that film?
[Long pause] Melanie and Jimmy were both difficult. But somehow we got it done… but it was hard, to make that film.
Just in terms of how you liked to work versus the way they worked?
Yeah. Nobody ever thinks I know what I’m doing, and I know exactly what I’m doing.
When you go through the filmography, there are definitely some recurring themes and motifs. One is teens having sex, which happens often enough that some of your critics say that your films cross a line from art into this sort of lascivious exploitation of young flesh. Do you think that’s a valid criticism, and when you get that criticism, how do you respond to it?
Well, kids have sex! I don’t usually respond to it, I don’t have to respond to it – this is the work, take it or leave it. Pretty simple!
One of the other big through-lines is you’re always interested in outsiders, people on the fringes, who are living in extremes.
All of my work, my photography and my films, it turns out as I look back on everything, I’m showing a small group of people that you wouldn’t know about otherwise. Every film, every bit of work, you would not know about these people if I didn’t make the film.
Is that anthropological interest what keeps you going back to those types of stories?
It would seem to be what I find interesting.
Do you think you could make Kids today, in the same way and through the same channels you did then?
No, because everybody has cell phones now. Jennie would just call him over the phone!
Metrograph’s Larry Clark series August 25 to September 1.