‘Kids’ Star Hamilton Harris Says He ‘Felt Exploited’ by Larry Clark’s Controversial 1995 Film

A new Tribeca documentary reconsiders the legacy of Clark's portrait of debauched New York teens, which took a toll on its young stars.
KIDS, front from left: Harold Hunter, Justin Pierce, 1995, © Shining Excalibur Films/courtesy Everett Collection
©Shining Excalibur Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Larry Clark’s “Kids” went off like a bomb in 1995 as a no-holds-barred-whatsoever portrait of debauched teenagers in New York City. Unvarnished in depicting sex and drug use among disaffected youth, the film written by Harmony Korine is now being reconsidered in a new documentary premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, “The Kids,” directed by Eddie Martin.

The film drew controversy even in its production stages for bringing on nonprofessional, underage actors and exposing them to an unruly set where drugs were readily available, and anything resembling an intimacy coordinator was nonexistent.

In a new interview with Deadline, one of the film’s actors Hamilton Harris opened up about the traumatic aftermath of starring in the movie, especially given that two of his co-stars, Justin Pierce and Harold Hunter, died young amid tragic circumstances in the years after the film’s release. (Pierce committed suicide in 2000, and Hunter died of a drug overdose in 2006.)

“Twenty five years ago, yes, I felt exploited. Yes, I felt, ‘Aw, man, I thought it was going to be more than it actually was.’ Twenty five years later, today, in my late 40s, I see differently,” Harris said. “From an ethical standpoint, yeah, I wouldn’t do it that way. I’d do it differently. It’s not my place to say whether or not Larry is right or wrong. I think each of us can decide what that is for ourselves.”

Harris added that “trauma was the catalyst” in getting the documentary off the ground. “It was really after Harold Hunter, one of the main characters, when he passed away that was, for me, a wakeup call to dealing with my own personal traumas and my shadow self, and I needed to work it out. Something just was drawing me towards storytelling and using this storytelling medium as a platform to heal.”

Filmmaker Martin said that Clark and Korine did not respond to requests to be interviewed for the movie.

Harris told Variety in hindsight he feels the movie played up the documentary-like aspects of the material for shock value. “My feelings about the movie started to shift after I saw it in the theater and saw the global reaction,” he said. “It was extremely overwhelming and it brought the realization that I needed to do some work on myself.”

He said of the bonds formed during the making of the movie, “We were a tight-knit group who skateboarded and hung out. We were in the right place at the right time and we become part of this cult classic film and had to deal with everything that comes with that. You can take a person out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of a person, and to me ghetto refers to the mental and emotional trauma we went through.”

“The Kids” is currently playing the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

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