Directed by Larry Clark. USA. 1995.

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If one was unfortunate enough to scour through Halliwell's Grumpy Guide to Movie Hating, one may stumble across an archaeic criticism to the tune of "as shocking as seeing your mother drunk". Everyone told us that things were changing (Bob Dylan; The Times) and sure enough they did. Rat-arsed ma's are now out. Bring in the dope-eyed Children of the Damned.

It was all Shirley Temple's fault, of course. Her corkscrew hair and pout projected a pre-pubescent paradigm for those to follow. And boy, did they. Mickey Rooney, Liz Taylor, Roddy McDowell, Hayley Mills et. al all invaded the screen as if school was out forever. And there they stubbornly stayed, obnoxiously spouting lines dreamt up by adults, acting like adults and being this strange fusion of 'Kidult'. They provided the same helium sexuality to be found in Munchkinland and this fusion evoked confusion in both spectator and actor. (On this theme see Andrew Lydon's article Twisted Fifties.)

The Way Out of this confusion for the spectator is clearly signed over the exit once the film is over. For the actor, it is multifarious. Shirley Temple took the burden of guilt upon herself in a 47 Hail Mary salute Ambassadorship; Rooney dropped out and pigged out to sadly pose as an Annie Leibowitz has-been; dysfunctional Taylor turned to those with problems larger than her own (AIDS sufferers; Michael Jackson); McDowell repressed his sexuality by becoming a chimpanzee; Mills reads potential scripts to her blind father at bedtime. But at least they're still living. Poor Judy Garland took Somewhere Over The Rainbow too seriously and close barbiturate iconhood as an alternative. Oh, those Munchkins...

So, we say, thank **** for Betty Ford. Hollywood built a machine to turn its three-owner rejects into brand spanking new models with an agent. The clinic is kept in business by the Sheen family and even occasionally spits out a real live walking talking actor (Poison Ivy herself, Drew Barrymore), but unfortunately stops at drugs and alcohol before it gets to child star movie abuse. A Linda Blair, for example.

Ms Blair, at age 12, had the pleasure of swearing, spewing green bile and masturbating with a crucifix for William Friedkin's The Exorcist. And whilst it was Mercedes McCambridge that provided the voice (think of a word that rhymes with "canting", Linda), and Cambell's that provided the pea soup, it was none other than little Linda that had to do the honours with the cross prior to holding Ellen Burstyn's face in her bloody crotch. Billy Boy Friedkin professes the fun they had on set and now, Blair laughs at how much she frightened parents in shopping malls. But it was Friedkin that got the Oscar and Linda the Z-plot lesbians-in-the-slammer movies. Did someone say exploitation?

The turning tide from the black and white days of guilt-pleasured implicitness to today's explicitness has by-lined condemnation. Child's Play 3 and The Good Son may have had their moment of notoriety, not for the exploitation of the actors, but for the supposed inciting of the spectators. Hollywood may set a bad example of parenthood for its child actors but it offers no reason for the parents of spectators to follow. And this is why Kids is so important.

Designed to look like possibly the best documentary ever made, it nevertheless probably is. Hollywood must have initially run for cover over the potential expose: A 52 year-old man filming kids doing what they'd do if they were adults, a racket they themselves had been running for years. But no, it was so laid bare, so raw and 'real' that it was Larry Clarke that carried the can, a scapegoat for several self-perpetuating generations.

Not quite knowing what to do, was also Mister BBFC Sir, James Ferman, who chose the bizarre diplomacy of snipping 40 seconds of rape - not because the victim is in a drug-crazed stupor, but because she shares a lot of the shot with a sleeping minor. The ever-so-slight irony is that this particular minor is sleeping off the dope he smoked in the night.

So, at last we're being honest. There are no vampires to gloss over our worries about Kirsten Dunst, no Freddy's to disguise our fears for Miko Hughes and, more importantly, no 28 year-olds emulating school kids and pretending that everything's gonna be alright (despite their insistence on being slashed or breaking into song). These are bona fide Calvin Klein slackers who talk about bloody crotches as an everyday activity and just so happen to be into Class A rather than in it; these are kids that prefer horse to My Little Pony. And certainly Maurice Chevalier wasn't thanking heaven for Chloe Sevigny.

Ed Cooper (Gaskell)
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