When Larry Clark’s film came out in the summer of 1995, I was too young to sneak into a theater. It later became a touchstone among my friends, who all watched a VHS copy together on one of the half-day afternoons when my mother made me come right home. At the time, the press hailed Kids as “raw,” “frank,” “honest” and “gritty”—all adjectives that boasted of its fidelity to the realities of kids just a little older than me. I couldn’t judge for myself since I never got around to seeing it. Watching it now, at thirty, those words still seem apt for describing something important about the film. But that something is not its realism.
As an American who has come of age in the era of what we are constantly told is our decline, I could not help feeling that Shanghai was on the right side of history—and feel drawn to a momentum that I hoped would touch and somehow change me. In fact, from the moment of my arrival, I experienced the city as a series of almost continual frustrations and delays.