Others, especially shrill moralists who were momentarily distracted from a tirade against gangsta rap and on-line porn, considered Larry Clark's vision of adolescent depravity a fetishist's dream masquerading as art. Some even longed for the indiscretions of youth.
More than anything, Kids, as startling as it is, provided rich fuel for social critics to hum and ha over the message and the messenger.
When Kids was first shown at the Sundance Film Festival in February 1995 what most concerned Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the two brothers who run the film's backer, Miramax, was that it should be given an "R" certificate, which allows parents to take children to the theatre, and not "NC-17", which bars anyone under the age of 17 and generally precedes commercial disaster.
Disney, Miramax's new parent company, had never in its history produced an X-rated movie, a situation that gave gossip columnists room to speculate how the corporation might tackle the subject of the de-flowering of virgins and HIV. In the event, Miramax, simply established another unrelated company and released Kids un-rated.
The covert secrecy with which Miramax hyped Kids is the same technique the company is currently using on Trainspotting, which opens in the US next month - ie restrict screenings and interviews to maximise press fever, stress the artistic value, feign social concern and let the contagion sweat itself out at the box-office.
"The sideshow obscures the movie," said Harvey Weinstein. "Everyone keeps forgetting that there's this terrific movie. They've called this movie a masterpiece. Now, I'd much rather see a masterpiece than the most controversial movie of the year. At the end of the day, a controversy only works for a week or two."
Quite so. Having opened at a few packed art-house cinemas, Kids quickly disappeared off the radar.
For Larry Clark, the film's 52-year-old director, and Harmony Korine, its goofy 19-year-old screenwriter, most questions attempted to establish evidence to support the raging moral debate: "Were the kids underage?" (No.) "Were those real drugs?" (No.) "What were they drinking?" (Apple juice.)
The film has re-established Clark's notoriety, a condition he first caught with Tulsa, an autobiographical photo essay that detailed the aimless, doomed world of teenage drug-addiction. "I rehabilitated my whole image," he told New York Magazine last year, "and now I am going to be notorious again."
But Kids did less to effect social soul searching than draw the worlds of fashion and art closer. Calvin Klein launched a porno-inspired ad campaign that featured what appeared to be underage models and was investigated by the FBI; Chloe Sevigny, the blow-dried star of Kids, graced fashion spreads in Interview.
Even the Rolling Stones, in a brilliant parody of the Calvin Klein ads, launched a short-lived commercial to publicise Stripped. In it a young girl looks wan and bored. A man's raspy voice, purportedly that of Ron Wood, asks, "Do you like music? Do you like older men?" It was a moment of humour that has been otherwise absent from the circus.Reuse content