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Three intercut stories about outsiders, sex and violence. In "Hero," Richie, at age 7, kills his father and flies away. After the event, a documentary in cheesy lurid colors asks what Richie was like and what led up to the shooting. In the black and white "Horror," a scientist isolates the elixir of human sexuality, drinks it, and becomes a festering, contagious murderer; a female colleague who loves him tries to help, to her peril. In "Homo," a prisoner in Fontenal prison is drawn to an inmate whom he knew some years before, at Baton juvenile institute, and whose humiliations he witnessed. This story is told in dim light, except for the bright flashbacks. Written by
This film is probably best viewed as part of a film class (and not necessarily one on Queer Cinema although Todd Haynes prefers gentlemen).
I prefer "Safe" and also "Far From Heaven" from this clearly talented director. His suave incorporation of 50's style sci-fi and 80's TV docudrama and a stagey prison play is more engaging here than the three intercut stories themselves.
The film starts with an actor going out a window, and ends with a similar scene. There is a moment in the sci-fi "Horror" substory where the lead mutters "And so it begins..." Temporally what would have followed is the scene that actually does start the film.
Despite a low budget, Haynes does employ a lot of clever camera tricks and cinematic tacks. He squeezes out some efficient acting from his mostly unknown cast. (Okay, that was John Leguizamo in for two scenes...)
If anything, I feel Haynes could have spent more money on lighting. The B&W sci-fi shots were often heavy on the B, and much of the prison footage was a darker shade of murky, at least on DVD at home.
But then one of the displayed Jean Genet quotes speaks of the necessary darkness for the seed of dream. The stories here may be genetically Genet, I am more familiar with who he was in person than in print. Again for a student of Genet, I think this would be a more satisfying expenditure of time, thought and money than it was for myself.
There's also a socio-political bent to the release and funding of this film. Rev. Donald Wildmon provided protest and thus inadvertent P.R. for "Poison." Meanwhile others cite an AIDS angle to the movie.
For me, I walked a way with a sense of sex linked with shame. A child catches his mother in infidelity, prison passion is stolen in the shadows, lasciviousness makes lepers of a community. Also while not the focus, each episode had some sex entwined with violence. Sex was portrayed as anything but erotic throughout.
Ultimately I could not make out whether Haynes was trying to decry society's reaction to sexual "deviancy" as more dangerous than said deviancy; or if he was just trying to revel in sordid shock? I doubt the latter, probably he wanted to take the challenge of presenting Genet to audiences today. Better than another modern take on Shakespeare surely.
But while Genet's writings were surely scandalous in his day, what about Haynes' audience now? I realize that there are still throngs of folks who fear thongs...much less anything as pointed as a penis.
Yes those folks are out there, I just don't know any of them...and I doubt I'll be wresting a copy of "Poison" from their hands at the local videodrome any time soon. We keep our distance, I recommend you keep your distance from this disk as well. I do think such distance and decorum can exist....along with same sex marriage.
So unless you are assigned to watch it, to study it... choose another "Poison."
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