Todd Haynes’ “Poison” Is A Landmark In The History Of Gay Cinema


October 23, 2015 – From the FilmRise film catalog: Todd Haynes’ Poison is considered to be one of the most influential films in generating what would come to be known as The New Queer Cinema.

Haynes, who has gone on to direct the critically acclaimed films Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven and I’m Not There, among many others, is considered to be on this year’s Academy Award shortlist for a nomination as Best Director for his film Carol, which will be released on November 20 (Cate Blanchett is considered to be shoo-in for a nomination as Best Actress for her performance as the eponymous Carol).

Poison was Haynes’ second full-length feature film. Based on stories by Jean Genet, the 1991 film intertwines three disparate depictions of gay life. It surprised audiences and critics alike for its unusual tone — despite arriving in the midst of the AIDS crisis, it did not ask for tolerance or try to theorize about homosexuality. Instead, it presented an Americanized view of Genet’s transgressive  contempt for a world he felt had rejected him.

The film contains three chapters: Hero, Horror and Homo, each with its own style. Hero uses a television documentary-style to tell the story of a boy who suddenly kills his father and runs away. Horror is the story of a scientist who believes he  has discovered the elixir for human sexuality, but who, upon drinking it, becomes a malevolent, deformed and contagious murderer. It is told in a deliberately trashy B-sci-fi movie style. And Homo is the story of a sexual relationship between two inmates in a prison that becomes obsessive. It was shot mostly in black-and-white, with flashes of bright color.

The film would go on to win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, among others. It was a runaway hit, but it also generated as much controversy and anger as it did accolades. It had been partially funded by the NEA which caused some conservative lawmakers and pundits to attack it. Reverend Donald Wildmon, the head of the American Family Association, claimed it depicted  “explicit porno scenes of homosexuals involved in anal sex.” He had not seen the film, and it did not. Senator Jesse Helms targeted the movie and another commentator called Haynes the “Fellini of Fellatio.”

Haynes intended to disturb and unsettle people and he succeeded. Poison is considered one of the landmarks of Gay Cinema.

Watch Poison at
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