Horror, Hero, Homo: Re-Visiting New Queer Cinema

A scene from Todd Haynes homoerotic horror flick Poison.(Photo: http://www.zeitgeistfilms.com/)
A scene from Todd Haynes homoerotic horror flick Poison.(Photo: http://www.zeitgeistfilms.com/)

A wistful but jarring glimpse into a better time for independent filmmaking.

Todd Haynes’ first feature-length film, Poison, is playing at the Wexner Center today and tomorrow. In the 1990s, it was one of the most hotly debated films, and represents a different time in cinema.

Poison is not necessarily a film that you watch over and over again.

A true independent film, it strays from the conventions and archetypes of mainstream film. The plot line is chopped up and confusing, the imagery can be striking and sickening, and themes of outsider mentality are thoroughly explored. It is a challenging film, to say the least, and Haynes is completely unapologetic about it.

Horror, Hero, Homo

Poison weaves three stories seemingly unrelated, loosely referred to individually as Horror, Hero and Homo. The late French novelist Jean Genet, who himself started out as a criminal and social outcast, inspired the stories. Haynes credits Genet as a writer on the film, and takes that inspiration to create three distinct stories and styles.

We see a disfigured doctor who is unlucky in love chased through the streets, a young boy who commits patricide and is an angel to his mother, and a perpetual prisoner who observes and participates in Salo-like sadism and humiliation. Intercut together, we receive a narrative of outsiders looking in, of stories unfolding or imploding, and if nothing else, a bold experiment testing the waters of filmmaking.

Poison won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. According to New York Times article published Nov. 5, 2010, it was an inspiration for a “call to arms” by the right-wing conservatives due to the perceived pornographic nature of the film. It is a film that not only raises questions by its content, but in re-visiting it 20 years later, begs us to consider the current state of independent film.

A true independent film

Poison weaves three stories seemingly unrelated, loosely referred to individually as Horror, Hero and Homo. The late French novelist Jean Genet, who himself started out as a criminal and social outcast, inspired the stories. Haynes credits Genet as a writer on the film, and takes that inspiration to create three distinct stories and styles.

We see a disfigured doctor who is unlucky in love chased through the streets, a young boy who commits patricide and is an angel to his mother, and a perpetual prisoner who observes and participates in Salo-like sadism and humiliation. Intercut together, we receive a narrative of outsiders looking in, of stories unfolding or imploding, and if nothing else, a bold experiment testing the waters of filmmaking.

Poison won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. According to New York Times article published Nov. 5, 2010, it was an inspiration for a “call to arms” by the right-wing conservatives due to the perceived pornographic nature of the film. It is a film that not only raises questions by its content, but in re-visiting it 20 years later, begs us to consider the current state of independent film.

Many movies now, even “independent” movies, most often promise entertainment over any serious substance or real authorship. While not devaluing these films on their ability to take chances or be challenging, it is an interesting study to watch a highly acclaimed independent film from an earlier time.

Art was meant to be challenging, and we often forget that film is art.

Images courtesy of Zeitgeist Films.

Read More: When ‘Poison’ was a Cinematic Anecdote (NYT)

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