F.I.L.M. of the Week (May 7, 2015)

7 05 2015

PoisonIn a matter of days, Todd Haynes will unveil his latest film under the bright lights of the Cannes Film Festival’s red carpet.  Just a quarter of a century ago, however, Haynes operated on the fringes of cinematic culture but emerged onto the indie stage with a bang thanks to “Poison.”  This early Sundance winner sparked what critics often call the New Queer Cinema with its fearless embrace of gay themes and stories.

In a way, “Poison” almost feels like it merits inclusion under the banner of my “Classics Corner” category since the film is such a touchstone for decades of audacious work.  While it assumes the status of a revered cultural object to knowledgable viewers, “Poison” still works as a pick for my “F.I.L.M. of the Week” (which stands for First-Class, Independent Little-Known Movie).  Decades later, this artistic triumph still maintains an edginess and avant-garde aura about it.

Haynes tells three tales in one with “Poison,” each taking place in a different era and involving different characters.  They are not short films, either; he intercuts them with increasing frequency and rapidity once he establishes their tempo.  (Not to be outdone, Haynes would later weave together double the narratives in his unconventional Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There.”)  While every section has its own aesthetic and genre styling, too, Haynes does something renegade to disrupt our expectations.

All three threads running through “Poison” circle themes of alienation, repressed identity, violently passionate outbursts, and the lingering stigma of past incidents.  Whether a scientist in a 1950s style pulp film discovering the key to sexuality, a prisoner in the 1910s trying to maintain a masculine facade, or a child in the 1980s only spoken about in vague anecdotes by those left reeling in the wake of his shocking violence, each fascinates with compulsion and repulsion in equal measure.  To say much more spoils the sensation and the surprise, so just know that “Poison” is completely worth swallowing.

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