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Poison

(Todd Haynes, USA, 1991)


 


In 1989, a stunning, scandalous short film starring only toy dolls appeared briefly in Australia – Todd Haynes' Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1989). Due to legal complications, it swiftly returned to the underground from whence it came. But, in the meantime, Haynes managed to make his debut feature – Poison, inspired by the writings of Jean Genet.

Poison mixes three stories, in three different styles. Two are clever pastiches – a mock Sixty Minutes style documentary about a strange, magical boy in suburbia; and a tacky '50s style horror movie in black and white about a diseased, decaying man.

The third – and unquestionably best – segment is an intense dramatisation of one of Jean Genet's tales of gays in prison.

All three stories are concerned with social outcasts – those who are hysterically demonised by the straight world as deviants or monsters.

Haynes has again aimed to make a confronting, subversive film. But, despite some brilliant, unsettling moments, Poison is overall too calculated, too cerebral – especially in the way it implacably intercuts its three parts. It replaces passionate conviction with what Tom Wolfe once called radical chic.

MORE queer cinema: My Summer of Love, Lie Down With Dogs, Like It Is

© Adrian Martin May 1992


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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