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Velvet Goldmine (#110 of 3)

Todd Haynes’s Poison

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Todd Haynes’s Poison
Todd Haynes’s Poison

Poison is a love letter composed like a ransom note,
an unstable compound synthesized in a lab,
a cut-and-paste collage by a gifted schoolboy.

“A milestone in American independent film and the inciting spark for what came to be known as the New Queer Cinema, Todd Haynes’s first feature, ’Poison’ (1991), has always stood for much more than itself…A triptych of stories about transgression and persecution inspired by Jean Genet, [the] film’s three strands are stylistically distinct—a newsmagazine-style account of a suburban boy who killed his abusive father, a black-and-white B-movie about a scientist turned leprous outcast, a rough-trade romance set in a Genet-like prison—and it cuts among them to create a web of unsettling correlations and an echo-chamber effect.”Dennis Lim, The New York Times

 

I was a teenage fanboy for Todd Haynes.

The Conversations: Todd Haynes

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The Conversations: Todd Haynes
The Conversations: Todd Haynes

Ed Howard: In all of his films, Todd Haynes takes elements of gaudy tabloid culture and warps them to his own purposes, because he sees—in the lurid stories about sexuality and decadence and violence that we like to tell ourselves, in the celebrity gossip rags and TV news and hyped-up movies—deeper truths about identity, gender, politics, entertainment and sexuality. Haynes finds, within the sensationalist and the melodramatic, a culture’s vision of itself, distorted by a funhouse mirror but nevertheless evocative of the unvarnished truth. Or maybe the truth really is as strange as the mirror suggests: entertainers as plastic action figures, made to be manipulated and posed; sexuality as a plague, terrifying and mysterious; suburbia as a deadening cage for the emotions; the past as a manufactured façade, rendered superficially safe by the suppression (or ignorance) of all those impulses that go unchecked in the present; identity as malleable and fluid, the true self supplanted by endless masks and games. Haynes’ appropriation of the language of media—the docudrama, the genre film, the educational documentary, all eras and styles collaged together in his cinematic blender—is an examination of the ways in which culture both disguises and probes the truths about individuals, their secret desires and fears and fantasies.

Film Comment Selects 2010: Over the Edge

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Film Comment Selects 2010: <em>Over the Edge</em>
Film Comment Selects 2010: <em>Over the Edge</em>

Over the Edge suffered from timing. Jonathan Kaplan’s 1979 film finished production around the time teenage gangs were fighting in theaters over The Warriors; the studio, worried that this new teen movie would cause more violence, shelved it. But like White Dog, another studio film deemed too dangerous to be seen, its reputation grew. A 1981 HBO screening led to bookings at New York’s Public Theater, which in turn led to showings in small art houses across the city. Edge recently came out on DVD and last night it opened Film Comment Selects. Film Comment editor Gavin Smith talked before the screening about how delighted he was “to give this film the premiere it never got but deserved,” and the eager sold-out Walter Reade crowd clapped throughout. I couldn’t help but think of John Frankenheimer talking about his 1966 flop Seconds: “It went from failure to classic without ever being a hit.”