Why do you think they called it "punk?"
, before Glee
, before It Gets Better, there was Poison
. This film tore my head open with its use of different cameras and film stocks to evoke different time periods and socio-entertainment contexts.
Like punk music, Poison
and its contemporary works were out to subvert society and its "normie" assumptions, in this case of heterosexuality. The films were rather more coherent, but they had the same energy and intent.
Twenty years later, ‘Poison’ still feels defiant - The Boston Globe
It seems impossible now, but gay movies once strove to change the world....
Now, at 20, Haynes’s film, which is back in a new 35mm print that opens at the Brattle Theatre today, feels like a movie that could scarcely find its way into an art house. We’re both that complacent and that uncomfortable.
Comfort was what Haynes wanted to snatch away from us. In both form and subject, “Poison’’ still feels defiant. It’s the work of a young filmmaker who looked at the world around him, saw the American government’s silence about the AIDS crisis and the void of visible gay people in the culture and came up with this charged allegory for that moment. The movie jumps back and forth among three parts: a fake news documentary featuring the mother of a Long Island boy who shot his father; a black-and-white sci-fi, film-noir B-movie about a scientist made contagiously ill by his own breakthrough; and a homoerotic prison film with detours into all-male reform-school reverie....
Haynes was about 30 when “Poison’’ was released, and he demonstrates great ease moving between potentially ungainly ideas. The movie works both in segments and as the culmination of Haynes’s observations and ideas about the persecution of gay bodies and minds. Haynes studied semiotics at Brown University, where he met Vachon, and the literary foundation for the film is the erotic stories of Jean Genet. But Haynes was enough of an artist not to make a tract or a self-promotional student film. “Poison’’ remains angry. It’s also heavy with the sadness of a man sick of the world around him.
The movie was released the same year that the first half of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America’’ began performances in San Francisco. These are very different works, each with a belief in the redemptive power of angel imagery. But an artistic movement emerged around Kushner’s play (“A Gay Fantasia on National Themes’’ was its subtitle) and Haynes’s film. The movies that joined “Poison’’ — chiefly “Swoon,’’ Tom Kalin’s 1992 film about the trial of the child-murdering lovers Leopold and Loeb; and Gregg Araki’s “The Living End,’’ a lawless road-movie from the same year — in limited releases in American art houses were not explosions of fabulousness or queeniness. No one lisped or minced or sashayed. There were no drag queens or musical numbers. These were men responding to a culture and a government they felt were ignoring them. They were making cinematic punk rock. In the late 1980s, Haynes and Kalin helped start the art-activist collective Gran Fury. It’s nice to think they chose that name only because “Sex Pistols’’ was taken.