"Arguably the strongest American debut feature of the 90s, Todd Haynes's Poison — aptly billed as telling 'three tales of transgression and punishment' and now restored in 35mm for its 20th anniversary — opens with a quote, at once topical and prescient, from Jean Genet: 'The whole world is dying of panicky fright.'" Rob Nelson in the Voice: "Introducing a screening of Poison at Minneapolis's Walker Art Center a few years ago, Haynes made explicit what remains provocatively allegorical in the movie: 'I felt that the gulf between Genet's death [in 1986] and the breakout of the AIDS epidemic was something that could be bridged,' he said. 'Genet's ideas and positions' — including the notion of queer sexuality as an uncontainable force — 'could be applied in a kind of empowering way to what the gay community was already feeling as a profound blow. The film was an attempt to recover our own sense of freedom — to exist, to express ourselves, and to experiment.'"
Talking with Haynes for the New York Times, Dennis Lim credits Poison with "inciting spark for what came to be known as the New Queer Cinema." The film won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1991 and became a lightning rod in the ongoing culture war when right-wingers railed against a $25K completion grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (which ultimately amounted to less than ten percent of the total budget). "A year after Poison the Sundance lineup included Tom Kalin's Swoon, a coolly analytical account of the child-murdering gay lovers Leopold and Loeb (produced, as Poison had been, by Christine Vachon); Christopher Munch's Hours and Times, a what-if chamber piece about the relationship between John Lennon and the Beatles manager Brian Epstein; and Gregg Araki's Living End, a gay-couple-on-the-run road movie with a pop touch and a nihilist swagger. Writing about these films the critic B Ruby Rich used the phrase 'New Queer Cinema' — the label remains synonymous with a groundswell that boosted the visibility of gay-theme films."
"Looking at Poison twenty years later, it's striking to notice how relatively unpolished the film is in summoning the appropriate visual benchmarks for its three segments compared to I'm Not There's flawless evocation of 8½ or Far From Heaven's master class in Douglas Sirk's aesthetics," writes Vadim Rizov for the L. "What's really interesting about Poison is its embryonic conception of the kind of polyphonic intercutting Haynes would increasingly ratchet up in Velvet Goldmine and I'm Not There."
And another note from Dennis Lim: "Poison will be screened at the IFC Center with Last Address, a short film by Ira Sachs (Forty Shades of Blue) that memorializes the final residences of New York City artists who died of AIDS, among them James Lyons, who starred in and edited Poison and was Mr Haynes's boyfriend then." For more, see the site for Last Address.
Update, 11/11: David Fear talks with Haynes for Time Out New York.
Update, 11/12: "Did Haynes not realize how incompatible his own sensibility is with Genet's?" asks Paul Brunick at the House Next Door.
It's a good day for restoration and preservation. Here's Larry Rohter in the NYT: "The French film critic Georges Sadoul called it 'an unknown masterpiece' and once flew all the way to Brazil, in vain, in hopes of seeing a complete version. Orson Welles, in Brazil in the early 1940s to make a movie of his own, did view it in its entirety and pronounced the experience 'fabulous.' More recently, both David Bowie and Caetano Veloso have also promoted it. Over the years, the Brazilian experimental silent film Limite, made in 1930 by the director Mário Peixoto, has become something of a legend among film enthusiasts, a movie more talked about than seen. But a complete, newly restored two-hour version now exists, and its showing is one of the highlights of the World Cinema Foundation festival that begins at the Brooklyn Academy of Music [today] and will continue for two weeks."
Michael Atkinson for the L: "The love baby spawned by Martin Scorsese's devotion to film preservation, the three-year-old World Cinema Foundation, is focused, unlike the world's other major preservationist archives, museums and organizations, on forgotten, 'neglected' landmarks that would otherwise run the likelihood of being left behind in the nitrate dust. You can contribute the WFC at their website, or you can simply belly up to this traveling retro, comprised of movies from the four corners that you probably have had little or no opportunity to see in any other context." And he previews not only Limite but also Ermek Shinarbaev's Revenge (1989), "a pioneering Soviet-era Kazakh melodrama," Djibril Diop Mambéty's Touki Bouki (1973), an "effervescent, jagged-edged Senegalese road-movie satire," and Edward Yang's "masterpiece" A Bright Summer Day (1991).
Also in the program is Kim Ki-young's The Housemaid (1960) and the Alternative Chronicle's Nate Bell caught the WCF restoration of this "feverish melodrama" over the weekend at AFI Fest: "Kim is a moral storyteller as well as a visualist, and his sympathy for the characters despite their weaknesses distinguishes this underrated thriller, now considered one of the great Korean films."
Interviews with WCF executive director Kent Jones: Aaron Cutler (House Next Door) and Eric Hynes (Reverse Shot, video).
MORE GOINGS ON
"Bruce Conner (1933–2008) was a film artist who changed the game with his first movie, titled A Movie (1958)," writes the Voice's J Hoberman. "Every image in this 12-minute assemblage, except the title card ('A Movie by Bruce Conner') is secondhand — drawn from newsreels, travelogues, stag films, and academy leaders. Premiered at a San Francisco gallery as part of the sculptor's first one-man show, Conner's Movie was a true film object — as well as a self-reflexive exercise in academic montage, a joke on the power of background music (in this case, Respighi's sprightly 'Pines of Rome'), a high-concept/low-rent disaster film and a pop art masterpiece. A Movie is canonical, and the rest of Conner's oeuvre — at Film Forum this week and next in two 70-minute-plus programs — holds up as well."
More from Aaron Cutler (Slant), Steve Dollar (Wall Street Journal), Mike Hale (NYT), Noel Murray (AV Club) Leslie Stonebraker (New York Press), Amy Taubin (Artforum), Keith Uhlich (TONY) and James van Maanen.
Conner's also featured in a program at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco this evening. Junk... Funk... Punk... Found Footage Lost and Found is presented by the Cinematheque and curated by none other than Craig Baldwin and includes work by Thad Povey, Dean Snider, Chick Strand, William Farley, Michael Wallin, Jay Rosenblatt, Greta Snider, Kerry Laitala, Gibbs Chapman, Steven Dye and David Sherman.
"'Utopian visions' is the central theme for the 14th edition of London's onedotzero festival, which aims to showcase progressive moving image work and digital art." Eleanor McKeown for Electric Sheep: "According to director Shane RJ Walter, this year's programme will be 'imbued with a sense of adventure, hope and creative positivity,' an oddly optimistic and politically phrased choice given Britain is currently steeling itself for an austere economic future.... The weird and wonderful world of cutting-edge digital arts should make some intriguing and unusual ripples through the British Film Institute." Today through Sunday.
"In a grim romantic-comedy landscape dominated by grouchy-face bores like Jennifer Aniston and Katherine Heigl, critic's darling Rachel McAdams earns her raves by sheer accessibility," writes the Philadelphia Weekly's Sean Burns. "She's got that ineffable quality that Julia Roberts once had back before megastardom made her brittle — that is to say, McAdams seems incapable of feeling an emotion without allowing us to watch it play marvelously across her face. It's a terrible trait for poker but thrilling to see onscreen, and Roger Michell's Morning Glory might finally be her long-predicted breakthrough to the A-List." As for the film itself, it "might be best summed up with the word [news anchor Harrison] Ford curmudgeonly refuses to utter on air: 'Fluffy.' At times it feels like screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna did a 'Find/Replace All' on her script for The Devil Wears Prada, throwing an earnest young lass into a dysfunctional work environment full of high-maintenance divas and difficult dudes."
Maybe it works if you haven't seen Broadcast News, James L Brooks's 1987 comedy about a romantic triangle (Holly Hunter, William Hurt and Albert Brooks) on the front lines in the network battle between fluff and news," suggests the NYT's Manohla Dargis. "A few of Michell's previous films, notably The Mother and Enduring Love, have had bite, unlike Morning Glory, which is so insistently, at times desperately, upbeat that it feels strung out on a cocktail of antidepressants and bad test-audience results."
More from Ed Champion, Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), David Edelstein (New York), Jesse Hassenger (L), Karina Longworth (Voice), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune), Scott Tobias (AV Club), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Bill Weber (Slant) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, where Mike Ryan talks with Jeff Goldblum).
IN OTHER NEWS
Scott Foundas introduces his interview with Paul Haggis by quoting liberally from his savage evisceration of Crash (2004) and admitting that he's no fan of In the Valley of Elah (2007). "I have been and remain a great fan of Haggis the screenwriter, whose credits include a handful of the best and best-written Hollywood films of the last decade. Among them: Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby (04), Flags of Our Fathers (06) and Letters From Iwo Jima (06), and the exhilarating James Bond reboot Casino Royale (06). Now, Haggis is back with his fourth directorial effort, The Next Three Days, starring Russell Crowe as a mild-mannered community college professor who finds himself masterminding an elaborate prison break after his wife (Elizabeth Banks) is convicted of bludgeoning her boss to death."
Also in the new issue of Film Comment: Andrew Sarris on Claude Chabrol, Chris Chang on Cristi Puiu's Aurora, Jesse P Finnegan on Chris Marker's "museum in the sky of Second Life" and a batch of festival reports: Laura Kern on the 7th Reykjavik International Film Festival, Robert Koehler on this year's Vancouver International Film Festival and Mark Olsen, Nicole Armour and editor Gavin Smith from Toronto.
To the reviews and, once again, Scott Foundas: "If The King's Speech risks being too cute by half in its depiction of how this royal without a voice [George VI, played by Colin Firth] comes to find one in his nation's hour of need, [director Tom] Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler neatly avoid that trap by training their sights on a much bigger subject — namely, how the wireless waves of radio affected seismic changes to the nature of politics and society at large, turning public figures into performers, and narrowing the distance between classes. Yet amidst all the ballyhoo about Hooper's film as The Social Network's chief rival for Oscar gold, few if any have noted the extent to which the two movies orbit a similar central theme — two portraits of a communications revolution, separated by a century."
Paul Brunick on 127 Hours: "A director of modern-day fables and fairy tales, [Danny] Boyle disguises (just barely) his conventionally sentimental and spiritually romantic vision by way of surface-action brutality and verité affect."
José Teodoro on Black Swan: "[F]or all his command of adrenalized, propulsive narrative and his dazzling technical facility, [Darren] Aronofsky's study in female hysteria ultimately favors frenzy over compassion or insight — and remains strictly skin-deep."
Violet Lucca: "What makes Julie Taymor's adaptation of The Tempest so audacious — unforgivably so, it would seem, judging by initial reviews — is that it opens up space inside Shakespeare's play to reveal themes that the text might otherwise not have room to accommodate."
Then there are "Short Takes" on Andrew Jarecki's All Good Things, Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine (which has a new poster, by the way), Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist, Tanya Hamilton's Night Catches Us, Jalmari Helander's Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale and Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture, opening Friday.
Blasts from past issues: LM Kit Carson on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, from July/August 1986, and Barry Rehfeld on Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus (November/December 1983). The Cannon Films Canon screens at the Walter Reade from November 19 through 24.
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