“Poison: 20th Anniversary Edition (Zeitgeist) celebrate the directorial debut of Todd Haynes. An audacious, disturbing film that explores taboo subjects in alternately poetic and grotesque imagery, it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and Haynes went on to direct Far From Heaven, I’m Not There and the acclaimed Mildred Pierce mini-series. But when the film, which presents an explicit gay love affair in one section, first came out, its fame was as a cause célèbre. The conservative American Family Association launched a media attack on the film when it was revealed that it was in part funded by a grant from the NEA and conservative politicians joined the fray. The ensuing controversy gave the low budget, highly uncommercial 16mm production a far wider audience than it otherwise would have drawn. Hayne’s own provocative and fiercely independent vision justified the attention.
Haynes directs the triumvirate of tales in three disparate but vivid styles. “Horror” utilizes distorted lenses and stark B&W stock to create an alienated take on 1950s monster movies in the story of a sex researcher who becomes a deformed, disease ridden monster after he distills and, accidentally, ingests the essence of the human sex drive. In “Hero” Haynes takes to the flat TV news documentary style to tell, through a series of mock interviews, the story of a seven year old boy who escaped his abusive father with a Grimm Fairy Tale twist. The final and most substantial sequence, “Homo” (adapted from the works of Jean Genet, most notably “Thief’s Journal”) alternates between a deceptively idyllic Eden-like vision of childhood and a dark, claustrophobic prison to explore the sado-masochistic romance between two thieves in terms both beautiful and brutal.