The controversial "Poison," opening today at The Charles, is a crudely made, faintly realized three-in-one, a movie whose only real distinction is that all three stories are based on tales by Jean Genet, the French author-playwright.
And there is the controversy. Some have criticized the National Endowment for the Arts for having helped financed the film. People were apparently upset over the homosexual activity in the film. It's not the most explicit we have seen at the Charles, but then it's not exactly tame, either.
The three stories are "Hero," "Horror" and "Homo," and all are woven together, which may have seemed expedient to writer-director Todd Haynes, 30, but it is a method that only serves to confuse. It might have been better had Haynes told one, another and then the third story.
In "Hero," a little boy shoots his wife-beating father then runs to a window where, according to his mother, he flies off. We learn all this as the story is explored, mock documentary style, with investigators questioning some of the people who knew the boy. He was, it seems, a delinquent in the making, and is not that sorely missed. There is one laugh; Haynes may have intended more, but they are not there.
"Horror" is a spoof of the '50s horror movies. In it, a scientist drinks the wrong liquid, a hormonal concentration, and becomes a leper who goes about killing people. This story was probably intended as a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic, but it barely serves.
"Homo" is closer to the real Genet. It takes place in a prison where one of the inmates, John Broom, lusts for one of the other men, who is not receptive to Broom's advances. There is a rape, and there is communal brutality, but this particular episode says very little, other than that Genet was writing from the heart.
Haynes does the first tale in vivid color, the second as black and white, and the third, in subdued color.
Larry Maxwell is the scientist, Susan Norman is Nancy, the woman who loves him, and Scott Renderer is Broom, the prison inmate who loves and isn't loved in return.
"Poison" will play The Charles through June 23. As a curiosity, it is worth attention. As art, it is lacking.
* Three stories inspired by Jean Genet
CAST: Edith Meeks, Millie White, Buck Smith, Larry Maxwell, Susan Norman, Scott Renderer, James Lyons, John Lombardi
DIRECTOR: Todd Haynes
NO RATING: (sex, nudity, violence)
RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes