Un Chant d’Amour (1950)

*. Pornography? Well, the American courts thought so, with the original decision against it being appealed (and affirmed) all the way to the top. I’ve also heard that Genet made it for the porn crowd, or at least porn conoisseurs and collectors.
*. The imagery was very explicit for the time. The men blowing smoke through a straw stuck through the wall is a stylish metaphor, and has a literary pedigree going back to the Pyramus and Thisbe play put on by the mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but we also see some dancing cocks at full and half mast and in 1950 that was still a taboo. Indeed, they’re rarely seen today, even though I think they’re permitted.
*. More than that, however, what I think makes it pornographic is that observing eye, which (weirdly) seems to be looking down a tunnel into the prison cells. As I said in my notes on the unabashedly pornographic (but stylish) Night Trips, porn movies aren’t about having sex but about watching people have sex. Un Chant d’Amour is all about the looking. The voyeur of a guard is a proxy for the audience, getting off on watching his prisoners masturbate while they dream of earlier erotic encounters. This does strike me as having something essentially pornographic about it, but not in a bad way.
*. Is it political porn? I guess to some extent we have to credit it as being an early gay statement. One assumes the two convicts have been imprisoned for their love. Meanwhile, the state, represented by the guard, is hypocritical in its own repressed desires. The gun becomes yet another cock. That’s not much of a political message, but it’s something.
*. This was Jean Genet’s only film, and it’s at least true to his own vision of homoeroticism. He’d spent some time in prison himself. But I don’t think it’s a very accomplished bit of work. Rumours are that Jean Cocteau may have shot part of it, but it really doesn’t look like anything special and the story isn’t terribly interesting. Lot in Sodom had more to say back in 1933, without trying nearly as hard. Nevertheless, it did have an impact on later directors and is celebrated as a milestone despite seeming rather overdrawn and obvious today. That in itself can be taken as a sort of progress.

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