the most influential gay short film in European history
As a prison warder arrives for work, he witnesses a string of roses being tossed from the hand of one convict to the grasping hand of another. Intrigued by what he saw, he decides to investigate.
Such was but a cinematic ploy by which noted French novelist Jean Genet would come to film which has since become the most influential gay short film in European history. It charts the unconsummated love between two prisoners; an Algerian-looking man who blows cigarette smoke through a hole in a cell wall to the object of his desire, who lies on the other side of the divide. Only such is too much for the guard to take, who enters the cell of the older man to brutally beat him. In doing so, he forces him to suck on his gun, fellatio style, in an unmistakable act of sadism.
Homoerotic to the core, this pioneering classic of gay cinema was originally screened to a select few. Such was its success on the underground film circuit of the day, that a
theatrical release was called for, only one that given the strict moral values of the time, was subject to years of censorship and an outright ban in city after city on the grounds of gross obscenity.
Yet whilst there is no denying the pornographic nature of its content and here think scenes of voyeurism, male nudity and masturbation, even when devoid of such, this remains a strong story of homosexual love, namely the sexual perversion that the good citizens of America would not accept. Too hot for the 1950s, it would still prove controversial over a decade later, when a March 1964 New York screening was subject to a police raid and the citation that the organiser deserved to be shot in front of the cinema screen for dirtying America.
And yet the ultimate indignity was still to come. For this song of love was later to be disowned by its creator, on the grounds that he was embarrassed by its crudity. But then, by the mid-seventies Genet had reached a far more sophisticated plateau of artistic expression. He died in Paris in 1986 and wished for this work to die with him. Thankfully the British Film Institute ignored his wishes, having restored it to DVD glory, complete with a beautiful score courtesy of former Derek Jarman collaborator Simon Fisher Turner.
Ahead of its time - undoubtedly. Pornographic in its day - definitely. A landmark in gay cinema - a resounding yes. For inspite of being only twenty-five minutes in length, filmed in black and white and originally silent throughout, this avant-garde piece is unapologetically GAY. And yet it remains the sole cinematic legacy of Genet, being in effect a frustrating insight into what could have been, had this celebrated poet continued with the film medium. Regrettably, he never stood behind the camera again.