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Askew Review 15

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(Cult Epics) 1950. Drama. 25 minutes. Black and White. Not Rated. Un Chant d’Amour (Song of Love) was the sole film directed by French playwright and novelist Jean Genet. This silent black and white short film features two male inmates in separate grimy prison cells, longing for each other’s embrace. They share cigarette smoke through a tiny hole in the wall, engage in masturbation while fantasizing about each other, and dance alone in their cells. A prison guard spies on the inmates, with a mixture of revulsion and what appears to be hidden desire and admiration, that ultimately culminates in a violent act. 
   As a lifelong (though only occasionally practicing) heterosexual, I found the idea of watching Un Chant d’Amour a bit daunting. I certainly don’t consider myself a homophobe, but after reading on the DVD box that the film was “originally made for Parisian gay porn collectors in 1950…” I wondered what I might be delving into. The truth is the visuals here are only mildly explicit. Yes, there are some exposed ‘peni’ and said appendages are often stroked lustily. One black inmate does a rhythmic dance while his twig and berries bounce and fly. Another prisoner appears to be dry humping his cell’s stone wall, etc. What we have here is basically a tragic love story, combined with elements of voyeurism and fantasy. Is it well made? I suppose. It’s also another one of those rarely seen movies that I can only see appealing to film-school students and…well, collectors of Parisian gay porn. Completely silent, with nary even a music track, I found Un Chant d’Amour to be a semi-pornographic bore. It’s an art film of ‘poetic’ images that is supposed to make you think and feel. I think I feel like suggesting you give it a pass. Cult Epics presents Un Chant d’Amour in a two disc set that includes a commentary by Kenneth Anger (who rarely speaks), still photo booklet, a Jean Genet doc and interview made in the early 80s. - Budd Layman



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