Long the bad boy of French novelists, Jean Genet directed this 25-minute short in 1950. Borderline pornographic, it is a silent portrayal of (literally) imprisoned desire. Two prisoners convey their longing for one another through the prison walls, while a voyeuristic guard watches, becoming aroused and frustrated to the point of violence. Poetic, fetishistic, and intensely personal, it is a startling and historic piece of underground cinema.Audio
Consider the rating a place-holder, because we don’t have a star equivalent for “Not Applicable.” This is a completely silent film. Not even a score. As for the extras, they are clear enough.
It is borderline miraculous that the film exists in an intact form, so the print gets points simply for existing. It also looks pretty good, all things considered. There is speckling and grain, but neither are too severe, and the black-and-white tones are good. The image is also surprisingly sharp.
Kenneth Anger (I didn’t know he was still alive) provides the commentary, and given that he was working in the same vein as Genet and at the same time, he would seem to be the obvious choice for this task. But he frequently drifts off into silence, and doesn’t really have too much to say about the movie. More interesting is the introduction by Jonas Mekas, a seminal figure in the development of underground and midnight cinema in New York, who was responsible for bringing the movie to the US. Disc 2 has two pieces. One is a 52-minute documentary about Genet (largely an interview with him in 1981, but accompanied by readings of his texts) and the other a 46-minute interview with the man (this one from 1982). These are very good looks into the mind of an important writer, but are obviously not about the movie.
So many of Cult Epic’s release have great historical value. This is no exception. But it is also very well made.