The 26-minute version showing at the YBCA is both more explicit than anything that sprung from Cocteau's less rugged cinema and more graphic than the censored 15-minute version that has often showcased in underground public circles. (According to Giles, a benefit screening for the SF Mime Troupe in the '60s was raided by the police.) Just as the character Divine in Genet's book Our Lady of the Flowers gave John Waters's greatest star, Harris Glenn Milstead, a stage and screen name, Un Chant d'Amour's smoke trails and imprisoned schemes have inspired visions from James Bidgood's 1971 Pink Narcissus to the "Homo" sequence of Todd Haynes's 1989 Poison.
Still, these same smoke trails came in the immediate wake of Anger's Fireworks, and both Giles and Anger claim Genet viewed Fireworks before he began shooting his only movie. Unsurprisingly, the child of a midsummer night's dream in Hollywood Babylon who partly inspired Un Chant d'Amour had his own copy of the film, but tellingly (according to Bill Landis's unauthorized bio, Anger), he'd edited out the pastoral romantic passage in Genet's movie because "it's two big lummoxes romping." Such a gesture, typical of Anger, shows just how wrong it is to assume Genet's comparatively masculine aestheticism means he is less sentimental.
Greedily inhaled and ultimately drubbed, the cigarettes of Un Chant d'Amour are a not-so-explosive, if no less effective, très French response to the American climactic phallic firecracker of Anger's landmark first film and initial installment in the Magick Lantern Cycle. Unlike the SF International Film Fest's once-in-a-lifetime (I'd love to be proven wrong) presentation of the latter at the Castro Theatre, the YBCA's program features a rare and new 35mm print of Fireworks. It also includes similar prints of Anger's exquisite, blue-tinted vision of commedia dell'arte, Rabbit's Moon (which exists in three versions, dating from 1950, 1971, and 1979); his most famous film (with a pop soundtrack that essentially paved the way for Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, not to mention music videos), 1963's Scorpio Rising; and his beefcake buffandpowder puff soft-touch idyll with a pair of dream lovers in a sex garage, 1965's Kustom Kar Kommandoes.
Viewed together, these movies cover dreamscapes of a length, width, and vividness beyond past and present Hollywood, not to mention a new queer or mall-pandering gay cinema that even in the case of Haynes's son-of-Genet portion of Poison remains locked in a celluloid closet of positive and negative representation. Anger's relationship with the gifted Bobby Beausoleil might be an unflattering real-life variation of Genet's adoration of murderous criminality, but whereas Un Chant d'Amour resembles almost any page from any Genet novel, Anger's films are a many-splendored sinister parade. For all of his flaws and perhaps even evil foibles, his films are rare, pure visions. "Serious homosexual cinema begins with the underground, forever ahead of the commercial cinema, and setting it goals which, though initially viewed as outrageous, are later absorbed by it," Amos Vogel writes in the recently republished guide Film as a Subversive Art. Many of the films in that tome seem dated today, but in Anger's case, the forever to which Vogel refers may indeed be eternal. *
JEAN GENETKENNETH ANGER
Fri/12Sat/13, 7:30 p.m.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, screening room, SF