Novelist/playwright Jean Genet must have regarded the film medium as a tasty canvas. Used to constructing narrative though language – the vehicle driving his narrator in a novel or the collection of voices in his stage dramas – film would allow him to reach the mind through images.
No wonder he chose to make a film without a soundtrack and even an inclination toward musical accompaniment. And the experimentation didn’t end there, as the end result would forever be compared to Cocteau’s “Blood of a Poet.” Maya Deren, another early master of the experimental film, described her short, allusive works as “film poems”; Genet would have accepted nothing less from his own filmmaking.
Yet, Genet seems to have treated the medium as a playground. “Un Chant D’Amour” (1950), his only filmmaking effort, is so playful that it plays like a series of whims with little sensibility to unify them. Artistic inspiration is undoubtedly at work, but the ideas cannot solidify into art.
In a locale beyond time and place, two jailed men linger under the eye of a guard, while homoeroticism seems to swell at every turn. Genet clearly intended to ponder confinement – both literal and sexual – and thus, in deliberate irony, his piece abandons narrative restrictions as a rule. This is a film of sensations, the most profound of which comes when a straw is inserted through a wall, through which one man blows a strand of smoke to another. The image reads as both sensual and crude, at once ejaculatory and hauntingly intrusive.
But the remaining musings are more scattershot than revelatory. Freudian symbols were the staples of early experimental film – see the keys and knives in Deren’s “Meshes of the Afternoon” and the blades and breasts in “Un Chien Andalou” – and in such devices Genet seems imprisoned. Right when the film appears ready to come to life, it remains still, awaiting inspiration from its creator. The tasty anticipation we have for this curio outweighs its value.
Cult Epics includes a documentary featurette of Genet musing about random subjects, much like the free-floating manner of his film. Along with a commentary track by Kenneth Anger, the disc includes a new introduction by critic/experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas, who appears to be leaning towards a webcam. Mekas provides a solid context and shares his experience of breaking down a print of “D’Amour” into small spools to sneak it into the U.S. and avoid obscenity charges. If he accidentally reassembled the bits out of order, I bet no one would have been the wiser.