Un chant d’amour aka A Song of Love (Jean Genet, 1950)
For a long time banned and even disowned by its director Jean Genet later in his life because of its explicit content of homosexual eroticism. Un chant d’amour might be one of the most unexpected films to be on the They Shoot Pictures Don’t They’s 1000 greatest films of all time.
In a French prison, a prison guard fills his voyeuristic pleasure by watching the prisoners perform masturbation in a very explicit way. It is highly explicit with close-ups of faces of the inmates having sexual pleasure and their hands rubbing their penises. For a film of 1950 it is surprising and even if it was, in fact, at first a document made as a porno, the mise en scène and the angle of the silent film with a jazz soundtrack gives more emphasizes on the homo eroticism.
As a precursor of the study of human sexuality, it is a very interesting short film that may schock some people more prude or uncomfortable with homosexuality presented in a cruder manner.
However, just like Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures, it is a film that is more than just a mere movie. It plays more like a piece of art that needs to be watched with a open mind and a will to understand the human nature.
Often Jean Genet’s film has been cited as influential on Andy Warhol’s films and I’m pretty sure it was a major influence on Jack Smith. The underground art films of the counter culture that the homosexual society that was lesser known in the 1950’s and 1960’s produced some of the most influential films of its time. Breaking barriers and taboos but also forging the face of pornography and how it is now shot and treated as an object of subversion and a mirror of the human nature and phantasms.
Finally, apart from being on the list aforementioned by the fine folks at TSPDT, it would have taken me more time to discover this little gem of the underworld that could have influenced, or not, directors like John Waters that makes some of the most memorable personal films completely disjointed and funny as hell. However, I believe that for many film lovers this sounds like a critic buzz to cry out for more than four hundred words on a film showing man masturbating in a prison with a jazz soundtrack and a prison guard taking pleasure watching them do so. Well, it might be, but it is an essential to understand the path that films have taken since.