Review: Poison 20th Anniversary Edition DVD

STUDIO: Zeitgeist | DIRECTOR: Todd Haynes | CAST: Edith Meeks, Millie White, Buck Smith, Scott Renderer, Anne Giotta, Lydia Lafleur, Ian Nemser
RELEASE DATE: 6/21/11 | PRICE: DVD $29.99
commentary, on-set Polaroid photos, Q&A with filmmakers at Sundance, more
NR | 85 min. | Drama | 1.66:1 widescreen | stereo | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Poison movie scene

Scott Renderer finds love in a French penal colony in Poison.

Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, HBO’s Mildred Pierce) is a filmmaker who challenges the conventions of contemporary cinema, even as he pays homage to movies of the past. This dual artistic thrust is evident in his very first movie, Poison, which received a 20th anniversary DVD release by Zeitgeist Films.

Poison is comprised of three major components, each embracing a different visual style:  a mockumentary account of a tragic suburban crime, a 1950s science-fiction treatment of a demented scientist’s sexual experiments, and a lush drama of life and love in a 19th century French penal colony, inspired by the writings of Jean Genet.

The film doesn’t always succeed as it should. In 1991, Haynes didn’t have the resources for his high-style ambitions to be properly realized, but Poison is nonetheless a delightful dose of creativity in the raw.

The new 16×9 high-definition transfer is as sharp as the original, somewhat grainy 16mm elements could possibly hope to appear.

That’s the best reason to give Poison a second look, because the special features aren’t all that exciting: murky on-set Polaroid photos taken by crew member (and filmmaker-to-be) Kelly Reichardt; a two-and-a-half-minute theatrical trailer; a recycled audio commentary from 1999 featuring Haynes, producer Christine Vachon, and actor/editor James Lyons; and Last Address (2010), a conceptual eight-minute movie by Ira Sachs paying tribute to New York artists who died of AIDS, comprised of shots of the apartment buildings of the deceased (its relevance to Poison being that it includes Lyons’ home).

The only significant addition is twenty-one minutes of unedited camcorder footage shot before and after a 2010 screening of Poison sponsored by the Sundance Film Festival, including a Q&A with the filmmakers.


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About Asa

Asa Kendall Jr. is a freelance writer in Atlanta. His DVD reviews have appeared on the Turner Classic Movies website.