Todd Haynes’ Poison, Two Decades After the Controversy

by Vadim Rizov

Is Todd Haynes one of America’s best directors, or merely its most talented pastiche artist? With the exception of 199’s Safe (his one unassailable achievement for many critics), all his work starts from explicitly defined frames of reference; he’s come as close as anyone ever will to mainstreaming (his collegiate study of) semiotics. Looking at Poison twenty years later, it’s striking to notice how relatively unpolished the film is in summoning the appropriate visual benchmarks for its three segments compared to I’m Not There’s flawless evocation of 8 1/2 or Far From Heaven’s master class in Douglas Sirk’s aesthetics.

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