Watch Jean Genet’s Only Film, the Censored A Song of Love (1950)

Pet­ty crim­i­nal, out­law writer, polit­i­cal rad­i­cal, gay icon—the name Jean Genet means many things to many peo­ple, but film­mak­er isn’t usu­al­ly one of them. Yet Genet did direct a short film, A Song of Love (Un chant d’amour), in 1950. Silent and shot in grainy black and white, the film presents a pas­sion­ate rela­tion­ship between inmates, sep­a­rat­ed from each oth­er by the prison walls. The pris­on­ers express their estranged desire for each oth­er in increas­ing­ly sen­su­al ways until the frame is filled with writhing bod­ies. All the while, a lone guard watch­es, men­ac­ing and jeal­ous.

Despite the fact that the film was banned for many years, and that Genet him­self dis­owned it, it’s a foun­da­tion­al work for lat­er gay film­mak­ers, from Andy Warhol to the ear­ly Derek Jar­man, whose first fea­ture Sebas­tiane (1976) sure­ly owes a debt to A Song of Love. Genet’s choice of set­ting is no mere auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal detail; the pre­vi­ous year he faced a life sen­tence after his tenth con­vic­tion, and was only saved by the inter­ven­tion of his respect­ed sup­port­ers Jean-Paul Sartre, Pablo Picas­so, and Jean Cocteau, who peti­tioned the pres­i­dent on his behalf. It’s pos­si­ble to read A Song of Love in many ways, but it’s hard not to see it at least as Genet’s pro­jec­tion of the frus­trat­ed (yet hot­house) sex­u­al ten­sion he would know if incar­cer­at­ed for the rest of his days.

Of course Genet began his writ­ing career in prison, draft­ing his first nov­el, the pulpy yet pro­found­ly lyri­cal Our Lady of the Flow­ers, while serv­ing out a sen­tence in the ear­ly for­ties. Genet’s erot­i­cal­ly charged, some might say deca­dent, fic­tion worked to reclaim and reval­ue his iden­ti­ty as a homo­sex­u­al, social out­cast, and crim­i­nal. In his auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal nov­el, The Thief’s Jour­nal, writ­ten in 1949 while his fate was being decid­ed, Genet defined him­self thus:

Lim­it­ed by the world, which I oppose, jagged by it, I shall be all the more hand­some and sparkling as the angles which wound me and give me shape are more acute and the jag­ging more cru­el.

The quote could almost serve as an epi­graph for Genet’s only film, which, writes Fer­nan­do Croce, draws its “pre­sid­ing image… of flesh against stone” from The Thief’s Jour­nal. It’s an image Croce inter­prets as “metaphor for soci­ety-enforced divi­sion imposed on gay men, and also of the need for con­nec­tion which encom­pass­es all human exis­tence.” Like all Genet’s work, A Song of Love takes plea­sure from pain and finds arrest­ing inti­ma­cy and unabashed­ly lib­er­at­ing sex­u­al ful­fill­ment in the Parisian sew­ers, gar­rets, and jails.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jean Genet, France’s Out­law Poet, Revealed in a Rare 1981 Inter­view

Three “Anti-Films” by Andy Warhol: Sleep, Eat & Kiss

Wittgen­stein: Watch Derek Jarman’s Trib­ute to the Philoso­pher, Fea­tur­ing Til­da Swin­ton (1993)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (7)
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  • Robben says:

    It is amaz­ing how smok­ing in prison togeth­er is a sen­su­al expe­ri­ence of mak­ing love. It almost means that you are com­mit­ted to your part­ner, and can feel him in you dur­ing times of com­plete iso­la­tion.

  • Barb Clinton says:

    Why tor­ture your­self like that? Just get it done.

  • pavani says:

    shall i know about this web­site.….….?

  • bogdan says:

    NU meri­ta vazut ceva in care apar per­soane de ace­lasi sex. Ne provoa­ca sila. Te indis­pui vazand cum se pot cob­o­ra unii in timp ce altii inte­leg via­ta corect din armo­nia si com­ple­men­tar­i­tatea mas­culin fem­i­nin si nu a unor per­ver­si­tati bol­nave din mintea cate unui regi­zor. Este o ide­olo­gie acum care favorizeaza ce nu e nor­mal, ceea ce e doar in mintea a 0,01 % din oameni impunand celor­lalti 99,99% sa accepte… sa con­sidere nor­mal… sa nu crit­ice, ca in comu­nism, ceea ce prin liberul arbi­tru con­sid­era ca nu le place… Nu e nimeni oblig­at sa accepte ciu­dateni­ile uno­ra si asta nu inseam­na dis­curs al urii… ci doar o parere despre com­por­ta­men­tul deviant al uno­ra.

  • miha says:

    Ne cam jic­ni­ti cu aseme­nea , asa zise filme ! E aber­ant, urat scar­bos, prostesc. Ce o fi in capul regi­zoru­lui? Chiar vrea sa ne indis­puna? Dar in al vostru, toc­mai o asa por­carie? Poate ne dorim ceva fru­mos atra­ga­tor si ce gasim, o expre­sie a anor­mal­i­tatii, care ne der­an­jeaza. Oare asta vroiati sa ne indis­puneti? Ati reusit cred ca alt site o sa gaseasca filme care meri­ta !

  • Sam Konor says:

    Would like to watch.

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