[Fig. 01] Libidante, 1972.

Corps-Matière et Matérialité de la vidéo Libidante (Mousse Guernon, 1972)

Julie Ravary-Pilon

Cinematic bodies. cinema captures bodies, their sounds and their appearances, and transmutes them to ones and zeroes, to emulsion, to magnetized tape. It cuts them up and pastes them together and prints them, on screens and speakers large and small, to other bodies – bodies that stand, sit, walk, or lie, alone and in crowds, in private and in public, bodies that gaze, that look away, that cringe, that laugh, desire, imagine, dream. Where does one body stop and another end?

Cáel M. Keegan, Laura Horak et Eliza Steinbock, « Cinematic / Trans* / Bodies Now (and Then, and to Come) »

This unsettling of "matter" can be understood as initiating new possibilities, new ways for bodies to matter.

Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter

[Fig. 02] Libidante, 1972.

Bodies and video, bodies represented on the screen, the audience’s bodies in the cinema (and now in front of their own screens at home), the body of the device. So many relationships defined and redefined, reflected and imposed by videomakers and thinkers. From its beginnings, the seventh art has brought attention to the human form. Voyeurism combined with a fascination for resemblance. Egocentric urges found in the frame of a moving image; the projection is two-fold. In his work, Le corps du cinéma. Hypnoses, émotions et animalité,1 Raymond Bellour proposed the beautiful image of a hypnosis in which ‘a viewer’s body [is] caught in the body of the film’.While Bellour celebrates this idea of cinema’s hold over the bodies of his audience, Linda Williams reminds us in ‘Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess’that the cinematographic genres recognized for creating strong ‘corporeal’ reactions in audiences have long been categorized as sensational forms deriving little interest from the cultural intelligentsia and its cinephiles. One of three genres chosen to exemplify this theory is pornography.4

As a privileged space for the consideration of the relationship between the body and audiovisual mediums, the study of pornography is enjoying a golden age today.We offer our reading of Libidante (1972, Mousse Guernon), the ‘first erotic animated video’,6 within the context of a proliferation of studies on the links between body, eroticism and moving images.

[Fig. 03] Libidante, 1972.


Libidante is a 14-minute work without dialogue. Using a simple narrative thread portraying the meeting of two lovers, Guernon explores the videographic medium through an erotic story. The opening images are frescos of Michael Angelo’s The Creation of Adam (1508-1512) (the man’s finger touches the title ‘Libidante’ rather than God’s finger) and Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (1485). Two of the most famous nudes in the history of art. The tone has been set.

We enter a room where a naked woman, seen from behind, sits at a window, daydreaming. A man calls at the door, they leave together. When he puts his arm around her neck, a diegetic image appears for several seconds: against a black backdrop, we see a frontal view of the naked woman who looks into the camera with a smile.7 A flash of insight into the protagonist’s psyche. The couple continue on their way. Sitting with a coffee, the lovers hold hands. With skin-to-skin contact, the image changes again. The videomaker inverts the lighting to signal the crossing over to a fantasy world. The lovers’ bodies now float in another space. As philosopher Michel Foucault says: ‘We do not live in a homogenous and empty space, but, on the contrary, in a space thoroughly imbued with qualities, and perhaps thoroughly fantasmatic as well; the space of our primary perception, the space of our dreams and our passions, hold within themselves qualities that seem intrinsic’.8 It is in this heterotopia that the lovers’ bodies will come together again, but this time via the videographic process of superimposed images: the characters appear one on top of the other through a trick of editing. The movement is two-fold: the independent motion of the bodies in their own diegetic space, and the imprecise movement of the images superimposed in post-production.9

[Fig. 04] Libidante, 1972.
[Fig. 05] Libidante, 1972.

Guernon also made use of a second videographic process that was even more surprising and frankly unprecedented in her exploration of the staging of desire: video feedback. Artist and theorist Sam Meeche describes the technique this way:

A simple looped arrangement of video camera and display produced a fascinating mise-en-abyme of infinite real-time recursion - pictures within pictures. Careful manipulation of the camera allowed artists to gently push the video signal into abstraction, and coax a myriad of self-sustaining patterns.10

This myriad was skilfully used as a way of materializing the protagonists’ bodies’ sexual excitement.11 In 1972, video feedback was not a new technique. It has been observed since 1963.12The innovative aspect here is its use in the imaging of sexual excitement. Guernon succeeds in materializing the emanation of the body’s desire on the screen. She allows the bodies to overflow their ‘envelope’, to question the regulated contours of materialized bodies.13

[Fig. 06] Libidante, 1972.

This technical play with video feedback appears in several other scenes. In some, by inverting the feedback process, the videomaker creates a crescendo of waves around the bodies. This metaphor for the bodies’ excitement folds the space around the characters. In an almost quantum manoeuvre, the space-time withdraws in an accordion around the naked bodies that have become central. 

This experimentation is reminiscent of Fuses (1964-1967), an immense work by Carolee Schneemann. In this pornographic self-portrait, the artist attempts to imprint sexual desire onto film. Shot in 16mm format and featuring the artist and her partner at the time, James Tenney, Fuses, like Libidante, pushes the ontological boundaries of the medium to transpose diegetic sexual desire via the material qualities of film. Schneemann experiments with techniques such as collage, burning, and painting on film in order to grasp the medium’s sensual properties. Film historian David E. James sees a profilmic sexual energy in Fuses that goes beyond the frame to free itself as purely filmic.

This texturing of superimposition, of rhythmic disjunction and return, the scratching, painting, and dyeing, the fusing and refusing of represented flesh, is thus both correlative in its visceral energy to the sexual encounter it reproduces (its dalliance with memory) and itself the site of a textural eroticism in which the work (or play) on the body of film renews the congress, coming back to it (its encounter with desire).14

[Fig. 08] Libidante, 1972.
[Fig. 09] Fuses, 1964-1967.

Unlike in Libidante, the bodies of the couple in Fuses are brought together in the same diegetic space during sex scenes. On the other hand, in both works, significant correlations can be observed in the availability of the bodies on the screen during solo scenes.

Fuses and Libidante act like a diptych offering a corporeal reflexion on the physicality of their respective mediums.

[Fig. 10] Libidante, 1972.
[Fig. 11] Fuses, 1964-1967.
[Fig. 13] Fuses, 1964-1967.
[Fig. 12] Libidante, 1972.

To end, let us consider Libidante in the context in which it was made, by looking to other reflexions on the history of Vidéographe. From an historic perspective, Guernon’s work is marginalized in three respects. Firstly, through women’s place in audiovisual production in Quebec: 1972 is the year that saw the first feature-length work of fiction by a woman in Quebec - La vie rêvée by Mireille Dansereau.15

Secondly, through the video medium: in an interview, Robet Forget tells of a reticence on the part of the technical services at NFB to take the new portable video technology seriously in the early 1970s.16 And finally, through the staging of sexuality and nudity: at the time, the popular success of pornographic films on Quebec’s screens left little room for artistic experimentation intended to inspire prevailing reflections on the sexual revolution. In 1972, an erotic video made by a woman exploring the sensuality of the medium was unparalleled in Quebec. Libidante is a fascinating work that nourishes a somatechnic reconsidering of the links between technology, sexuality and the body.

  1. Bellour, Raymond, Le corps du cinéma. Hypnoses, émotions et animalité, Paris, P.O.L., coll. « Trafic », 2009
  2. .Ibid. p.16
  3.  inda Williams, « Film Bodies : Gender, Genre, and Excess », Film Quarterly, vol. 44, n° 4, été 1991, p. 2-13.
  4. Three genres are specifically referred to by the theorist as compensation for the ‘classic realist style of narrative cinema’: horror, melodrama and porn. These genres with ‘low cultural status’ are a privileged space to examine the forms of visual and narrative pleasure that is too often underestimated, indeed judged to be derisory popular sexual fantasies. Thirty years later, numerous studies have underlined the complexity and, above all, the great level of interest in these cinematographic genres. Entire courses are dedicated to horror, traditions of melodrama are celebrated by cinephiles and, since 2014, a scientific journal has been dedicated to pornography studies: Porn Studies, edited by Feona Attwood, John Mercer and Clarissa Smit, published by Routledge.

  5.  This study of Libidante was initiated as part of a presentation at MAGIS- Gorizia International Film Studies Spring School in 2017. An incubator for research projects in pornography, this event has welcomed researchers interested in the ‘cartography of pornographic audiovisual’ since 2011.
  6. The introductory page of the video states: ‘According to Mousse Guernon, this work is the first erotic animated video.’ https://vitheque.com/fr/oeuvres/libidante
  7.  A moment of suspense reminiscent of the staging of naked bodies in Wow (Claude Jutra, 1969). Here, by contrast, this moment is not secondary in the story: it signals the central theme of the film.
  8.  Foucault, Michel, « Des espaces autres », Empan, vol. 2, no 54, [1967] 2004, p. 13-14.
  9. In a fascinating production document, the videomaker puts her vision for the project to paper: ‘the two central characters are filmed separately, against a white background, in scenes in which they make love. In the editing process, they are brought together using ‘negative/positive’ and fading techniques that can be created with a portable mixing console. In this way, [the man] caresses… in one image, a woman reacts… in another image!’ This document is testament to the unparalleled creative space that was Vidéographe in 1972, just one year after its opening. Initially, this description was just a page long. We could even believe that it was the first and only version if we trust the scribbles and partial sentences. In a second phase, a jolly camaraderie can also be seen in the decision-making between Vidéographe and its artists. In the project summary Guernon quips: ‘A man and a woman (isn’t that erotic?)’. Available on Vithèque. https://vitheque.com/sites/default/files/titles/press-releases/description_de_projet_1972.pdf
  10.  Sam Meech, Video in the Abyss (2020), p. 2. I would like to thank Sam Meeche who, during my research, shared his insight into the technical experiments deployed by Mousse Guernon in Libidante. His eye allowed me to better understand the performative dimension of the making of this video. His thesis Video in the Abyss (2020) is an indispensable document for anyone interested in the artistic history of the use of video feedback.
  11. In 1973, journalist Denise Dionne proposed that in watching Libidante, we can perceive the video medium’s potential for representations of eroticism: ‘Some productions have played with the possibilities of the medium’s electronic visual effects. […] It is noted that a subject such as eroticism lends itself very well to this type of formal treatment (for example Libidante).’ Denise Dionne, ‘Vidéographe : culture nouvelle’, Vie des Arts, volume 18, number 72, 1973, p.71.
  12.  Meech traces one of the earliest uses of this technique to the BBC in the work of engineer Ben Palmer as well as in the opening credits of his program Doctor Who. See Video in the Abyss, op. cit., p. 18.
  13. The concept of heterosexist regulations on the materiality of the body is borrowed here from Judith Butler: ‘[T]he regulatory norms of “sex” work in a performative fashion to constitute the materiality of bodies and, more specifically, to materialize the body's sex, to materialize sexual difference in the service of the consolidation of the heterosexual imperative. In this sense, what constitutes the fixity of the body, its contours, its movements, will be fully material, but materiality will be rethought as the effect of power, as power's most productive effect.’ See Bodies that Matter, op. cit., p. 2.
  14.  James, David E., Allegories of Cinema: American Cinema in the Sixties, Princeton University Press, 1989, p. 320.
  15.  In an article published in ArtsCanada in 1973, Joe Bodolai and Isobel Harry relay their visit to Vidéographe. From the first lines, they highlight the dimension of individuality in the video medium which, unlike cinema or television, is made by individual artists or small teams. The journalists also noted a more democratic organization, with horizontal distribution between maker and viewer: ‘Vidéographe seems in great contrast with the elitism, professionalism and mystery of film and commercial television.’ (p. 66) Video is also the ideal medium for depicting a multitude of social relationships and personal moments. Lastly, the journalists underlined the place of women working at Vidéographe. ‘There are numerous videotapes made by women to be seen at Vidéographe. More than half the people operating equipment on set productions are women.’ (p. 70) This equality was far from being achieved at the National Film Board at the time
  16.  Une histoire du cinéma : Robert Forget (Denys Desjardins, 2014)