A Decade of Videomaking
Marc Paradis’ videographic works of the 1980s are among the most important of that decade to address themes of masculine homosexuality in Quebec and Canada. Paradis was driven by an interest in the individual1 and the individual experience detached from politics, having ended his political engagement2 to devote himself to video and to remove any obstacles to its accessibility.3 The work is characterized by a great sense of freedom and a will for independence. It is influenced as much by theatre and literature as by the visual arts and filmmaking. Today, his artistic work is not as well-known as it should be, outside of the fields of video and cinema. It was often limited to its own circle of supporters. At the time, gay cinema and film festivals4 were financially neglected by governmental institutions, and this had an adverse effect on the dissemination of his works during the 1980s and the early 1990s.
Paradis’ work has nevertheless withstood this period of precariousness and the lack of investment in culture. It has become pioneering in the treatment of the theme of masculine homosexuality. But what does it consist of? What are the themes that guide it? What do the images and soundtracks reveal? Masculine homosexuality has been explored by Quebecer videomakers and filmmakers Jean-Claude Lord (Deliver us from Evil, 1969), Mario Leparé, Alain Mongeau, Claude Robert (Rat Club, c. 1970), Michel Audy (Luc ou la part des choses, 1982, and Crever à 20 ans, 1984), Fernand Bélanger (Passiflora, 1985), and many other English Canadian videomakers such as John Greyson and Colin Campbell.5
This article gives an overview of Paradis’ works,6 including 13 videos that are accessible at Vidéographe. Most of these are short films whose duration range between seven and 28 minutes, with the exception of a medium-length film (Harems). They are at once both experimental and documentary. The following essay is made up of three parts: 1) a succinct overview of the works; 2) a formal analysis, including the main aesthetic characteristics and a reflection on the works’ themes; 3) a discussion of the videomaker’s prolific period, which will briefly address the context in which his audiovisual work was disseminated.
1) The works
Le voyage de l’ogre7 (1981) and La cage (1983) build a relationship with the theme of masculine homosexuality. In the former, this happens through the eyes of a murderer, John Wayne Gacy, via those of a young director and videomaker, Marc Paradis, who invites young men8 to share their stories and confide to (and be confined within) the camera. In La cage, a writer’s fantasies get in the way of his work. An erotic story of two young men unfolds and unexpectedly ends in an orgy scene. Scheme Video [Video Scheme] (1984) and Say Cheese for a Trans-Canadian Look (1985), co-created with Luc Bourdon, are linked by a similar subject. Video Scheme is about the Festival du nouveau cinéma and Cinéma Parallèle, in Montreal. Say Cheese follows three protagonists (Luc Bourdon, Marc Paradis and Simon B. Robert) as they travel across Canada to select Canadian video works for the 13th Festival international du nouveau cinéma et de la vidéo de Montréal. The videos, in which Paradis captured artistic performances, were conceived in such a way as to develop a rhythm and a language in line with the elements that were filmed, whether inert or animated. They present dance scenes (La stupéfiante Alex9, 1984), experimental dance-theatre (L’instruction10, 1984), and art actions in which dance plays a role in the movement of the actors’ bodies (Performance « Album » de Denis Lessard, 1986, and Performances de Yves Lalonde, 1987). They capture the important and impressive moments of these live art performances.
The triptych comprising L’incident « Jones » (1986); Délivre-nous du mal [Deliver us from Evil] (1987), and Lettre à un amant [Letter to a Lover] (1988) address the complex nature of human relationships. In L’incident « Jones », the characters search for an impossible romantic relationship after an impromptu encounter that connects Stephen (Jones), Benjamin (Baltimore) and Simon B. (Robert). The short video takes place on a Laurentian lakeside initially and then continues elliptically at an airport, following Simon’s departure. At the heart of Deliver us from Evil, explicit sexual scenes are ambiguously connected to the theme of love, which raises questions about sex and sexuality. A young man’s monologue expresses the difficulties and the pain associated with his romantic break-ups. In Letter to a Lover, the final video in the triptych, a text is recited by one of the young lovers. He announces the end of their union. However, the letter will never reach its intended recipient.
Portrait de John Mingolla centres around the visual arts and the artist John Mingolla in particular. We discover the expressionnisme sauvage (wild expressionism)11 of his works though panoramic and zoom lenses, against a very rich soundtrack. Réminiscences carnivores [Carnivorous Reminiscences] (1989) presents the incestuous memories of a narrator and his apprehension about a meeting with his brother. At the beginning of the video we see a young man anticipating this imagined encounter. Harems (1991) is the only video from the early 1990s. It is the second work, after Carnivorous Reminiscences, to be filmed abroad (partly in Jamaica12), and is undeniably dreamlike, even mythical, with the role of the gogo-boy played by Simon B. Robert.
Paradis makes furtive appearances in several of his videos: Le voyage de l’ogre, L’incident « Jones » and Harems. He appears in a work by Polish videomaker Jozef Robakowski entitled Joseph’s Touch [Effleurements] (1989), which looks like an homage to Paradis’ works and a celebration of their aesthetics. In Say Cheese for a Trans-Canadian Look (1985), he is seen alongside his friends, Luc Bourdon and Simon B. Robert. The same year, and in 1986, he was captured on camera in two short films by Gérard Courant, one being a portrait of the videomaker (Marc Paradis, 1985), and the other a group portrait (Nous irons tous avec Paradis, 1986). At the end of the 1990s, Luc Bourdon made Question de bande (1998), a portrait of 11 videomakers, among them Paradis, who revisits Le voyage de l’ogre. This would be one of his final appearances in front of the camera.13
Paradis’ videos are linked by common themes that we will consider below. They also share similar aesthetic characteristics. Chromakeying has been used in many works including La cage and Letter to a Lover. The saturating effect of the process has rendered certain shots highly abstracted. Paradis has superimposed images in many of his videos, such as Deliver us from Evil, Letter to a Lover and Carnivorous Reminiscences. In Carnivorous Reminiscences, the rhythm of the sequences is punctuated with dissolves that introduce the fantasy images of a personal and intimate past shared by two brothers, one of whom, the narrator, professes a fraternal love. Dissolves are used throughout the videomaker’s last two audiovisual creations; these also use a number of ellipses that punctuate their storylines.
In La cage, the young men are filmed individually: ‘The protagonists of the ‘orgy’ are as isolated as the fragmented portrait-shots that we are shown’.14 The metaphor of the cage, keeping each person a prisoner of his desires, is revealing of this fragmentation. Furthermore, the video seems connected to a ‘narrative impulse towards physical and structural pleasure. This impulse has contrapuntal components of sound and image that occasionally come together. It is fragmented, interrupted, and drifting, and its conclusion remains open and ambiguous, perhaps in the manner of Antonioni’.15 In Letter to a Lover, the sexual intensity of the shots can be seen in their formal treatment: naked bodies that caress each other, scenes of fellatio and multiple male orgasms. Throughout the second half of Le voyage de l’ogre, an invasive, even scrutinizing camera, a metaphor for the ogre’s eye, reveals scenes of masturbation.
Music is often used (vocal or experimental16); the compositions by Richard Angers in Letter to a Lover and Deliver us from Evil are an example. A relational tension is denoted through the narration sung by Yves Dionne and scripted by Paradis in L’incident « Jones ». This narration is notable for its ‘purism’17. The piano composition in Le voyage de l’ogre is a leitmotif that suggests the desire and fantasy of the encounter. A voice-over is frequently used for the narration and dialogues. In Deliver us from Evil, actor Simon B. Robert delivers the voice-over over images of naked young men, frozen like statues in a fine art exhibition. Sexuality is banalized: numerous scenes of masturbation and ejaculation using superimposed imagery follow one after the other. The appearance of Simon B. Robert, towards the final quarter of the video, endorses this banalizing of the orgasm: ‘A good line of coke is better! Or a packet of cigarettes…’. The murmurings in Carnivorous Reminiscences meld with Richard Angers’ sound mixing, the music chosen by Josette Bélanger, and Clemencia Aguirre’ sound work. The romantic rupture evoked in Letter to a Lover is reflected in the tone of the letter-reader’s voice,18 which is also that of the narrator.
These various techniques (chromakeying, superimpositions, dissolves) serve to portray a dreamlike world. The paroxysmal point of the dream culminates in Paradis’ final video: Harems. This film is spellbinding; it transports us to an idyllic world that contrasts with the nocturnal world of the dance club. The dichotomies of ‘day/night’ and ‘city/countryside’ that we see in Harems call to mind similar ones in his second19 video Le voyage de l’ogre (day/night, suburb/city). In this second tape: ‘The relationship to the city, the urban metropole, is of extreme importance, because the city is conceived as a complimentary character: it influences the different characters’ acts and, further, it is where the trap lies’.20 Moreover, Say Cheese for a Trans-Canadian Look, a work of self-representation, gives a certain perspective of different Canadian cities, including Montreal.
The relationship to water or fluid21 is also a recurring element in Paradis’ videographic work. Water becomes a metaphor for ‘the social status of homosexuality: the necessary fluidity’.22 The fluidity in Le voyage de l’ogre is represented by the Saint Lawrence River or by the urine thar runs from the young witness’s underwear. Then there is the Jamaican sea and the Saint Louis lake in Harems, the ejaculations in Deliver us from Evil, and the shower scene in Joseph’s Touch, where fine particles of water are dripping on the face of actor Simon B. Robert.
Human relationships, and particularly gay male relationships, are among the most prevalent themes in Paradis’ videographic work. Female figures are rarely foregrounded, except in the dance and dance-theatre performances (La stupéfiante Alex and L’instruction) and a dreamlike fiction in Harems. Similarly, members of so-called ‘racialized’ groups do not feature highly and do not play a key role. Generally speaking, we see masculine intimacy unveiled and exposed by actors and observers. Harems does this with a rather flamboyant and convoluted storyline. The context is a dichotomous love-possession and love-seduction relationship between a scriptwriter and a gogo-boy, invented and put to death by the former: ‘the myth commands death, because without death, there is no tragedy’23. The intervention of the narrator between the scriptwriter and the gogo-boy is inherent to their interaction.
Themes of childhood, memory and homosexuality are at the heart of Carnivorous Reminiscences. This video is set in an exotic country; against this backdrop, a meeting is supposed to take place with a brother whose presence is pure fantasy. There is a recurring motif of a barred window or a closed room: a metaphorical cage. The narrator’s memories evoke multiple sensations: the smell of skin, the sight of delicate feet, the texture of soap on the body… ‘This meditative essay, shot in Colombia (on a Vidéographe exchange program), continues Paradis’s perennial themes of love, rupture, and memory, showing various male social or erotic interactions, solo and duo, in exteriors and around windows and exotic courtyards.’ 24
The scenes are characteristic of a shared tenderness. The word volupté (sensual pleasure), articulated and desired by the narrator, describes the young men’s mutual and passionate pleasure before the definitive rupture of their past close relationship. The final scene describes the imagined and sublimated meeting by a fountain, where the protagonist who dreamed this touching reunion is abandoned by his brother. In superimposed images, a naked body succumbs to a masturbatory act: ‘There are nocturnal expectations of what love we don’t yet know’ the narrator concludes. This lyrical video comprises intertwining literary texts by Verlaine, Gide and Augustin Gomez-Arcoz and was largely inspired by Gomez-Arcoz’s novel, The Carnivorous Lamb (1975), in which the author considers themes of childhood in great depth.
In Joseph’s Touch, the images of a man’s hand brushing a screen through which the actor’s chest can be seen, are comparable to images in Carnivorous Reminiscences of the hand of a young man who touches a courtyard wall onto which the expected brother’s face slowly appears. In both works,25 this evocation of the ‘sensitive’ hand, perceived in this slow and delicate gesture, is intrinsically linked to memory.
Paradis’ shots are magnificent. They are tinged with symbolism, eroticism and metaphor. They are rich in texture and sound, with an overlapping use of different techniques (chromakeying, superimposition of images, etc) that bring to mind the visual arts. There is an element of play in his work: in L’ogre, the witnesses indulge in a fictitious game of seduction-confession, in La cage the lovers engage in a playful exchange26 about sexuality, in L’incident « Jones », the triad of young men have a complex and seductive relational dynamic, and in Harems, there is an amorous, even alarming, game being played between the gogo-boy and the scriptwriter. Homo ludens is at the heart of the interpersonal dynamics between the young actors and is perceivable through their bold performances.
In this final part, I will consider Paradis’ prolific period in light of the context of the dissemination of his audiovisual works. First, we should mention a cultural column in the journal Le Berdache, entitled ‘L’enclave des damnés’ [Enclave of the damned]. The author of this column, Robert De Grosbois, discusses ‘the evident nudity’ of the actors, in a theatrical production directed by Paradis. It was adapted and translated from a play by John Herbert, entitled Fortune and Men’s Eyes.27 This nudity is present in the ensemble of his videos and, like the scenes of sexual activity, has been part of his artistic work since his earliest screenwriting and directing projects. The reactions to these liberties have often been exaggerated, as several of Paradis’ videos have been the victim of a form of censorship28 by the system,29 represented by the museum institutions of the time, such as the National Gallery of Canada30 and the Musée du Québec31. Despite these obstacles to their dissemination, they have progressed through time and have survived ‘their era’. The videomaker underlines the importance of freedom of creation in Question de bande (1998)32:
‘We are talking about respect for editorial content in this privileged and essential space. You don’t have to constrain yourself and bow down to a producer or a distributor who is governed by the standards or a code of ethics of dissemination or anything. I think that, looking back, what is interesting is that mine is a very documentary work that probably represents a snapshot of the life of young gay men in the early 1980s in a very detailed, precise way, which, in the traces that remain, in the bank that is here, is probably of interest to the people who are going to be able to watch this later, even today […]’33.
Paradis’ audiovisual works were screened at several Canadian film festivals34, in galleries and art museums in Quebec and Canada35 and in several international festivals of film and video.36 They have been shown in a number of Canadian cities: Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Gatineau, where a ‘Canadian retrospective series’ was organized that included several videos by the artist (Le voyage de l’ogre, La cage, L’incident « Jones », Letter to a Lover) in September 1999.37 At the initiative of the Association pour les droits de la communauté gaie, a program was created and presented at the Cinémathèque québécoise in June 1982 by Thomas Waugh and different collaborators. It was a mixed program (made up of gay and lesbian videos) that included early works by Paradis.38
It is important to recall that the videographic work of Marc Paradis was among the first to address the issue of homosexuality in the 1980s head-on. It is a sensitive body of work, uncategorizable, that was internationally recognized and appreciated. Given this enviable reputation, the videomaker should, without doubt, have enjoyed the recognition of his peers and cultural institutions at a more local level. This article therefore pays homage to a non-conformist videomaker and a lover of video, of cinema, of the visual arts, and of men.
‘What interests me is an in-depth exploration of the individual’. See « Marc Paradis : en vidéo, il peut y avoir une exploitation du sexe… » [Interview with Marc Paradis]. RG Rencontres Gaies, no 38 (1985): 23.
‘I was very politically engaged during the rise of the PQ. Leaflets, anarchy, arrests, etc. » Ibid.
In the past, this was the case for the International festival of gay and lesbian cinema, Image et Nation. See « Censure au musée du Québec » [Collective letter by the Conseil d’administration de diffusions gaies et lesbiennes du Québec]. RG Rencontres Gaies, no 107 (1991): 13. See also: « Festival de cinéma gai : une excellente programmation! » Fugues, vol. 8, no 8 (1991): 66.
Waugh, Thomas. « Les formes du discours [homo et hétéro-] sexuel dans la nouvelle vidéo masculine.» Communication. Information Médias Théories, no 9 (summer 1987): 46.
Marc Paradis’ works are part of the collection of the Cinémathèque québécoise.
The second title of the screenplay for this video is La nuit fluide, considered for the production of a feature-length film.
The search for young actors for the screen-test for Le voyage de l’ogre / The Path of the Ogre appeared in Le Berdache, specifically in the ‘Classified section’ in no. 20, May 1981, 9.
This video is also entitled Ginette Laurin, danseuse.
A recording of a play by Peter Weiss.
An inscription in a painting by John Mingolla is revealed in front of the camera.
Part of this was also shot in Montreal and in the metropolitan area.
He appeared in a film by Laurent Gagliardi, entitled Quand l’amour est gai (NFB, 1994).
Waugh, Thomas. « Les formes du discours [homo et hétéro-] sexuel dans la nouvelle vidéo masculine », op. cit., 54.
‘If we established a grammar relative to contemporary art, it is very likely that electroacoustic would be the most akin to experimental video.’ See Montal, Fabrice. « L’électron frénétique : Petit survol historique de la vidéo expérimentale au Québec (1971-2011) », in XPQ : Traversée du cinéma expérimental québécois, Montréal, Cinémathèque québécoise and Les Éditions Somme Toute, 2020, p.195.
Waugh, Thomas, « Les formes du discours [homo et hétéro-] sexuel dans la nouvelle vidéo masculine », op. cit., 58.
The reader’s voice is that of François Lamotte.
Or his third video? There is believed to be a first work produced at UQAM in the early 1980s, when Paradis was studying theatre, called Strip-tease.
A passage taken from the screenplay for La nuit fluide/Le voyage de l’ogre which was written for the production of a feature-length film, but which was never realized.
This Bachelardian theme originated in the feature-length project La nuit fluide.
Part of a line taken from La nuit fluide/Le voyage de l’ogre.
Extract taken from the dialogue at the end of Harems.
Waugh, Thomas, ‘Sex, Money, and Sobriety’, in The Romance of Transgression in Canada. Queering Sexualities, Nations, Cinemas, Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2006, p.237.
They were made in the same year (1989).
Sparked off by a meeting of the ‘Tuesday Group’ led by Marc Paradis, at the beginning of the 1980s.
Fortune and Men’s Eyes by John Herbert-Brundage; translation by R. Dionne; directed by Marc Paradis ; electric keyboard: Jean-François Garsi; music by Gabriel Beauregard; with Gabriel Beauregard, Éric Duchesne, Marc Paradis and Jacques L.G. Tremblay; Les productions Vermines at Café Nelligan (previously situated on Dorchester St). See De Grosbois, Robert, « L’enclave des damnés » [Section Théâtre], Le Berdache, no 18, mars 1981, 60-61.
Waugh, Thomas. « Les formes du discours [homo et hétéro-] sexuel dans la nouvelle vidéo masculine », op. cit., 47-48.
‘Censured? Yes, in fact, I was censured by a system that censured itself. I was censured by a media that responds to a series of social taboos, but it is accepted, straightaway, in the rules of the game. You don’t have a choice. Within the structures in which I work, as an artist, I was subject to repression, and I still am. But, at the end of the day, I don’t care.’ See Carrière, Daniel, « Marc Paradis » [Interview], ETC, no 12, Autumn 1990, 25.
Consult the text by Luc Bourdon in our publication on Marc Paradis, specifically the part entitled ‘An archipelago of desires and censures’.
See « Censure au musée du Québec » [Collective letter from Conseil d’administration de diffusions gaies et lesbiennes du Québec]. RG Rencontres Gaies, no 107, 1991, 13; Carrière, Daniel. « Aux frontières de la censure. Le vidéaste Marc Paradis retire ses œuvres du Musée du Québec », Le Devoir, Wednesday 12 June 1991, B-3; and, Delagrave, Marie, « Un archipel de désirs : [les artistes québécois et la scène internationale]. » Vie des Arts, no 36 (Winter 1991-1992): 68-70.
A Vidéographe documentary by Luc Bourdon and Francis Laporte. This was a portrait of 10 videomakers who consider issues around video.
Marc Paradis appears in the video between 18 min 26 s and 20 min 58 s.
International festival of gay and lesbian cinema in Montreal. Many titles were listed in programmes by Image et Nation: Harems (Nov. 1991), Réminiscences carnivores (Nov. 1989) and L'incident « Jones » (Sept.-Oct. 1998).
National Gallery of Canada and the Musée du Québec (Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec).
Among others, the International Gay Festival of Super 8 Films, 19-21 October 1984 (Brussels) and the San Francisco Experimental Film and Video Festival (1986).
« Vue panoramique. Toute la programmation. » Être en Outaouais, vol. 4, no 8 (september 1999): p.M12
Waugh, Thomas. « Sex, Money, and Sobriety », in The Romance of Transgression in Canada. Queering Sexualities, Nations, Cinemas, op. cit., pp.474-475.