My Friend, Paradis
It was while watching a report about a class action against an institution that he had attended, to do with a case of historic assaults against children, that everything rose to the surface and a series of horrors began to emerge, that evening, from the depths of his memory.
This marked the end of a long black-out that his brain had induced as a survival mechanism. He had been one of the victims. He joined the group of plaintiffs. They went on to win their case and justice was served.
This event took place over recent years and it troubles me.
I retraced my steps to John Wayne Gacy, to Marc, to le Paradis… Words, gestures, and questions came back to me from every direction. The bad patches too.
In my archives, I found the logbook that I had written and compiled in large part with Marc’s help in the early 1980s for the production of the Le voyage de l’ogre screen test. 100 pages of text, photos, reflections and notes; the day-to-day details of the development of a short film, a feature, and numerous other ideas.
I watched Le voyage de l’ogre, which I hadn’t seen since the early 1990s. What I mainly remembered was the filming of scandalous images that were deemed pornographic at the time.
I found myself faced with an amorous gaze – Marc’s – upon some young men who had come to experience the adventure of filmmaking with him. It was a meticulous and respectful gaze that dared to expose the men’s sex close up.
Marc knew how to frame and direct scenes, how to guide a team with an aesthetic that was all his own. We can see all of this in his videographic art. We see his music, his canvases, his apartments, and his sensibility. The frame is framed…
We also see men who, for the most part, were not actors but lived out their intimate lives before our eyes.
When I re-watched all of this, I couldn’t help but think of the incredible revolution of values and genres that has since taken place. Could Marc’s legacy be that he forced open the closet doors in order to legitimately free a homosexual discourse on its own terms?
There were failed attempts and numerous tantrums, there was jealousy, bad-mouthing, competition, manipulation, and offensive words and gestures on both sides, and there was love and respect as well… At the end of the day, it was all worth it.
OUR FIRST MEETING
I first met Marc Paradis in 1974 when I was working at the Cinéma Élysée. I was 16 years old, he was 19. Marc had just been hired as an usher and, it has to be said, he was not loved by all of the employees at this institution, which has now disappeared from Milton Street. He was openly gay at a time when this was still seen and perceived by the majority of people as an affliction or an illness.
Our friendship was quickly built around a mutual passion for the theatre.
He had me watch a play that I would never have discovered without his help. I remember being backstage at the famous night club U-du-Q, behind the Gesù amphitheatre, watching a performance free of charge of Wouf Wouf by Yves Sauvageau, a truly remarkable happening that has its place in the history of Quebec theatre.
Marc went on to study at the National Theatre School of Canada. There, he waged an open war with the director of the production design department, the celebrated François Barbeau, but this did not prevent him from becoming a ‘set designer’ of houses, for the rest of his life.
His originality, sharp mind and intelligence were immediately apparent to all who met him and bothered a lot of people. He didn’t hold back with those who didn’t like him. He had a big mouth, he was outrageous and, when he felt disparaged, he laid it on even more thickly to get a reaction.
Back in the day, we would say he was fantasque (bizarre, outrageous, unpredictable).
Marc was a hard-headed, stubborn being who never let things drop and would confront anyone that crossed his path. He could argue for hours, days, even weeks about the same subject. You could say he was tenacious and, what was more, he had the memory of an elephant.
The icing on the cake was that he had an aversion to any sort of authority and identified as an anarchist, which was appreciated by those who strayed from the beaten path or who didn’t care about appearances.
Marc always surrounded himself with such people, often young artists who lived on the margins of society, searching for an ideal, a mission, a group, or simply a friendship.
THE JOURNEY TO GACY
'How can a person such as John Wayne Gacy exist here and now? In his own way, he represents our society in what Bataille calls his lower regions.'
Extract from voice over, Le voyage de l’ogre (1981)
Marc met the French filmmaker Jean-François Garsi at the Festival de cinéma gai de Montréal in 1980 at a screening of his short film Milan Bleu. They immediately hit it off. They discovered a shared fascination for the American serial killer John Wayne Gacy and decided to collaborate.
Garsi invited Marc to France to assist in the making of his next film, La chambre blanche, which they shot together in the spring of 1981.
In the summer, on his return to Montreal, Marc organized and shot Le voyage de l’ogre, which he co-edited with Garsi.
In the interview conducted by Gilles Castonguay for the magazine Le Berdache (no. 28, March 1982), Marc explained the initial idea for Le voyage de l’ogre:
First and foremost, it’s a screen test. As it was made, it became a work of fiction in its own right, independent of what a screen test might usually be, namely the simple and ordinary representation of different actors that you select for a role in a film. Le voyage de l’ogre is a screen test for a feature-length film that is in the process of being made; we are still in pre-production, not even the production stage of the feature. For our screen test, we have gathered, we have selected five people for five roles, having received 35 applications. And then with these actors, we tried to structure the screen test in its usual form: with each person giving their name, age, what they do, where they come from; the second part is an interview about different issues related to the making of the film, but where they respond directly to precise questions without any prior discussion. In the third part, we show the evolution of a character in an onanistic relationship, since the film we are making demands scenes of complete nudity, in action. As we are making a film about John Wayne Gacy, the murderer from Des Plaines, Ohio, and as we are asking a lot of questions about him, it is clear that this character occupies our minds a lot, Jean-François Garsi and me, since we are working together.
It was quite fascinating to me to identify myself with Gacy in the video (Le voyage de l’ogre). In what form? In the form of a director who hunts down an actor who is going to become the fictitious victim of a real Gacy, fictitious in a film. The actors were more or less aware of this game. They knew that they were going to act in a film about Gacy, that they were going to be victims, they knew my resemblance, the amount of thought that I had given to Gacy. During the video, a form of basic listening developed vis-à-vis the eight young people, some of whom were my age, at a certain point, they became, not really victims, but almost…
Some major themes emerged, thanks also to input from the actors, that is to say prostitution, love, fear, obviously homosexuality, the whole film is just a step in my thinking about homosexuality, a very personal, individual reflection; I used different creative tools, theatre, visual art, cinema, gradually, as new data came out of my thinking.
As the Gacy project simmered between Jean-François and me, we structured all of our work on Gacy to make Polaroïd Killer, in its first iteration, which is a short 20-minute fiction film, retracing five different murders carried out by Gacy, just the five murders, without taking a side for or against the murderer or for or against the victims. In an attempt to analyse the process that made Gacy a murderer.
Gacy killed his victim, he took him and added him to the ensemble of the ‘Great Victim’, so that each of the young victims came to reinforce the Great Victim. Like a process of mumification, he buried them in the cellar in lime.
He went to prison for sodomy with an 18-year-old. He was condemned to 10 years, he was a model prisoner, was released after 18 months, moved to a new city, remarried, told his second wife of his bisexuality and she left him as she could no longer be around him. Some of Gacy’s victims got out alive…
It was 10 years before the release, in 1991, of the famous American film The Silence of the Lambs, which, in a manner of speaking, popularized the genre. Faced with this work inspired by the life of a serial killer, Quebecers did not yet seem able to approach such a subject. It was the early 1980s, but Marc’s ideas were shocking to the video and filmmaking milieu when he talked about his projects based around a serial killer.
As evidence of this, all of his funding applications were rejected, not always elegantly, by our institutions, while in France, Garsi succeeded in obtaining 100,000 francs to collaborate on Polaroïd Killer with Marc.
To be able to count on a contribution from France of 100,000 francs, the equivalent of CAD $50,000 at the time, to make a short film was a rare occurrence, and would be even today. Unfortunately, the Canada Council for the Arts, the SOGIQ and the Ministère des affaires culturelles du Québec didn’t want to help Marc with this project.
I also remember the premiere of Le voyage de l'ogre in Daniel Dion’s loft in the Cooper Building. It was shown along with L’homme de Pékin, a video by Dion and Philippe Poloni dedicated to the composer Claude Vivier. This was a true clash of styles, as the videos presented two very different aesthetics (performance vs documentary). Obviously, no one could have predicted that they would both become significant works in Quebec’s short history of video art.
The undisputed star of the evening was Vivier, who monopolized the group’s attention with his extroverted personality, in the space in which Dion, Sue Schnee and a number of other contemporary artists co-founded Galerie Oboro.
When Vivier was murdered in Paris in March 1983, Marc said that Quebec’s avant-garde had been killed along with him. An important figure in the artistic community (a true connoisseur of music and cinema) had left us. Despite his tragic passing, his distinctive laugh, which had resonated everywhere he went, stayed with us for a long time to come (I can still hear it very clearly).
The idea of Le voyage de l’ogre was to reveal the mechanisms and construction of the torturer’s fantasy world. The troubling reality that Marc and Garsi discovered during their serious and exhaustive research, was that Gacy was an upstanding suburban citizen. An everyday guy who played the clown for children on Sundays. An entrepreneur in the construction industry respected by the mayor and polite society.
THE TUESDAY GROUP
Following the production of the video Le voyage de l’ogre, Marc brought together a group of people who had worked on the film and organised regular meetings to discuss homosexuality. He named them Le Groupe du mardi [Tuesday Group], in reference to the day the meetings were held.
Led by Marc, the Tuesday Group shared their personal experiences with the aim of writing a play that would reflect their collective lived reality as gay men. These long discussions led to the structuring and development of a play. The group wrote the Tuesday Group Manifesto, which was published in the magazine Trafic (2 March 1982).
The basic argument of this text was the following: 'the role of the homosexual is to reinvest humanity in its coitus, that is to say to raise awareness among men and women through the fight against patriarchal fascism.'
La cage, which Marc made in 1983, also grew out of the Tuesday Group. It was his first video to espouse the codes and techniques of video art. A collage of texts gathered from actors and the intimate diary of Bruno Duclo (an anagramme that my poet friend Luc Caron concocted for me). A creative work allowing the viewer to see and hear the romantic discourse of men who were gay, and proud.
ENCOUNTERING A NEW TYPE OF CINEMA
In 1981, the short film La chambre blanche, shot in France and directed by Garsi, with Marc as assistant director, was selected for the Festival international du nouveau cinéma de Montréal. Le voyage de l'ogre was also included in the ‘Présence Vidéo’ section, which marked the first presentation of video art in a film festival in Canada.
That same year, Marc became the first Director of Hospitality at the festival. This role, entirely invented by Marc himself, allowed him an opportunity to have direct contact with the masters of an arthouse cinema that, today, no longer really exists.
Marguerite Duras, among others, made friends with this Marco de Montréal, whom she adored. Marc had a natural affinity with women, and many of those he met were intellectuals and artists who loved his company, his free spirit and his repartee. He and Duras complemented each other wonderfully. Marc graciously accommodated all of the writer’s whims and demands on her first trip to Quebec, during which she was accompanied by her lover Yann Andréa and her son Jean Mascolo.
Such encounters at the Nouveau Cinéma continued for four years and brought with them the discovery of many avant-garde works and personalities.
Marc knew Montreal’s best restaurants and night life. He welcomed guests who, in his capable hands, received a grand tour of Montreal nightlife at a time when AIDS had not yet hit a dynamic and exploding gay community. Marc delighted the vast majority of his guests, who were happy to discover a city that didn’t sleep, the village and its scenes.
Marc’s friendship with Jean Tourangeau began in the capital, at a time when the art critic was very active in Quebec City’s contemporary art scene. At the beginning of the 1980s, the two friends met up in Montreal, where Tourangeau became Director at PRIM Vidéo while continuing to work as an art critic and curator.
Tourangeau advised, guided and disseminated Marc’s first works in a circuit that was as yet unknown to him, belonging as he did to a nascent video community that was emerging from one ocean to the other. Tourangeau became a mentor of sorts to Marc, introducing him to this world, writing about his works and selecting them for exhibitions that defined this new art form.
The creative freedom of the video medium, which defied traditional models of filmmaking, opened up a world of possibility to a new generation of artists such as Marc.
Over time, from one ocean to the other, artist-run centres, galleries, festivals and centres offering access to video became privileged sites to see and hear, among other things, openly gay and lesbian video production using video technology as a means of expression.
Marc benefitted from this non-traditional circuit and was able to exhibit his main videographic work produced in the 1980s, which, despite the opening of minds, always brought with it a good amount of risk due to the negative reactions that it generated.
One of the things the video community had to fight for was inclusion in contemporary art exhibitions in Canadian museums. The new art form had made its way into the great European and American museums, but Canada did not seem set to follow the trend.
The same was true of television. American and European artists had studios that dared to welcome a new generation that played and experimented with image and sound. Here, video artists had access to community television and were now meeting artisans of the small screen who did not want to broadcast them. Canadian contemporary art was changing but television and museum institutions were too risk averse.
AN ARCHIPELAGO OF DESIRES
On 21 May 1988, the new building of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa opened its doors, finally offering a selection of video works to audiences, which included, among others, Deliver us from Evil [Délivre-nous du mal], which Marc had made that year.
Shortly after its opening, visitors to the new museum began to complain about the inclusion of videos deemed to be indecent, made by artists Richard Fung of Toronto, Joe Sarahan of Vancouver and, no surprise, Marc Paradis. The affair garnered a lot of attention and the video community mobilized. The museum held consultations, equivocated, and ended up supporting the contested videomakers’ practice following a public consultation.
A similar thing happened in 1991, with the inauguration of another new building, this time, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, who decided to mark the occasion with a contemporary art exhibition, Un archipel de désirs : les artistes québécois et la scène internationale [An archelipago of desires: Quebecer artists and the international scene]. This exhibition included a number of video works, including three works by Marc.
Shortly before the inauguration, Louise Déry, the curator of the exhibition, took the precaution of inviting Marc to meet with the influential Board members of the museum. Déry had done her homework and prepared an exhaustive file intended to defend Marc’s work. He had come back from Quebec City with assurances that all three of his videos (Deliver us from Evil, Letter to a Lover [Letter à un amant] and L'incident « Jones ») would be shown.
But – surprise – shortly after the opening reception of the exhibition on 22 May, the date of the first screening of Marc’s works, only L’incident « Jones » was shown. Claiming it was due to administrative problems, the directors said that all would be in order within a few weeks. The exhibition had simply opened before it was ready, as certain curatorial tasks had not been completed in time.
And yet, Marc’s two videos were the only ones put on hold for this reason. They were also the only two works containing scenes of nudity.
The video community did not wait to react. Vidéographe, la Galerie Obscura, Le Lieu [Centre en art actuel], Galerie René Blouin and the Regroupement des centres d’artistes autogérés du Québec (RCAAQ) sent communications to the museum, denouncing this act of censorship.
Marc demanded his works be removed from the exhibition while the public debate between the museum and the artists continued (notably via print media).
At the end of June 1991, in solidarity with Marc, Robert Morin, Lorraine Dufour, Daniel Dion, François Girard, Jeanne Crépeau and I demanded the removal of our works from the exhibition.
'Censorship is inherent to this type of institution. It is to be expected. But when we censor something, we must be coherent and take responsibility for it. Where is the real respect here?'2
These words of Marc’s, reported by the journalist Daniel Carrière in the newspaper Le Devoir, express his fundamental feelings; despite the solidarity expressed by his peers, he was hurt by the turn of events.
Injured and often criticized, Marc wasn’t impervious to the perpetual questionings that surrounded the dissemination of his works. Tired of the perpetual attacks on them, Marc retrieved his works from Vidéographe in the early 2000s. He surrendered and put his video art production to one side.
THE HIDDEN SIDE OF PARADIS
To understand Marc Paradis’ oeuvre, you need to look at the catalogue of projects that he masterfully led. This will allow you to understand the extent of his accomplishments over the years and the influence that he has had on our lives.
From 1976 to 1979, Marc played an important role, with the help of his partner Éric Duchesne, in the resurrection of the Saint-Jean Baptiste quarter in Quebec City, when they founded the café-theatre Le Hobbit. This site for theatrical creation was central to the regeneration of an area that had to fight for survival at a time when it was under threat of demolition. With this restored building, he instituted a hub that helped to restore the street to the shopping destination it had once been. He fought to present theatrical works including the first plays of Marie Tifo, Léo Munger and Germain Houde.
Returning to Montreal in 1980, he undertook the Herculean task of transforming a rundown spot into a stylish studio on Amherst Street (the name dating from a bygone era) where he rehearsed John Herbert’s Fortune and Men’s Eyes with a troupe that he had formed. They performed the piece at the café-theatre Nelligan in Montreal in the autumn of 1980.
His creative laboratories were his apartments on Drolet St, Sherbrooke St, Rachel St, St Laurence Boulevard and Mount Royal Avenue. They were unique places, sumptuously furnished, equipped with state-of-the-art sound systems, and decorated with canvases by Riopelle, Ferron and young contemporary painters. Luxury, colors, accessories and works married with the places he occupied with his lovers. These places were inhabited at all hours of day and night with a bevy of people sharing ideas, projects, time and joints with Marc.
As the 1980s came to an end, Marc helped his sister Pascale to set up a fashion boutique on St Denis Street, at a time when this commercial road was lively and bustling. We owe the renovation of Café Méliès and of Vidéographe to him, both of which were in need of a lick of paint and a touch of his inspiration.
In the 1990s, despite several administrative issues, the façade of his renovated apartment building on Mount Royal Avenue became the model used by civil servants at the City of Montreal for the drawing up of the master plan for the avenue.
Marc’s obvious flair and taste for renovation wasn’t limited to modest projects but extended to those that involved the moving of mountains. In the early 1990s, he met the rich and famous Guy Laliberté of Cirque du Soleil. This was the beginning of an adventure that would take over Marc’s life for the next two decades.
Notably, Marc would manage the colossal renovation project of Laliberté’s principal residence on Mont St-Bruno. This construction project would last for several years. To carry out this challenging work, he again brought together a team of young workers, often dropouts, that he affectionately called les pic-pics, a reference to the sound of their work and a French play on words relating to their social status.
Marc stayed permanently on site and supervised everything from the first pouring of concrete to the buying of furniture, works of art and everyday objects.
A turnkey operation delivered by the video artist who was now recognized as an expert in interior decor, construction and the renovation of villas in the Bahamas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and other amazing places around the world.
From the beginning of the 21st century, as our lives took different paths, our relationship slowly became episodic and, after a time, I lost track of his story. We never discussed it.
When I heard of his passing, it was like a bomb had exploded in my brain. The days following the announcement of his death were blighted by a growing sadness as I passed by streets, houses and places that had played a significant role in his life, in our lives. I found my memory playing tricks on me as I remembered only vague fragments of these rich and intensely lived decades.
How can I recover the numerous meals shared with, and thanks to, Marc? How can I recall our fabulous travels throughout Canada and in California, the Bahamas, and Europe? How can I describe his family, his father, his mother, his brothers and sister, and his nieces whom I know and who were the privileged witnesses of his highs as well as his lows? How can I write about a person whose existence remains indescribable, even unknown, in many respects? How can I talk about his intimate life and his loves when I know nothing about them? How has chance, fate or destiny allowed you and Jean Tourangeau to leave us in the same week? So many questions have been left unanswered.
His words spoken in the last moments of Le voyage de l'ogre remain, which, since they were recorded on camera in the summer of 1981, have always made me wonder:
Why John Gacy?
Why a subject like that?Because in a life of extreme limits, such as he lived, the range of fantasies is immense. You can add yours at your leisure. It’s the only thing that matters in life.
If he hadn’t been there?
Why ask if?
The connection between the real and the imaginary, is an ‘if’.
FAREWELL MY FRIEND
Returning from the gathering organized in his memory by his niece Catherine in September 2019, I wrote and published this word:
In a southern setting on Ontario Street, the Abreuvoir today, we met to pay tribute to you, to remember you, to exchange stories, to understand and piece (back) together certain fragments that had been lost and were found again.
Our lives are novels.
And your final chapter reveals the origin of your whole life.
And everything is obvious, everything becomes so clear, so tragic and painful.
What is there to say? What more is there to say? Do we let you leave with your secret or talk about the torturer, the victims, the ogre’s journey and his cage of words?
You did it profusely. We remained blind. Deaf and mute too.
An instinct for things, a head in art, a disturbing sex, such extraordinary desires and ideas… White. Black. Little or no gray. Marguerite fell in love with you, no surprise there. A simple understanding between survivors, addicts, tormented souls.
And the idea of rereading the beginning of the story…
Rediscovering the loud echoes of your mind Paradis.
So that your song, your life cuts across our minds.
Eat and dive into the night.
Invite grace and her friends.
Dream a thousand and one illusions, a thousand and one fictions, a thousand and one houses…
RIP my friend
- Castonguay, Gilles. « Marc Paradis : le voyage vers Gacy. » Le Berdache 28, (mars 1982) : 18-19.
- Carrière, Daniel. « Six vidéastes retirent leurs oeuvres du Musée du Québec. » Le Devoir, samedi 29 juin 1991, A4.