JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Fix yer tie.
Page 2

In this Ekphrastic remake of Mon Oncle Antoine, they are going from town to town, collecting the eclipsed street signs in their empty coffin. The task is funereal, the mood somber.

They meditate on the boys of Wow, Jutra’s hybrid and somewhat awkward symphonic cinepoem. This naked teen runs through the streets of Montreal. Back in 1966, he was searching cheerfully for reaction; now he searches vainly for the name of Jutra on a sign. He has fixed his outrageous silver tie.

But now, in the aftermath of the scandal, Wow’s jogger (like Dreamspeaker's skinnydippers and Devils skateboarders), has been jekyll’n’hyded by this moral eclipse. Before: we could see through their sweaty brows and young buttocks to narrative themes of social unrest, even if the execution was un peu clunky and the insights de trop banal. Bien sur, these lads were objects – that’s what a camera does best— but also, against the odds, agents. Now, when we watch post-scandal, we can only see Jutra himself, leering at them through his Zeiss lenses – a reverse telescopic interpolation of a one-dimensional pépé pédo.

Wow concludes with an unforgettable scene, and one which on the surface would seem to confirm not just Jutra's self-proclaimed enchantment with childhood, but every witch hunter's worst nightmare.  Over the course of five minutes and some melancholic Satie noodling, an eight-year-old boy in underwear frolics on the floor with a sleepy porcupine. It's a scene that exists in extreme isolation, with no voice-over and no attempt to explain or justify how it relates to the other set pieces of Wow (the joggers, the weed-smokers).

Post-scandal, this scene seems tailor-made to serve as bait or fodder for a latter-day Anita 'Save the Children' Bryant moral panic, and with the public debate reaching an hysterical pitch, we're told we must embrace the binary and choose sides: Pépé Pédo or Saint Claude of the Butterflies. Yet the poignant enigma of this porky encounter between boy and beast, flesh and quills, seems for me, against the odds, to slyly and quietly evade the relentless shadow of the eclipse. But am I being naive, idealistic? For today’s knowing eyes, can a boy and porcupine, together, see a butterfly for the first time?

Benoit and Fernand continue to bicker in the blizzard, making their way from town to town. They speak about the logic of a witch hunt, which by necessity must traffic in binaries of wolf and lamb, abuser and abused, Hook and Pan. Queer activists in Quebec and Ontario over many decades have become adept at unpacking and contesting the agendas of such scandals, from Emanuel Jacques and the Body Politic “Men Loving Boys Loving Men” trials of the 80s, to London Ontario’s 1995 kiddie porn scandal and the recent Rev. Brent Hawkes acquittal for gross indecency.

 


Equally, feminists have acquired much expertise fighting back against apologists who claim get-out-of-jail-free cards for persecuted artistes-on-pedestals such as Woody and Roman. We’ve learned essential lessons, enshrined in a commitment to messy nuance: (1) insist on naming the continuums, the contradictions and the performances of desire, consent, agency; (2) expose the investments and agendas (cops, social workers, the media) who predictably exploit witch hunts for gain; (3) following Aries, Foucault, and Sedgwick, deconstruct the fixed categoric binaries of adult and child, refusing pedastals for either.
Here’s Jutra as seductive clown in one of his best-known outings, A Chairy Tale (1957) where the stop-motion games of he and fellow-queer co-conspirator Norman MacLaren disregard any need for euphemism. Indeed, when I remade Chairy as one of my shot-for-shot safer sex shorts in 1989, I found their clothed version somehow more explicit than my naked one.

In Opening Speech (1961), McLaren's even more suggestive sequel, he struggles with an outrageously tumescent microphone during an awards ceremony. This prescient short seems to anticipate Jutra’s 1972 refusal of the Order of Canada (he was a principled Quebec separatist) and the post-scandal stripping of his name from both the Canadian Screen Best First Feature Award, and the annual Prix Jutra. Our complacent Canadian film establishment may be all too happy to maple-wash his separatism, yet it seems we still must eclipse the polymorphishness of his images. Equally, his defenders fall into the trap of seeking to restore Saint Claude’s halo, yet surely he should be interesting to us because he was such a messy, uneven, warty artist.

Their coffin is overflowing, and there are still more towns to visit. Benoit and Fernand are cranky, saying “I can’t see, I don’t know”. With each sign, another of the available, complex Jutras disappears from view. Jutra the perpetual child.  Jutra whose own struggles with depression and suicide he described freely. Jutra whose extraordinary childhood was filled with happiness. Jutra who lived and breathed his unflinching engagement with the varied erotic hues that colour our worlds, intergenerational and otherwise. Jutra, whose complexities were lurking like a porcupine in plain sight.

If I was to write a Ekphrastic poem about a work of Jutra’s art, I would choose this boy and this porcupine, and their enigmatic pas de deux on the black and white floorboards of a summer afternoon, with all the cicadas and tides and tumbling shadows that repudiate fixed meanings, that drench and retrench, surge in and wash out. I’d attempt to Ekphrasticize the smugness of a society still seemingly hooked on moral panics and culture wars, still jacked up on the alibis of absolutes. A society that marauds, that stacks up a pyre of names in an effort to burn down babel, even as we perform our utter inability to ekphrast actual lived intergenerational sexualities, young or old. The butterfly is missing and the porcupine weeps. Unfix your tie.


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