"Fix yer tie."
An ekphrastic reply to Jutra's ekleipsis

A visual poem by John Greyson

  • Ekphrasty is the creation of poems based on works on art.
  • Ekleipsis is Greek for both disappearance and eclipse.

In Jutra's masterpiece Mon Oncle Antoine, the first words 15-year-old smart-aleck Benoit speaks to the 40-year-old bachelor bumpkin Fernand (played by Jutra) are: "Fix yer tie." Ergo, in the wake of the Jutra scandal, when overnight new cadres of witch hunters sought to disappear and eclipse his legacy from our national landscape, this image-text poem adopts the tactics of Ekphrasty, using scraps from Jutra's body of work as actor and auteur to speak back to Quebec's McCarthys. This poem will take the form of two journeys: by mouse and by sleigh. (The mouse will impersonate a porcupine, while the sleigh will double as a dumpster.)

The day after the Jutra scandal broke, vandals graffittied his memorial statue in Montreal’s Parc Claude Jutra with the words Pépé Pédo – Grandpa Kiddie Diddler. The Bolex head atop the brutalist concrete base now wears a red cravat of opprobrium, which could also be translated as: “Fix yer tie.”

The day before, he was Saint Claude, patron of Quebec’s insurrectional, independent cinema, celebrated for his passionate films celebrating youthful rebellion. Consider this typical appreciation by an anonymous fan, posted on youtube in 2011, which freely ekphrasts on his oeuvre, mashing up Paule Baillargeon’s doc Claude Jutra: An Unfinished Story with clips of Jutra’s own work, most notably his early experimental home movies and the ecstatic Dreamspeaker intergenerational skinnydipping scene with a native elder and an 11-year-old boy.

From Baillargeon's doc: "

"He wanted to remain a child—his way of directing, his way of behaving, his fault to a certain extent was to stay a child, to look at the world through childlike eyes, to be able to see a butterfly for the first time, or an emotion or a tragedy for the first time, without cynicism.""

This celebration of Jutra’s passionate identification with children has now been eclipsed and rewritten by the obliterating if familiar shadows of witchhunty outrage, of hypocritical scandal, of Pépé Pédo. Overnight, Canada’s carefree Peter Pan has been jekyll-and-hyded into a monstrous Québécois Captain Hook. Overnight, much of our establishment reacts with the same self-aggrandizing performance of shock, horror and disgust that the graffitists deployed, earnestly promising to de-Jutrafy the nation, stripping his name from every rue, parc, ecole and Quebec's own Oscars. Fix yer tie. Our first journey begins courtesy of a mac mouse, google-mapping a squeaky journey around the province, seeking those remaining streets that still bear his name.
But wait: a day after my mouse found this cul de sac that t-bones Rue Chaplin in the suburb of Repentigny, google maps itself has removed the name of Claude. Repentigny roughly translates as repentence.

Here in the Saint Nicholas sector of Levis, the town council renamed rue Claude Jutra with the name of 19th century priest Jerome-Demers. Remember, St. Nicholas is patron saint of archers, brewers, pawnbrokers… and children.

My squeaky mouse tours us through a melancholy archive of eclipsed signs, a graveyard of instagram infamy, a troubling map of our smug outraged amnesia. These street names may be physically erased from public view but digitally live on as this witchhunt’s necessary return of the repressed. Fix yer tie.

It’s apposite that Jutra’s early portraits of rebellious youth like those in Devil’s Toy and Knowing to Learn
(both from 1966) are more often than not staged in these self-same streets and rues and parcs and cul de sacs, public spaces of agency and flight.

While his story-telling techniques haven't dated so well (the NFB's house-style of overreaching ironic voice-over is particularly cringe-worthy), there's no denying the joy his camera takes in the passionate faces and bodies of the teen skateboarders of Toy or the anti-war demonstrators of Learn.

Our google mouse journey concludes on squeaky streets that once reverberated with chants for change, but are now strangely silent.

Our sleigh journey commences in a blizzard, in the final act of Mon Oncle Antoine, with Benoit and Fernand wrapped in furs, embodying yet another irreverent intergenerational dialogue as staged by Jutra: the mouthy teen and hapless bachelor, struggling to see.

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