In my heart there was a kind of fighting
That would not let me sleep.
On Monday February 25, early in the afternoon, my (sometimes) friend Clint Alberta / Morrill / Tourangeau / Karatechamp / Star walked out to the Bloor Viaduct and jumped. Or at least I assume he walked cause he loved to walk everywhere. But he definitely jumped.
Just a couple of months earlier we were walking up to the edit suite at Charles Street and he said, “I’m afraid I have the life arc of one of those Romantic Poets, you know – die young and tragic”.
“Oh yeah? Like of consumption or something?” I laughed. “But, no”, I assured him, as you do your best to do when your friend talks about dying, “you still have lots of work ahead of you”.
We’d been cutting his second feature, Miss 501 (a portrait of luck), and he and co-director Jules had gone down with it to Sundance. He called me the night of the first screening and laughed into the phone, “It totally fuckin’ bombed, Kath. They were fight’n to get out the doors”. We joked about Duchamp and Artaud and Cassavetes and the need to have at least one screening where people throw tomatoes at the screen to know you were doing something right. And apparently the second screening went much better – people staying through to the end with tears in their eyes.
Sounded to me like it might go just like his first film, Deep Inside Clint Star. I don’t know how many people said to me, “Oh, you cut that film? Man, it’s sooooo BAD!” But there were also the people who said, “The originality of the idea…the guy’s a genius”, and off it went to Sundance and then there was the Gemini Award and so on. Some people must have liked it.
I didn’t know Clint before we started editing Clint Star, and that first week he made me sit in the NFB screening room to watch not only rushes, but also porn videos, so I’d get a feeling for the creepy porn atmosphere he wanted to create. I squirmed in my seat, wondering what the hell I was getting into. “I just don’t ever want my movie to feel like an NFB movie”, he’d say.
He kept bringing up Freud and Matisse and pornography as major influences for the film – a look at native sexuality through identity, or identity through intimacy, or intimacy through perception of beauty and self. Freud was significant for his psychological premise that the Oedipal story was really THE only story. Matisse’s influence was on image quality, Clint always looking for ways to “flatten the image”, going for broad planes of colour. The central emotional voyage came from the question posed by Clint in the film, “Why I never get laid” – creating a kind of search for an idea of ‘Indian-ness’, littered with ironic comic barbs.
The driving motivation for the film’s central quest seemed almost to emanate from Clint’s own fluctuating sense of identity. He told me how, on the one hand, his (native) stepfather would say to him, “You’re never going to pass for white”. Yet on the other hand, his (white) grandma would shake her head and say, “You’re not an Indian…”.
“And she knew Indians,” he added, “she grew up around them”.
But he had a strong sense of himself as riding this border between being one thing and another – of embodying a fusion of cultures and ideas.
Miss 501 (a portrait of luck) was an easier birth than Clint Star, being a lighter, frolicking, punk rock ride of a film. For sources of inspiration in the edit, he’d talk to me about the polyrhythms of Fela Kuti, the collage art of Kurt Schwitters, Duchamp’s sense of the absurd, and Picasso’s interest in masks. The essential, fractured voyage of the film came from a need for wildness, and from Norval Morrisseau, who, unrepentant for his drinking, had apparently said, “You have to go THROUGH the drink”.
Although the people in Miss 501 are white, still the central conceit of Clint’s exploration of cinematic language was the same as in Clint Star. Through a mixing of formats, non-linear narrative structures, and reliance on chance and imperfection, he was trying to create what he referred to as a ‘native language’ in cinema – breaking down traditional ‘renaissance’ conventions to get at a raw essence of his subject.
Clint was heavy into turn of the century French artists at this time, pointing out they were essentially primitivists – “They were like Indians in their thinking”, he’d say. It seemed as if the moment when Western art opened itself up to the influences of art and ideas from other cultures, the beginning of Modernism, was the point in art history he found most relevant.
Heyoka (the clown)
Becky (from Clint Star) said, just after he died, “Clint was such a role model for so many young Indians who thought he was cool cause he was anti-establishment and all”.
The phrase he would use was that he was bad at sucking cock. “I seem to bite every cock that comes near my face”, was his interpretation of his independent stance, difficult personality, and eventual battle with the NFB over Deep Inside Clint Star.
When we’d finished the edit of Clint Star, there were some strong reactions to the obnoxious, perverse character he played / was in the film. People both in and out of the NFB suggested his character could be cut, that he got in the way. Clint balked against anyone telling him what to do, quit the film over a small detail, and began an extended battle with the NFB. Around that time, I went scrounging in bookstores, searching for I didn’t know what – something that would address a feeling I had about the role of his semi-psycho persona in the film. Finally I stumbled on a text about the ‘Heyoka’ in 18th century Indian society.
…Idiosyncratic behavior, perversity, and actions that were highly deviant and nonconformist were not looked upon as a demonstration of madness, or as the threat of anarchy, or as the expression of heresy. Such behavior was seen by Indians as a manifestation of great power and spirituality and regarded with considerable respect.
… Ultimately these outsiders, these glorious clowns and contraries, symbolize the act of initiation that raises us form the commonplace and gives us access to the extraordinary…
– Jamake Highwater
I read a bit to Clint on the phone and he exclaimed, “Tell people that about our film!”
He went on to supply some quite spectacular behaviour – there was the dance onstage, in drag, at the Gemini Awards, the stripteases when the film played, the solitary demonstrations in front of the NFB. Both hilarious and pathetic, his ‘performance’, his ‘madness’ seemed almost like a position in itself, as if by forcing a momentary freezing of regular activities, one was offered a glance into something otherwise unknown. Many people, touched by him, found there was a kind of stretching of the mind, an expansion, that came not only through communication with his considerable intelligence, but also from an acquaintance with his person, his vivaciousness and loneliness, his arrogance and pathos, his strange fate.
When he began his essentially self-defeating protest against the NFB, he seemed almost to become just a big difficult stick jammed into the cogs of the machinery of the whole bustle and ego and falsity of media-making. By drawing attention to himself in his desperation, the practice itself seemed nakedly exposed in all its controlled, money-centred presumptions.
Even his interest in pornography (a geography I never would have explored on my own), seemed to go beyond simply wank potential. There was a deeply human element to it, a fascination with the acute vulnerability of sexuality and intimacy on display.
Abrasive and anti-social and insane as Clint could be, it was also true that he had enormous sensitivity and charm. He was both demanding and forgiving, brilliant and an idiot, had a huge sweet generous heart and could be a selfish impossible prick. His contradictions stretched one to extreme limits of frustration and compassion for not only the individual, but everything he was trying to do and say with his work.
Natives say that crazy people are touched by the great spirit…These beings are truly inspired, for they recognize the great divine void and live totally in its intensity.
– Ohky Simine Forest
When we were editing Clint Star – before I understood the seriousness of his troubles – he’d make cracks sometimes about ending up on the street, crazed, with an outstretched hand. “Just make sure you stop and give me money”, he’d say. We’d talk about the notion in shamanistic societies that the person who passes through acute psychotic episodes could be guided out through the other side to bear a unique vision. But who, where, today, practices that kind of guidance, that kind of medicine?
More recently I’d tried talking to him about the possibility of finding help within psychiatric institutions. Conceivably refuge and trust were possible, if only the right shrink could be found, someone with enough intelligence and humour to take him on. He didn’t bite. He was afraid of getting locked away on a psych ward – a medicated, shrivelled shell of his former self. It was as if there was a docility to it that would in a sense mean losing the best of what he had been – the outrageous wild man, flying to the heights of freedom. To live differently would have meant his life was over in spirit if not in fact.
Still, I feel disappointed in a world that could not keep him in it, where there was nothing to offer in the way of help that was tolerable, at a place too hostile and hurried to hold him.
Date: Sun, 24 Feb
…I grew up just like you and knew there was nobody, really, to tell. But the whole world is not like that. Is it so terrible to not want to expand the hole in the world’s heart? To want to fix it? That is what I have been trying to do, I see now. It is not about destroying, it has been, at least for me, about healing. My whole journey until now. I will not go back now. I can’t.
On Monday February 25, early in the afternoon, my friend Clint Tourangeau / Alberta / Star / Karatechamp / Morrill walked out to the Bloor Viaduct and jumped…
( super special thanks to Jules )