- The Romance of Transgression in Canada: Queering Sexualities, Nations, Cinemas
Seeking to investigate the plural nature of the Canadian filmic nation, Thomas Waugh, in his encyclopedic and extraordinary opus, aims to queer national cinema(s). More specifically, Waugh focuses on 'the queer compulsions towards transgression and its romance that have gripped Canadian cinemas and video corpuses since they emerged from the foundational decades of the 1950s and 1960s.' His engagement with over two thousand films and tapes in the creation of this formidable reference guide is a remarkable testament to both his academic acumen and, quite simply, an abiding love of moving images.
There are two parts to the book: ten essays, followed by a compendium of 'movers and shakers.' In the essays, Waugh embraces 'queer fluidity' to move beyond exploratory models that might merely minoritize sexual identity; his analyses thus engage an elastic or expansive methodology to account for historical, current, and ongoing definitional shifts. His idea of 'nation' is, invariably, also attentive to [End Page 433] cultural pluralities that cannot be easily contained within the parameters of (the now rather outdated) French/English dynamic. The micro-cinemas of Latino and Asian transgressive cinemas, along with queer First Nations', reveal that Waugh's vocabulary is not only nuanced and rich, but impressive in its sweep and depth.
We can be thankful for Waugh's relentless exhaustiveness and commitment to inclusion. After the introductory chapter, Waugh looks at fifteen years of post–Second World War film (much of it from the NFB) for those shimmers of transgression that flicker yet nevertheless come into view: the work of Norman McLaren, Claude Jutra, and Julia Murphy, amongst others. Waugh then appraises film of the sixties and seventies that involve the then-revolutionary sexual ferment: 'classics,' such as Winter Kept Us Warm, Il était une fois dans l'Est, Wow! and Outrageous! The remaining five chapters, largely from the nineties to the present, take up the thematics of regional contexts, the queering of the NFB, masculinity and sports, pornography, HIV/AIDS, and the trans-historical category of shame.
The portrait gallery that is the rest of the book is a list of the players in the industry: actors, directors, producers, writers, original sources, and critics. This section alone would make the book worth the cost. Not only are the larger luminaries here – Lepage, Wheeler, Rozema, Pool, Greyson, Fitzgerald – but also publicly lesser-known but equally important artists: Richard Fung, Shawna Dempsey, Kent Monkman, Jeff Erbach, Kika Thorne, and Réseau Vidé-Elle. Waugh's catalogue is simply impressive.
Waugh's attempt to mix a relaxed colloquial style with often dense theoretical material makes for a sometimes jarring read. Furthermore, the introductory first chapter rambles; a concise edit is certainly warranted, given the vast amount of material being introduced. The misguided inclusion of Bruce LaBruce's self-congratulatory foreword complements Waugh's amplified and hyperbolic estimation of LaBruce elsewhere in the book; Pool or Fung would likely have been a much better choice in setting the tone of this essential work. Waugh's book is a weighty, welcome addition to his own already impressive output, and to other, recent works by Malek Khouri and Peter Dickinson.