John Greyson

London , ON
Ontario CA

Director, videomaker, curator, writer, performance artist, teacher, activist. The London, Ont.-bred, art school dropout burst onto the Toronto art scene with his sexy and politically enflamed performances and videos in the early eighties and never looked back. One of the first to bring together traditional left solidarity activism (unions, Central America) with queer politics in an energized artform that was pulsating with formal invention, ideas and fun, Greyson’s political causes ranged from censorship, apartheid and AIDS to the more specifically queer issues of public sex and ghetto culture. Everyone has their favorites from this period, but mine has to be Jungle Boy (1985, 15) which manages to intersect Kipling-derived Orientalist jungle and wolf-boy metaphors, a Mexican pop song and a taut coming out narrative miniature, starring Greyson’s soon-to-be partner, video artist Colin Campbell. Greyson’s six-hour curated package of twenty-two international AIDS videos (Video Against AIDS, 1989, with Bill Horrigan), jump-started the North American arts community’s implication in the health crisis. Meanwhile the anthology Queer Looks: Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Film and Video (co-edited with Martha Gever and Pratibha Parmar, 1993), revved up international film culture at the heyday of the New Queer Cinema. Greyson’s video style, a convergence of techno-wizardry, dense allusiveness, camp anachronism, unabashed didacticism, melo narrative, urban diaristic observation, heady eroticism and media collage, stuck with him as he moved into film in the late 1980s, his first feature being the prize-winning Urinal (1988). Greyson’s distinctive style and vision endured but became more polished and accessible as he emerged from a residency at the CFC, where he produced the dazzling Brechtian musical about queerbashing and masculinity, The Making of Monsters, 1990, only to see it suppressed by mean American lawyers.

Greyson’s next feature, the AIDS musical masterpiece Zero Patience (1993), has gradually come into its due as a canonical paving stone of Canadian cinema of the 1990s. Thereafter Greyson moved into less personal projects like the Telefilm Canada adaptations Lilies (Genie for best Canadian film, 1996) and Law of Enclosures (2000), devastatingly underrated and touted by the media as his first straight film, despite its queer probing of heterosexual marriage and the First Gulf War. But the 1980s Greyson was most palpable in the more personal Canada Council projects that he developed in the intervals between the big bucks, such as the brilliant docu-narrative essay on censorship and circumcision Uncut (1997), and even in the iconoclastic CBC docudrama After the Bath (1995). The 2003 South Africa co-production Proteus, another underfunded, more personal work (co-produced and written with Jack Lewis), offered old and a new Greyson at the same time in a profound update on queer heritage cinema. Not-Merchant-and-Ivory but based on a historical 18th century interracial sodomy trial that the filmmakers had found in the archives, Proteus reversed Greyson’s usual anachronism, problematizing the story’s inherent queer martyrology with postcolonial lust and Foucauldian angst. South Africa remained the setting for Greyson’s next major work, a video opera installation based on the Treatment Access Campaign, a complex and ambitious return to the AIDS theme that Greyson rightly considers one of his best works. Greyson joined the film production faculty at York in 2004.