There we sat in his atelier, I felt like I were living a dream, mainly because he kept filling me with whisky and port, and after a number of drinks at two in the afternoon, "that feeling" can only best be described as dream-like.
—Deco Dawson, director
Winnipeg director Deco Dawson has won the top prize of $10,000 as Best Canadian Short Film at the Toronto International Film Festival for his
film, Keep a Modest Head. This surrealistic film is a biographical
experimental short about the last official member of the French Surrealist group, Jean Benoît. It mixes childhood memories with re-enactments to pay hommage to a remarkable artist.
The film gets its Winnipeg premiere at WNDX Festival at The Cinematheque on Saturday, Sept 29 at 3:00 p.m.
SCENE asked Deco Dawson to enlighten us about this formidable artist and his relationship with him.
I first met Jean Benoît in 2003. I had been traveling through Europe and a friend of mine who had interviewed Jean for the BBC highly suggested I get in touch with him in Paris. I gave Jean a ring and you'd expect a bit of reservation on his part, but as soon as I mentioned I was Canadian he hollered, "come up to my atelier!" He continued, "take the stairs right to the top, and it's the door with the large flowered penis on it!"
I made the trek to Montmartre, the long-standing headquarters for the Surrealists, and up the six flights of stairs to Jean's studio. The decorated phallus was only the first indication that I was about to meet a man of extraordinary virtues. Jean soon told me that his neighbours kept complaining about his door decoration, so he made sure to replace it every month with a larger version.
There we sat in his atelier, I felt like I was living a dream, mainly because he kept filling me with whisky and port, and after a number of drinks at two in the afternoon, "that feeling" can only best be described as dream-like. Jean was originally born in Quebec in 1922 and had an affinity for Canadians and although he left Montreal in 1948 for Paris he still had much reverence for his childhood, and I soon found out why.
Jean started telling me stories of his life, the most astonishing stories one would ever hear! Stories about his adventures studying art with every primitive tribe in the world, convincing Andre Breton's daughter he was an anarchistic lumberjack so she'd introduce him to her father, and stories about his childhood that no child should ever
Jean was precocious to say the least and at eight years of age he would venture out onto the rooftop of his three-story Georgian-style home in Quebec City and peer into the dormer windows of all his female neighbours. Under a starry sky he'd watch them change, bathe and get ready for bed.