Giovanni’s Room

The first novel I ever remember reading that had anything to do with male relationships was called Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. I am not exactly sure how I stumbled upon it or exactly when I first read it, but I remember being very young and it left a lasting visual impression in my mind. It’s the story of an American who recognizes his sexual impulse for men. Goes to Europe is about to get married to a woman, but torn by this unspoken desire that seems to hold him back. He can’t quite make the commitment and they separate in order to give him time to think about it. He is in Paris and falls in lust with a young Italian bartender named Giovanni; they have passionate sex in the grungy dark recess of Giovanni’s room for a chapter or so before doubt and self-reasoning set in. I won’t spoil the ending. It was written in 1956 and Baldwin does a fantastic job of vividly bringing you to this era in Paris. In fact I am quite surprised this has never been adapted into a movie, because the story totally lends itself to that sort of format. There are certain images that have haunted my memory for so many years about this book and perhaps it time to pull it back off the shelf for another reread.

When I was a student in theater at the University, I was quite interested in film, and though we didn’t have a media arts program in the department we did have a radio/television department mostly dealing with learning broadcast news. I took the television classes just to gain access to the equipment and editing suite. Back then it was all very large clunky equipment on very large videotapes. I began a project that was about adapting the story of Giovanni’s room into a short film. I used my apartment, which I completely lit with stage light, some of them hanging outside the windows shining in on a cold winter night. I had some actor from the department who acted and we had a blast shooting this crazy story I had adapted we called “The Cry”, partly based on the Munch painting. My concept was that a man screams out from within but no one can actually hear the scream because it only becomes deafening to the one caught in their own internal struggle of memory and choices they are haunted by. Yes, I was in my early 20’s and it seemed sensible at the time. But, I would have to go in late at night to edit this crazy project, and people would come in, doing their news projects and catch glimpses of the my project and it soon become known as the “surrealist soap opera”.

A couple of years ago the story came up again in a series of images I was shooting. The space, the light, and my model Jeremy Voisine whom I love doing all these experimental pieces with began to transform the studio into the feel, desire and isolation of Giovanni’s Room. Again we were working into the late night, using stage hot light to create the beautiful light streaming into this haunting room.

The other day I ran across these images as we were working on a gallery for the new website and I paused a marveled at how fun a concept like this can take you to an extraordinary place. The only thing missing was the second man Giovanni. I now want to go back and recreate and explore this concept with two men. So if anyone is up for it a new creative process is about to begin. I am going to have to have a party and show all my old video’s one of these nights.

One thought on “Giovanni’s Room

  1. RedPhillip

    >Makes me wish I were in Montana – the idea of that sort of collaboration, plus the party with videos of the past. Beautiful images, Mr. Cyr.


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