1963 80 mins
“THE BITTER ASH is not a happy or hopeful film, but it is, even with all its technical shortcomings, an honest and genuinely amazing one” – Geoff Pevere, THE GLOBE AND MAIL
“Considered a cornerstone in Canadian filmmaking, despite its ban in Ontario” – Shawn Conner, VANCOUVER SUN
“One of the original English Canadian auteurs” – “Front & Centre” Festival of Festivals, 9th International Film Festival, Toronto, 1984
“Vancouver just wasn't ready for Larry Kent. It was 1963”. (Katherine Monk)
Undeterred by an unsuccessful attempt to make a short film, Larry Kent decided to make a feature. THE BITTER ASH
was a watershed moment in Canadian cinema. The first fully self-financed independent feature made in Canada. Kent’s naïvete over the process was his lucky charm. He refused to accept that it couldn’t be done, and despite technical, logistical, and censorship challenges, his gamble paid off.
Kent was not to know it at the time, but his debut feature marked something new for Canadian cinema. Schooled in theatre at UBC, Kent owed nothing to the NFB’s tradition of documentary, nor was he a child of CBC drama. As a film, THE BITTER ASH
bears more resemblance to Robert Frank’s Beat classic PULL MY DAISY
or John Cassavetes’ SHADOWS
. It is an authentic Canadian Beat-cinema moment.
When a young typesetter, Des (Alan Scarfe), mulling over the news of his girlfriend’s pregnancy, unexpectedly encounters Laurie (Lynn Metcalf), the despairing wife of an unemployed, unsuccessful “Beat” writer, the scene is set for each to imagine a different reality than the one that confronts them. A night-long “rent” party places their turmoil on a slow boil. Filmed with a non-sync camera, the film perfectly matches the rawness of the pair’s emotional state.
After reviews from the Vancouver Sun’s Les Wedman raised alarm about the film’s language and nudity, B.C. censors banned the film from commercial theatres. Kent screened the print at UBC, and then across Canada at other universities. At Carlton, police seized the film, and at McGill, a minor riot broke out when University officials tried to limit tickets.
Yes, Canada was not ready for Larry Kent in 1963. – David Douglas