The Bitter Ash
Larry Kent, 80 min, 1963, Canada, 35mm, Bytowne Cinema, Sept. 24thStarring Philip Brown, Alan Scarfe, and Lynn Stewart.
26 year-old UBC student Larry Kent directed The Bitter Ash in the early 1960's in Vancouver at a time when English Canadian feature films were rarely produced anywhere in the country, let alone on the West Coast. The plot concerns a young man, Des (Alan Scarfe), who abandons his girlfriend on a whim to explore the seedy counterculture at the fringes of Vancouver's otherwise “respectable” society. It's an ambitious tale of class conflict, social upheaval and generational change, punctuated with sex, drugs and jazz music.
Kent, who had moved to Canada from South Africa when he was 20, produced the film with almost no money, so he was forced to stretch every dollar to get it made. His actors were students from UBC's drama department, the opening credits are hand-drawn illustrations, and the film was shot on black-and-white 16mm film without a budget for live sound recording, so all the sound had to be added in during post-production. Though it looks and sounds somewhat “rough” by today's standards, it still manages to pack a powerful dramatic punch, owing mostly to its audacious editing, and its bold, clear-eyed, and critical look at the sexual and cultural revolution about to sweep the nation.
Provincial censors in B.C. didn't like the racy content and banned it from appearing in theatres in the province. Deciding to bypass Canada's theatrical distribution system entirely, Kent took the film on a roadshow screening tour of schools across the country. It was enthusiastically received by university audiences, but, dogged by censorship, Kent only managed get it shown in four schools after numerous others decided it was too subversive to screen.
Kent went on to direct many other independent Canadian films, notably When Tomorrow Dies (1965) and Mothers and Daughters (1992). For years, the master print of The Bitter Ash was thought lost, but it re-emerged serendipitously in the possession of Kent's old landlord and a restoration process was initiated. A restored version of The Bitter Ash will be screened for the first time in Ottawa on a newly-transferred 35mm film print courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.
Director Larry Kent will be at the screening and will be available for a Q&A with the audience after the film.
For more on the film go here