The Bitter Ash

dir. Larry Kent

TIFF Cinematheque - Canadian Open Vault

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A landmark in Canadian independent cinema, Larry Kent's jazzy, nouvelle vague-ish portrait of Vancouver's bohemian underground in the 1960s returns in a new restoration.


Practically censored out of existence upon its release in 1963 due to its frank sexual content, the debut feature by Larry Kent is a true landmark in independent Canadian cinema, as suffused with excitement for the new possibilities afforded by smaller, more mobile cameras as were the films of the French New Wave or John Cassavetes. Set in sixties Vancouver's burgeoning bohemian/hipster underground, The Bitter Ash focuses on Laurie (Lynn Stewart), a young woman who is tiring of her husband Colin's (Phillip Brown) literary pretensions — not to mention his refusal to work. The couple's friends are a motley, aimless group, snotty towards outsiders and convinced of their own greatness, even if no one else is. On the outside looking in is Des (Alan Scarfe), a working-class guy whom Laurie strikes up a friendship with — a friendship which may lead to something more. A simultaneously sympathetic and caustic portrait of bohemian discontent and a bracingly grim look at sexual manipulation, The Bitter Ash "conveyed a down-to-earth realism, dramatic tension and sexual eroticism, which came as an unexpected force on screens that were then so empty of Canadian films" (Gerald Pratley, A Century of Canadian Cinema).

Larry Kent will be present to introduce our screening of The Bitter Ash along with Brad Fox, who supervised the film's restoration.