Al Purdy Was Here

Al Purdy Was Here

November 26, 2020
Al Purdy Was Here is the portrait of an artist driven to become a great Canadian poet at a time when the category barely existed. Al Purdy is a charismatic tower of contradictions: a "sensitive man" who whips out a poem in a bar fight; a factory worker who finds grace in an Arctic flower; a mentor to young writers who remained a stranger to his sons. Purdy has been called the last, best and most Canadian poet. "Voice of the Land" is engraved on his tombstone. The film features performances by artists including Leonard Cohen, Bruce Cockburn, Gord Downie, Gordon Pinsent, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Sarah Harmer, Tanya Tagaq and Joseph Boyden. The narrative, meanwhile, moves between Purdy's story and the compelling characters bound up in his legacy. They range from his 90-year-old widow, Eurithe-who reflects on their turbulent marriage while overseeing the cabin's restoration with a vigilant eye-to the A-frame's first resident poet, a spirited young feminist who finds herself conversing with the ghost of an old-school male.

1 h 30 min | Documentary, Biography, Music | 2015

What does it take to carve out a career as a poet? Why on earth would anyone attempt it? Al Purdy Was Here is the portrait of an artist driven to become a great Canadian poet at a time when the category barely existed. Al Purdy is a charismatic tower of contradictions: a “sensitive man” who whips out a poem in a bar fight; a factory worker who finds grace in an Arctic flower; a mentor to young writers who remained a stranger to his sons. Purdy has been called the last, best and most Canadian poet.

After two decades of writing what he admits was bad poetry, in 1957 he and his wife build an A-frame cabin on Roblin Lake in Ontario’s Prince Edward County. There he finds his voice, and surprising success. The A-frame soon becomes a mecca for the early pioneers of Canadian literature, writers like Margaret Laurence, Dennis Lee, Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje. And in this rustic salon, irrigated by Al’s wild grape wine, a cultural community takes root. Now, 15 years after Purdy’s death, artists and patrons have rallied to restore his shambling cabin as a writers’ retreat. It’s a quixotic enterprise. But as the A-frame comes back to life, it generates a Purdy revival, and an album of original songs inspired by his life and work.

The film features performances by artists including Leonard Cohen, Bruce Cockburn, Gord Downie, Gordon Pinsent, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Sarah Harmer, Tanya Tagaq and Joseph Boyden. The narrative, meanwhile, moves between Purdy’s story and the compelling characters bound up in his legacy. They range from his 90-year-old widow, Eurithe-who reflects on their turbulent marriage while overseeing the cabin’s restoration with a vigilant eye-to the A-frame’s first resident poet, a spirited young feminist who finds herself conversing with the ghost of an old-school male.

Director:

Brian D. Johnson

Writers:

Marni Jackson, Brian D. Johnson

Producers:

Brian D. Johnson, Ron Mann, Jake Yanowski

Prod. companies:

CBC documentary channel, Purdy Pictures, Rogers Documentary Fund

Stars:

Margaret Atwood, Jean Baird, George Bowering

Languages:

English

Subtitles:

French, Spanish, Portuguese
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