Al Purdy Was Here has a lot of strengths going for it including its peaceful camerawork with editing to match, and an enigmatic subject filled with so much knowledge and pathos. But, to me, the most inspiring elements of Brian D. Johnson’s documentary is how illustrative it is with influence.
Don’t get me wrong: the information about Purdy and his history as an acclaimed Canadian poet is all fascinating, although I wish Johnson’s novice filmmaking didn’t use “chapters”. For documentaries, it’s old hat by now. Nevertheless, the interviews with fellow comrades and admirers of his work are great, and viewers even get a special inside look at Al’s personal life through sessions with widow Eurithe Purdy. By far, the ultimate highlight of the doc is the astounding influence of Purdy’s work on this current generation – it’s something to behold.
We start off on a disheartening step with snickering students being asked about Purdy. They shrug their shoulders in front of a statue of the poet in Toronto’s Queen’s Park. But then, movie goers are taken for a pleasant trip as we see how Purdy’s work has lived on with Canadian artists, and how the poet’s outspoken, truthful sensitivity and humour has left an impact. The documentary is even part-musical as we listen to songs inspired by Purdy’s poems. Musicians Doug Paisley and Sarah Harmer are standouts while an avant-garde reading featuring throat singing is unforgettable. That statue even has a Twitter account maintained by a Purdy follower who completely captures the writer’s observational glance on life.
If anyone has ever questioned legacy, Al Purdy Was Here will make those individuals believers. It motivates audiences to think about their future, so that their past can remain accomplished.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie