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Canuxploitation!

High

1967, Starring Astri Thorvik, Lanny Beckman, Janet Amos, Denis Payne, Paul Kirby. Directed by Larry Kent.



After finishing When Tomorrow Dies, Larry Kent left Vancouver for a job at the NFB in Montreal, which was fast becoming the creative centre of Canadian film. Kent already had three films under his belt, each a boldly realistic look at sexual frustration and the anger of the counter-culture in the early 1960s, but it was here that the pioneering independent filmmaker would direct High, his most identified and controversial work. Although the content was not much different from his earlier filmsKent had offered up brutal emotions, flashes of nudity and forays into violence since his debut in The Bitter AshHigh's critical portrayal of the hedonistic hippie movement resulted in the film being widely banned.

High is the story of a cynical bohemian hustler named Tom (Lanny Beckman), who breezes into Montreal. After stopping by a hippie flophouse, Tom hits the town, hawking dimebags and trying to pick up womeneventually falling in love with a young librarian named Vicky (Astri Thorvik). Tom and Vicky occupy their days by having sex and getting high, which produces the curious effect of making the happy couple run around Montreal jumping in and out of barrels in contrived montage sequences. But as in all Larry Kent films, the good times don't last. As Tom burns through the last of his money, Vicky gets on his back with some establishment trip about earning a PhD. As a compromise, they hit on the idea of rolling drunks for cash. With their pockets full, the pair get engaged and celebrate with a weekend trip to Toronto. Returning from their carefree vacation, the pair is again faced with poverty, and finally turn to an even more violent means of getting what they want.

Critically acclaimed at the time of release, High has dated extremely badly, with embarrassingly self-indulgent " psychedelic" clichs. Although most of the film replicates the black and white documentary realism of his earlier films, Kent jarringly and inexplicably switches to washed-out colour for a dance sequence and controlled substance freakouts. One laughable scene has Tom sucking on a joint to get in the mood for an orgy, while Kent slaps a red tint on the camera lens, and drops the needle on one of the worst sitar albums I've ever heard. The rest of the music is fairly generic 60s acid rock, including (perhaps most ludicrously) a song looped backwards. Played with a straight face, these stylistic flourishes are a seriously bad trip.

The Quebec censorship bureau halted the movie's premiere at the 1967 Montreal Film Festival. As a result, High (or more accurately, the freedom of expression it represented) was championed by festival attendees Jean Renoir, Fritz Lang, and Warren Beatty, and the festival winners split their prize with Kent in solidarity. The film was likewise banned in Ontario and British Columbia and until recently, was only available in a censored version. However, the furor over the title did produce some good, as High became one of the key films to force Quebec to replace its provincial censors with a film classification system. It was in this way that Larry Kent's boundary-stretching opus had its most lasting effect, serving to help usher in Cinepix's "maple syrup porn," films like Valerie and Deux Femmes en Or, which began appearing in Quebec cinemas two years after High.

Viewed today in itsuncut version, High is far less " controversial" than its history might lead you to believe. Time has rendered the few sex scenes downright demure, even compared to its French-Canadian softcore offspring. What proves far more shocking than the nudity and drug use is Tom's callously anti-social outlook, and Vicky's descent into moral corruption. The film is still an extension of the "angry young man" films that Canadians had been making since the late 1950s, and when not indulging his psychedelic whims, Kent sticks to the cinema verit猼 style closely. These scenes, including one where Tom watches a pair of naked, stoned adults try to care for their child, exceed his earlier films in terms of sheer starkness, and prove to be one of the few aspects of the film that still hold up today.

Sadly, High's reputation does not stand up to the finished product. Although critical of the hippie subculture, Kent is much too sentimental about the trappings of the lifestyle. Gil Taylor's campy Frankenstein freakout Flick, which pokes fun at the flower power generation in a far more jovial way, is less wince-inducing than this self-conscious outing. High is easily one of Kent's biggest misfires a stylistic experiment that just doesn't work.


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