Bruce Alcock (BMusP 1985, BA 1990) was a tuba performance student back in 1983 when his English-major roommate convinced him to attend a reading by Canadian poet Al Purdy (1918-2000). A longtime fan of animation, Alcock was struck by the idea of capturing what he calls the “playful, erudite spirit” of Purdy’s poetry on film. Here, in four “frames,” is the story of how Alcock came to produce an award-winning animation based on one of Purdy’s most famous poems.
The Poem: At the Quinte Hotel is about Purdy drinking and fighting in a seedy basement bar. It’s also about beauty and art with a capital A. These disparate worlds clash when Purdy tries to trade a poem for a beer: “It was brought home to me in the tavern/that poems will not really buy beer or flowers/or a goddam thing/and I was sad/for I am a sensitive man.”
Groundwork: In 1992, after apprenticing with an animator, Alcock visited Purdy at his home in Ameliasburg, Ontario. Purdy gave him a less than effusive welcome and refused to read his poem for the film’s soundtrack. “I don’t think he was really sure I could pull it off,” says Alcock, now the owner and director of Global Mechanic, a Vancouver-based animation company. Purdy later agreed to let him use his 1968 reading of Quinte Hotel recorded by CBC Radio.
Alcock also made a pilgrimage to the real Quinte Hotel in Trenton, Ontario. “It was pretty close to what I imagined – just your average crappy small-town bar,” he says. He received a Canada Council grant to do the film, but had to shelve the project while he built his animation business. When he finally returned to the film in 2004, it took his team of six Global Mechanic animators nine months to complete.
Final Product: Clocking in at just three-and-a-half minutes, the film is bursting with images, gritty one moment and gorgeous the next – much like Purdy’s poem. The film uses a mixture of stop-motion photography for real elements, such as rusted bottle caps and yellow flowers, and traditional animation for about 2,000 original charcoal drawings and oil paintings.
Accolades: Since winning the Canadian Film Institute Award for best Canadian animation at the Ottawa International Animation Festival last fall, At the Quinte Hotel has been making the rounds of film festivals worldwide.