Ryan Larkin is back making films.
One of Canada's greatest animators -- a protégé of Norman McLaren no less, at the National Film Board of Canada in the sixties and early seventies -- who eventually wound up on the streets of Montreal panhandling for years, Larkin is in the process of making a new 10-minute short. Titled Spare Change, his hand-drawn animation taps largely into his experiences begging outside Schwartz's Deli on the city's Saint-Laurent Boulevard. The plan is to finish the film by next fall.
A gentle, stooped 63-year-old who walks with a cane, Larkin says he never stopped working during his years on the street and living at the Old Brewery Mission. He continued to paint, sculpt and write poetry, "working for myself, not working for an institution, or the Canadian government or anybody."
Journalistic shorthand usually describes Larkin's story as a descent into drugs and alcohol, along with something that just snapped, whether from feeling like he was working too much for others or from simply feeling spent artistically.
As he says, "I was losing it. I was losing my creative flow. I was becoming dead wood."
A slow-building friendship with Laurie Gordon, a Montreal musician, led the two to discuss projects together. Gordon now acts as his producer and manager. Larkin spends much of his time at Gordon's house in the Quebec town of Saint-Hyacinthe, where Larkin has a studio and an assistant.
Larkin and Gordon aren't romantically involved, but she felt drawn to Larkin, as many do. His history has influenced other artists as much as his animation. He was the subject of Chris Landreth's Oscar-winning short film Ryan and appeared in the documentary Alter Egos about the making of Ryan. He was also in Chez Schwartz, a beautiful, recent film about Schwartz's Deli, and will be in yet another film documenting his re-emergence into filmmaking. Money to make Spare Change has so far come from the Canada Council and the Quebec government. Larkin has also completed three animated channel-ID spots currently in rotation on MTV in Canada.
With all of this re-exposure, Larkin now gets asked for his autograph these days. But "I always say, 'Have you got any spare change?' just to remind them that I'm famous, but I don't have the money yet," he says.