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It is over 17,500 kilometers (10,874 miles) from Melbourne, Australia to Halifax, Canada, as the plane flies.  After watching more movies in one night than I had seen in the previous year, I was glad that I had scheduled a layover weekend in Los Angeles.

The drive from the airport to a  friend’s bungalow in Santa Monica felt very familiar, even after twenty-two years.  The road was still shabby, littered with discount stores, gyms, car dealerships, taco stands and tattoo parlors.  Only the Whole Foods store was new.  It signaled gentrification that seemed a little late in coming considering the value of the property.

I have moved many times since my seven-year stay in L.A., but I still have one old friend in LA who puts me up and a few others who will buy me a beer or a glass of wine.  Most of them worked in the “biz”, as the entertainment industry is called.

They were always working too hard or hardly working, which is the norm in La La Land.  Right now, the economy is in free fall and the state’s finances are in serious trouble.   Much of that can be blamed on the referendums that plague every election in California and, of course, the Terminator.

None of this impacts on the traveler.  I had a good time, catching up with the few friends who were in town and not otherwise engaged.  Gordon and I  went out to the Getty villa in Malibu (recently re-opened after extensive renovations) and took lunch at the fish restaurant we used to frequent 25 years ago.  It hadn’t changed at all.

On my last night in town, we went to the new “Terminator” movie.  My friend, Bob, who has been editing the most expensive animated film in history for the last three years, emerged from his cocoon for the evening.

The Terminator movie was one explosion after another.  My ears rang when we came out.  It is hard to believe that the “Gov” actually injected humor in the first one.  The latest battle-fest has virtually none.  Some good actors are wasted in their roles and the movie seems interminable, but it will no doubt make a fortune overseas.

When I arrive at Grand Pre and resume life in the Stewart House, some work compulsion creeps in and takes over my body.  A two hundred year-old house is in constant need of care.  Everything exposed to the maritime weather tends to rot, amazingly quickly.  Last year it was the back porch and the fasteners on storms and screens that needed attention.  This year it is the front porch, the attic, study and carriage house.  There is always more than I have time for.

On the plus side, there are the fiddleheads, strawberries and rhubarb, summer evenings with long light.  There are the rain clouds, intense green in the trees, and friendly neighbours with whom I have some history. There are dykelands for long walks, spectacular sunsets and a lovely room for curling up with a good book. For all that, I can easily do some work and not complain.

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It struck me yesterday that I must have become infatuated with Italy at the movies. Aside from the dramatic, but shopworn Sunday school stories about Herod and the role of the Roman soldiers as ‘extras’ in the story of Christ, I had no real notion of what ‘Italian’ meant until I went to the movies.

From 1965 to 1967 I went to the movies a lot. I was living and studying in Paris, the home of the most passionate cinema aficionados on the planet. I would buy my copy of Pariscope and ferret out the films being shown in “Version Original“(whatever language the film was made in.)

This kind of exhibition was not popular with the masses, but the French purists wouldn’t have it any other way. We would huddle together in the dark, deciphering the flickering sub-titles while trying to keep up with the stories unraveling before our eyes and ears. I got an education in cinema, from Battleship Potemkin to Pierrot Le Fou.

The Nouvelle Vague was exploding on the scene—with the local hero, Jean-Luc Godard at the forefront. But he was like the Sartre of cinema, often intellectual, profoundly aloof. For me, apart from Bunuel, a Spaniard, the most magical of all were the Italians—Fellini and Antonioni. They were the ones who managed to get their dreams on screen.

Turin was the birthplace of Italian cinema, so it is singularly appropriate that it should be the home of Italy’s homage to cinema. And what better building to put it in than the Mole, a spectacular structure that soars into the sky through an artful stacking of bricks. From the balcony at the top, you can see the whole city of Turin spread out below, the encircling Alps to the North and West.

From inside, split across five floors, there is the world of movies. Through interactive exhibits and “rooms” that focus on cinematic themes (from the Western ‘showdown’ to love and death), the story of filmmaking unfolds, from its beginnings (experiments with light and shadow plays) to DVDs.

A fleet of foam-covered deck chairs cover one entire floor of the “temple” to movie magic, allowing film pilgrims to watch two huge screens unreeling selections of flickering images. A long, circular staircase snakes up the interior for temporary exhibitions. currently featuring the films of Roman Polanski. Even the bar immerses one in the experience, with translucent, color changing tables and small screens replaying the eating scene from Tom Jones. C’est le fun! Arrivederci a presto. Ciao.




Quickflix, our Australian version of Netlix, has some quirks befitting its home base. We are living on a continent in which the word “quirky” almost defies definition. How does one explain the kangaroo or platypus or a word like “spruik”, pronounced sprook, meaning, to hold forth in public.

Quickflix appears to work in the same fashion as Netflix, offering one the option of creating a list of DVDs organized in a queue in the order in which you want them delivered. So far, so good. The postal service is excellent and the movies are delivered expeditiously from their distribution center.

The quirkiness lies in the order of delivery. I can never anticipate what might come next, for it has nothing to do with the order of my queue. They seem to ship out the movies they have on hand, not necessarily the films at the top (or even near the top) of my list.

It looks like we’re getting the movies no one else wants to see– the Australian movies. Not that I mind all that much.

One of the Age movie reviewers wrote a scathing op ed piece recently about the state of Australian cinema, suggesting that Australian directors and producers were picking perverse projects (art pictures) and running the industry into the ground.

A perspicacious reader responded the next day with the suggestion that it was virtually impossible for an Australian film to compete with a Hollywood picture even in Australia thanks to huge Hollywood budgets, advertising, distribution deals and exhibition contracts. I would bet that is true.  Canada had exactly the same problem.  It took protectionist measures after a brief, unsuccessful period of rolling over and playing dead.

Three of our latest titles from Quickflix had to do with the perils of promiscuity in one way or the other. Two of them were based on memoirs, “Romulus, My Father,” and “Home Song Stories.” Both were set in the early sixties.

Despite the title of the former, the central characters in both films were beautiful, immigrant mothers, dreadfully unhappy with the path their lives had taken. Even though the “heroine” of Home Song Stories is much more calculating than the mother in ‘Romulus’, they are equally desperate, unbalanced, and unable to face the future in what appears to be a bleak new land.

The third is an aboriginal movie called “Ten Canoes,” a story within a story, one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen. In this case, the central parable serves as a warning to a young warrior of the dangers of infatuation with one of the wives of his brother.

All were exceptionally well done, Keep ’em coming, Quickflix. We’ll get to the top of list eventually, that Canadian film we want to see. I suspect some other Canadian has rented it and lost it or is just keeping it too damned long.

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