Travelling Again. Canada, UK, Brazil.

First to Toronto, where my new film “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding” is having its premiere at the film festival. My wife and I, plus the producer, writers and three leading cast members are ushered down a long red carpet. Dozens of press photographers stare at us uncomprehendingly but come to life when they spot Chace Crawford, a star in “Gossip Girl” on TV, and Kyle McLachlan, of “Twin :Peaks” and “Desperate Housewives”.

As always I am almost paralysed with tension when the film begins, having had some frightful experiences in the past – the worst being a Los Angeles screening some years ago of a film that I have tried, unsuccessfully, to remove from my cv – where the audience was leaving in droves during the brief pre-credits sequence.

However, they seemed to enjoy the new film. They were attentive. No one walked out and the laughs came in the right places. At a second screening two days later there were screams of enthusiasm at the end, a reaction somewhat diminished by a local Torontonian commenting “audiences here are so easy-going. They like everything.”

Hundreds of films are screening at theatres all over the city. Obtaining tickets is so difficult the process must have been organised by émigré East European bureaucrats or the people in charge of parking permits on Leichhardt council. I’m amazed that anyone turns up at all.

This year there appear to be only two Australian films, Fred Schepisi’s masterly “Eye of the Storm”, skilfully adapted from a Patrick White novel, and Justin Kurzel’s grisly but compelling “Snowtown”, dealing with the “bodies in the barrel” murders in a remarkably unappealing South Australian town. South Australia always seem to have Australia’s most gruesome murders, probably because there is nothing much else to do there.

From Toronto to New York for a few days. Finding a hotel is an ordeal. The city is crowded (more crowded) because of a big fashion show and a meeting of the U.N. I’m told the hotels are “full of secret service men” brought in to guard the President. Finally, courtesy of the internet, we find a place near the library on 42nd st. Curiously, the room rate varies every night. The same room can easily double in price from Monday to Friday. I commented on this peculiarity to a desk clerk, who immediately pigeonholed me as a yokel and replied that this pricing system was standard. 

We began a theatre binge with a production of Terence Rattigan’s “Man and Boy” , featuring a brilliant performance by Frank Langella as a Madoff-type crook on the run, hiding out with his estranged son in a Manhattan apartment. It still amazes me that a playwright as talented as Rattigan was eclipsed, not to say ridiculed, for many years because of the rise of the “kitchen sink” school ..Osborne, Wesker, Storey etc  None of them wrote anything to compare with “The Deep Blue Sea”, “Separate Tables”, “Flare Path”, “The Browning Version” or “The Winslow Boy”.

Next, a sprightly production, inventively choreographed (an understatement), of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes”. All done with such verve, and such superb music and lyrics, that I even managed to forgive P.G.Wodehouse’s feeble jokes. Oddly, an elaborate revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” seems more dated than the much older Porter work, probably because of the “meaningful” character relationships in the plot. I don’t think it has Sondheim’s best score but among the songs is “Losing My Mind”, surely one of the greatest ever written. This is not a view, I should add, shared by my wife, who detests all of Sondheim. We manage to get along by carefully avoiding the subject. We also cannot discuss Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits.

From New York it’s up the Hudson Valley to Woodstock, where “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding” was filmed. Woodstock is a pretty town – far more attractive than Snowtown – founded in the early 17th century. The film is shown on the opening night of what must be the world’s most obscure film festival and is so popular – not that surprising as almost every local appears in some scene or other – that three more showings have to be arranged.

London. We enter our Bloomsbury apartment after a two year absence, though it’s been occupied from time to time by various friends intent on dodging London’s astronomical hotel prices. I immediately dive into the bathroom as we had paid an English “workman” a small fortune to install a new shower. Although he had reported to us, in Australia, that the job was done, it clearly hasn’t even begun. I’m faced by bare bricks, pipes and cables. A search, via the porter for the apartment block, fails to locate the culprit. The porter makes vague promises about the job being done “soon”. As it’s been a couple of years already I regard this as unlikely. My brother in law gives me the name of a Polish plumber. He arrives two days later and begins work.

At the English National Opera we see Donizetti’s “Elixir of Love” in a production by Johnathan Miller. His attempts at film and TV directing were uninspired but every opera I’ve seen by him (“Rigoletto”,”The Barber of Seville”,” The Mikado”) has been a delight. His direction of the characters is detailed and he manages to rethink the locales without destroying the work in the process.”The Elixir of Love” is re-set in a 1950’s mid-west diner. The tenor, Ben Johnson, must be destined for a distinguished career.

A few days later it’s off to Rio de Janeiro, where the film festival is showing both “Mao’s Last Dancer” and “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding”. We arrive late at night and are taken to a smart hotel at Copacabana. The next morning I open the curtains to reveal a vast stretch of white sand at least 6 kilometres long. After a short time it’s packed with thousands of sunbathers. It strikes me as strange that almost no one is in the water. A few enquiries uncovers a well-kept secret, revealed here, I think, for the first time. The water is very very cold. Evidently all year round.

In the company of a young & extremely tall Architecture student named Thyago Miranda Dos Santos we spend a few days exploring the city. A vast number of the beautiful Portuguese colonial buildings have been torn down, including at least two huge palaces, and been replaced by skyscrapers, of the kind beloved by Le Corbusier and other masters of the eyesore. Evidently, the foolishness of this has now been realised and much of what is left is being restored. We tour the opera house, now back to its days of glory from a virtual ruin. Sections of roof were dropping onto the audience during performances. Finally, the director insisted on shutting the place. She persuaded the Government and the State petroleum company to cough up for repairs – which took four years.

Rio is so expensive that even London and Sydney seem cheap. I read in the “International Herald Tribune” that it is “the most expensive city in the Americas.” The locals must be well paid as the bars and restaurants are packed.

Both of my films are well received by the audience. “Mao’s Last Dancer” ended with a spontaneous standing ovation, but perhaps the Brazilians are even less critical than the Canadians.

About the author: Bruce Beresford