Road trips can be magical.
As a child, I once awoke in the backseat - my father having sensibly driven all night to northern Ontario, four sleeping daughters being easier to manage than four lively ones in a confined space for a prolonged time - to the rare sight of a cougar in the early morning mist.
While waylaid with my young daughter in the States after being rear-ended hundreds of kilometres from home, we watched the comet Hale-Bopp travel through the night sky. And then there was the adventure of the three-to-four-hour, $800 ride high up in the cab of the flatbed tow truck that finally carried us and our crumpled car back to Toronto in the wee hours of the morning.
Road trips are the romance of never knowing what might be around the next bend. Road trips are highway rest stops and gas station restaurants, Tim Hortons and changing radio-scapes, fueling up and changing drivers, coming home and going away. Road trips are anticipation and denouement. In a country this vast, they are a national pastime, especially in summer.
Like many Canadians, I love to get in the car and just go. And by hitting just one road you can travel clear across the country. So my anticipation was high as I sat down to watch the National Film Board documentary The Longest Road about the Trans-Canada Highway.
The film opens on an orange-robed monk walking on the roadside. Bhaktimarga Swami (his name means path of devotion) has decided to take a break from the ashram and go on a long meditative walk across Canada. It's not entirely a surprise that he sets out from the West Coast.
The Swami is the one common thread that runs (perhaps that should be 'walks') throughout The Longest Road. And that's where my problem began. The Trans-Canada was designed for vehicles.
Stretching 7,821 kilometres from the Pacific to the Atlantic, our national "main street" passes through every province in one seemingly endless ribbon of highway. The filmmakers travelled its length from West to East gathering stories along the way.
There are road trip stories: The Fifties family of 11 that piled into a luxury Mercedes Benz mini-bus for a trip from Vancouver to Halifax; the two men who, in a 1912 R.E.O. Touring car, duplicated the first car trip across Canada; and two 20-year-old roommates hitchhiking across the land during the summer of 1965.
And there are stories of building the highway and opening the gas stations, restaurants and resorts that sprang up along the way. A cop who patrols the Montreal corridor and a Quebecois bus driver talk about their highway experiences. The opening of the Canso Causeway and Confederation Bridge are remembered. Musician Randy Bachman and author John Ralston Saul offer their thoughts on why Canadians love to go on the road. All of it is interspersed with updates on the Swami's progress.
But The Longest Road never develops a rhythm, never captures the self- contained universe of being on the road - the music, the wacky roadside attractions, the changing scenery, the odd characters, the surprises. There's no big picture, just lots of loosely bound bits. The filmmakers' scattershot approach reveals some touching moments and interesting facts but The Longest Road loses its way before it's barely begun.
The Swami took 215 days to complete his walk. He plans to do it again.n
For film enthusiasts or those without a penchant for the open road, Showcase delivers five short films from the Canadian Film Centre at 8 p.m. on Canada Day.
Evelyn: The Cutest Evil Dead Girl by Brad Peyton is a deliciously kooky little story told in rhyme, whose style is influenced by Edward Gorey and Edward Scissorhands. Its graphic design and drawn-art set enhance the slight story of a sweet, undead Goth girl's teenage angst.
In Filthy, a clean-obsessed high-school teacher dons latex gloves to handle her students' assignments and brings her own sheets, pillow cases and antiseptic hand gel to an anonymous sexual encounter. Director Seth Poulin captures grungy youth and sterile suburbia with realism, and startles with a sudden outburst of obscenity.
Short Hymn, Silent War starts slowly and at first is difficult to follow. But gradually it develops into a thoughtful threnody as we watch two families reconcile themselves to needless loss.
In Straight in the Face, a gay couple think their daughter's new boyfriend is gay. Double entendres and gay stereotypes fly, all in good fun.
Winter has a chilly, brooding tone. Iona awaits the homecoming of her beloved brother whom she hasn't seen in 15 years. Gabriel Hogan plays the brother with an aversion to the cold, Michelle Nolden his calculating sister and Lindy Booth her girlfriend who comes between the siblings. Disquieting but not satisfying, Winter left me cold.
There's plenty of variety in Canada Day programming. Here's a sampler of what else is on:
UP ON THE HILL
Canada Day Afternoon
CBC, noon Peter Mansbridge and Alison Smith host a live 90-minute special from Parliament Hill. Greetings from Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien will be followed by performances from, among others, The Snowbirds with their traditional fly past, singers Amanda Marshall and Adam Gregory, the Borealis String Quartet and baritone Gino Quilico.
Live From Parliament Hill
CBC, 9 p.m. Also from the Hill, this hourlong concert hosted by Shelagh Rogers features The Guess Who, Leahy, Quebec's Kevin Parent and folk group La Bottine Souriante.
Celebration from the Hill
CPAC, 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. Busy with your own celebrations? You can catch these half-hour highlight packages of the day's events in Ottawa.
A Flag for Canada
CBC, 8 p.m. Our familiar red and white flag with its simple yet distinctive design was born less than 40 years ago. This hourlong doc explores its tumultuous origins.
Shinny: The Hockey in All of Us
PBS, 8 p.m. WNED pays tribute to their neighbours to the north with an evening of Canadian programming beginning with this NFB film which captures our national sport in its purest form.
Postcards From Canada
PBS, 8:55 p.m. From sweeping Arctic vistas, to frenzied rush-hour traffic, to outer space and a Canadian-made satellite, Postcards celebrates all things Canadian.
MEscape: This Movie Network channel tier offers more than a dozen hours of Cancon films including the Inuit epic Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (5 p.m.); the charming Saint Monica, set in Toronto's Portuguese community (8 p.m.); and Paul Gross's Men with Brooms (9:30 p.m.).
MPix: The cinematic celebration from the TMN family of channels continues with these classics: the coming-of-age story My American Cousin (6:30 p.m.), The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew (8 p.m.) and Michael Moore's Canadian Bacon (9:35 p.m.).
Space: Twenty-four hours of Canadian-made though not Canadian-flavoured flicks include Quest for Fire (6 p.m.), Millennium (8:15 p.m.) and the 2002 made-for-TV Carrie (10:30 p.m.).
CFL Double Header
TSN, 5 p.m. The Canadian Football League salutes our nation's 136th birthday with a couple of back-to-back games. At 5 p.m. it's Edmonton at Winnipeg, followed at 8 p.m. by Ottawa at Calgary.
FROM THE HIP
Intimate & Interactive
with Gord Downie
MuchMoreMusic, 9 p.m. At a 2000 I&I with The Tragically Hip, Gord Downie inspired the crowd to break into a spontaneous if ragged rendition of O Canada, a rare and emotional display of patriotism. Here, the Hip front man will perform songs from Battle of the Nudes, his second solo release. Preceded by Countdown to Gord Downie, a compilation of video and career highlights, at 8 p.m.
TO THE HAPLESS
Trailer Park Boys Marathon
Showcase, 10 p.m. Two solid hours of Ricky, Julian and Bubbles. The four back-to-back episodes airing tonight are viewers' choice favourites.