" I don’t like kids. They smell like TV. "
— Mischa Barton, Lawn Dogs

MRQE Top Critic

Jaffa

Jaffa views the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through the lens of young love. —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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The Vice Guide to Travel,” proclaims the box, “contains nudity, guns, drugs, cussing, and assorted other heaviness. If you are easily offended, put this DVD down and walk away now.”

Likewise, this review contains some four-letter words that you may not want your children to read, so switch to a different review if you think you might be offended.

There is a magazine called “Vice,” apparently. I hadn’t heard of them either until a DVD called The Vice Guide to Travel showed up at Movie Habit. I decided to give the DVD 10 minutes as a favor to the publicist. To the DVD’s credit, I got so engrossed that I watched the whole thing, including the extra features.

Ain’t the Travel Channel

Take a magical mystery tour with the Vice Guide to Travel
Take a magical mystery tour with the Vice Guide to Travel

The DVD’s case promises “the planet’s most dangerous and weird destinations,” which sounds more like marketing than a plausible description. Nevertheless, the DVD delivers what it promises. If your jaw isn’t dropped to the floor from the shocking images on-screen, you might be laughing at absurdities, shaking your head in disbelief, or smiling at the generous dispositions of your tour guides.

The DVD consists of seven short videos, each about 10 minutes long. Each segment has the pace and patter of a typical travel-channel featurette. But whereas a travel channel would give you amber-filtered photography, canned music, and slickly coiffed hosts, The Vice Guide to Travel gives you genuine curiosity, no-bullshit interviews, and surprising (sometimes shocking) footage you will never see on cable TV.

The seven segments vary in quality from “un-fucking-believable” to “that didn’t work out as well as they’d hoped.” The entire DVD remains very watchable, however, with the strongest segments shown first and the weaker segments shuffled in the middle.

Dehumanizing Songs, Black-Market Capitalism

The DVD starts strong with our tour guides in search of a skate park built by Hezbollah. They wanted to skate with the Palestinian “boy scouts,” who are being raised to kill and die in noble and righteous battle against Israel. By the time our hosts find the skate park, it has been reduced to rubble, but undaunted they find the “boy scouts” and listen in. Like kindergartners everywhere, these kids are happy to show off the dances and songs they’ve learned in school, and proudly display their crayon-on-paper masterworks. Unlike your nieces and nephews, these children sing songs that dehumanize Jews and praise violence against Israel. The drawings on the refrigerator are just as disgusting: body parts, blood, and stabbed stars of David. You might imagine or read about such things, but you will not see them on your TV.

While you’re still reeling from the images of the first segment, the second segment begins with our tour guide calmly explanation that, because the editor was so freaked out about the next segment, they decided to simply record their conversation, rather than try to put together a tavelogue-like scene. The guide goes on to relate how the former Communist state of Bulgaria has wholeheartedly embraced free-market capitalism. A French journalist had recently purchased a warhead, and our guide wanted to see if he could do the same thing. Although he didn’t get to touch the warhead, he found the man who had sold it to the French journalist. Here, sitting across from our guide, is a man who does business with Bin Laden, has access to dirty-bomb warheads, and is willing to sell said merchandise to anyone with enough money. When our guide explains how a dirty bomb could effectively remove New York City from the United States, the editor’s shocked, devastated, expression says it all.

If every segment were as strong as these two, I’d have to recommend The Vice Guide to Travel more highly. But the rest of the segments are a mixed bag. None of them are outright boring — each has some glimmer of danger, excitement, or the exotic. But the best definitely comes first.

Just the Right Size

We travel to Chernobyl, where the radiophobia in the eyes of our journalist — drunk because alcohol is supposed to stave off radiation — says as much as the Geiger counter they take with them. We witness a hallucinatory trip with Pygmies in the Congo, a rave thrown by drug dealers in the City of God, and a visit to the black-market arms bazaar that supplies most of the anti-American jihadists of the world.

Most forgettable is the trip to South America to look for German descendants of Nietzsche, Wagner, and Mengele. But even this mostly-fizzled segment has some interesting characters, with sort of a Brothers Keeper vibe.

A lot could have gone wrong between the inception and the distribution of this DVD. Had there been more segments, or had each segment been a few minutes longer, viewers could easily start to get bored. Trying to publish this as a “monthly DVD magazine” might spread resources too thin and be too hard to keep up with. But The Vice Guide to Travel is just the right size. It will open your eyes without wasting your time.

Overall, The Vice Guide to Travel is an excellent find. It is a rare gem, found in a pile of rubbish. It’s the sort of random, Skinnerian reward that keeps film critics and movie lovers wading through piles of bad movies; if we keep digging, maybe once in a while we’ll find something as unexpectedly good as this.

DVD Extras

There are half a dozen additional segments, on the DVD, none more than about 2 minutes long. If these segments were any longer, they would not be worth watching. But the excellent editors at Vice do not take advantage.

The better extra feature is a hard-bound, 65-page book. It is an excellent companion, and a great way to digest what you’ve seen, maybe even embellishing the video segment with a few more details. The still photos are excellent, and not simply borrowed from the video segments.

Picture and Sound

The video footage is outstanding, not necessarily of because of the quality but because of the rarity. Sound quality is also very good. Even when the journalists are trying to be a little inconspicuous, they will go out of their way to get good, clear sound.

How to Use this DVD

Don’t commit yourself to watching the entire Vice Guide to Travel. Commit to one or two segments, but let yourself off the hook if it’s too intense. If the segments suck you in, you will be pleasantly surprised.

Same goes for the extra features. Watch one or two, just to get a taste. If they suck you in, watch one more, then another, and another until you’ve finished them off.

The book is very good, too, but you don’t need to read it at the same time, as it contains much of the same stuff as the video segments. Put the book on your coffee table and pick it up again in a week. Read a bit here and there as inspiration strikes.

  • Marty Mapes: Got an interesting press release recently:

    In the 14-part Vice Guide to North Korea, our cameras travel where precious few news crews have gone before: deep into the hermit kingdom of Pyongyang. Let's just say that our footage shows a very different North Korea from the one the mainstream media portrays. April 13, 2008 reply