Friday, December 1, 2006

Now Playing: The Vice Guide to Travel

I love discovering gems like The Vice Guide to Travel not only because it's completely unexpected but also because it illuminates and informs while it entertains me. I'd never heard of Vice Magazine before hearing about this collection of mini-documentaries, and I was intrigued when I dug a little deeper. Apparently the magazine sends its correspondents to literally the harshest, worst places on the planet, gives them a camera crew and says, "Have at it."

The result is a compilation of seven-minute documentaries that will each blow your mind in different ways. My Fair Lady was immediately put off by the first one we watched which was set in Beirut. The team interviews top Hezbollah members and shows the Palestinian Boy Scouts and their training. For the record, this version of the "Boy Scouts" trains these kids age 5-10 how to blow themselves up for "the cause" and how to hate Jews. Martrydom is made into a game for the kids who laugh and squeal with glee.

While not exactly a ringing endorsement for funny, it does show just how far these guys will go for a story and it sets the bar incredibly high for the rest of the disc. Fortunately, everything else hits home too, but none with such harsh emotional resonance.

One guy goes in search of a dinosaur in the heart of the Congo and what he finds must have been one of the worst hang-overs in his life. One guy hits the favellas of Rio de Janerio and parties with the local drug lords (a particular highlight). Another searches in South America for the rumored lost Nazi refuge with the caveat being that he's black, which guest Johnny Knoxville points out by saying, "They don't really respond well to people of color." The head of the magazine and a Berlin-based staff writer visit the ruins of Chernobyl to hunt "changed" animals amidst the radiation-infested snow while drunk out of their minds. This one would have been far better had the guy let the images speak for themselves versus intoning throughout how man shouldn't mess with things he can't control.

For my money though, the two that truly floored me were the one set in Bulgaria and the one set in Pakistan. The Bulgarian connection came about because a French journalist was able to buy a fully intact and functional nuclear warhead off the black market, so the head of Vice went there to see what he could find. He winds up talking with a weapons dealer (actually, "THE" weapons dealer) who can get anything anyone could ever want. The US state department continually claims that someone making a "dirty bomb" would be the gravest threat to national security, but this shows that terrorists don't need a dirty bomb when they can have a real one from the Bulgarian market.

As for the Pakistan one, we follow a correspondent of Pakistani descent to the world's largest arms market where people make thousands of guns a year by hand. There are countless reasons why all foreign journalists are banned from this area, and the correspondent's "in" is that his mother knows the right people. All the rhetoric coming out of Washington about the war being over in that region instantly fell on deaf ears as soon as I saw this. Regardless of who is in power in Washington, people who see this will note that the war in that region (and against terrorists in general) is so far from cut and dried, let alone over, it's absolutely mind-blowing.

Credit goes to the staffers of Vice Magazine for being as truly insane as they are. My mind was opened a lot thanks to their DVD, and having it stuffed with a bunch of nifty extras like extended footage, outtakes and such was fascinating. Each of these documentaries could have been over an hour long and it would have been equally as engaging if not more so. It's hardly a criticism to say the pieces on the disc were too short and left me wanting more, so deserved accolades go to Vice Magazine for this.

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