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Great vacation films

Great vacation films — Why you should check out ”Ring of Fire,” ”Vidal in Venice,” and others

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With spring fever heating up, why not make your getaway via video? The following tapes (all available by mail order) are first-rate productions that take an off-the-beaten-track approach to travel video, offering inspiration for trip planners and entertainment for those content to sit tight in their armchairs.

Ring of Fire: Perhaps the best travel-adventure series ever made, these four hour- long tapes are British Lorne and Lawrence Blair’s record of their 10-year exploration of Indonesia’s Spice Islands. Beginning in the mid-’70s, the filmmakers meet the headhunters who supposedly ate Michael Rockefeller, the professional python hunters of Bhutaan, a man who ignites paper through powers of concentration, and more. A staggering testimony to the magic of this world. A+

Land of Look Behind: Look Behind is what native Jamaicans call the forbidding island forests that here serve as a metaphor for the country’s deeply rooted Rastafarian culture. Directed by Alan Greenberg, what began as a record of Bob Marley’s 1981 funeral becomes an incendiary look at reggae/Rasta’s sociopolitical underpinnings — and a very different kind of Caribbean travel video. A

Touring Australia’s Great National Parks and Touring the Great Festivals of Europe: Questar’s travel tapes are routinely among the best, and these newest titles offer a characteristic blend of postcard-pretty photography, informative commentary, and inspired subject selection. Australia hopscotches the continent’s six park areas (including the otherworldly Ayers Rock), while Festivals guides you through a year’s worth of European fairs, carnivals, and religious celebrations. Both: A

Vidal In Venice: More erudite than this you’ll rarely get: two hours of author, raconteur, and part- time Venetian Gore Vidal presenting his favorite city (”the most beautiful cliché on earth”), with loving attention to its corporeal pleasures and cerebral delights. Like the city it covers, this 1984 tape feels timeless. A

Great Railway Journeys of the World: For many wayfarers, travel adventure means train travel, and British writer Brian Thompson’s five-day Bombay-Cochin journey reflects why: More than mere conveyances, trains provide Thompson with a movable microcosm of an endlessly fascinating people and culture. B+