Symkus column: Let the movies take you around the world - in your living room
Summer is here. Time for summer vacation. Oh, right, due to a certain widespread virus, summer vacations have been canceled this year. That’s a big bummer at our house. We had plans to fly to England, do the big-city London thing, make our way to Liverpool for some homage-paying to the Beatles, then hop a ferry to the Isle of Man (which I’d first heard of in the Who song “Happy Jack”) for some relaxation.
When all of that fell apart, I still had a yearning to see the place, and ended up getting at least a modicum of satisfaction by re-watching the charming 1998 film “Waking Ned Devine” which, though the story is set in a little village in Ireland, was shot entirely on the Isle of Man. Ah, well, maybe next year.
Of course, my wife and I are not alone in having our vacation plans dashed. But one thing that’s always made watching movies a pleasure for me is the ability to escape into them, to pretend that, for a couple of hours, you’re actually in the scenes, hanging out with the characters, no matter how far-flung or exotic the locations.
So, here are suggestions for some worldly getaways, right in your living room. As an added bonus, I’ve chosen films that also feature great writing, directing, and acting and, in the cases of a couple of documentaries, are quite informative. All of them are available on various streaming platforms. Happy virtual traveling!
“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” - It’s a road movie, with Australian locations changing, over vast distances, every time the three protagonists (Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce play drag queens, and Terence Stamp plays a transgender woman) take off in their big lavender bus. Locations include Sydney, Alice Springs, South Australia, Central Australia and New South Wales.
“Aquarela” - This wordless documentary about the power and beauty and danger of water was shot all over the world, with highlights at Lake Baikal in Russia, areas of Greenland, Portugal, and Siberia, a quick stop in Miami, and an awe-inspiring one at the top of Angel Falls in Venezuela.
“Around the World in 80 Days” - Make sure it’s the slightly long 1956 version, not the slapsticky 2004 one. Set in the 1800s, David Niven’s Phileas Fogg accepts a bet saying he can do what the title suggests. His voyage is caught on camera in Bangladesh, Spain, China, Japan, Thailand, England, France, California, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
“Eat Pray Love” - When Julia Roberts, as the newly divorced and emotionally lost New Yorker Liz Gilbert, decides to travel with hopes of finding herself, she makes stops in Bali, Naples, Delhi and Rome.
“The Endless Summer” - It’s an iconic documentary with an iconic poster and an iconic theme song that follows California surfers Mike Hynson and Robert August as they look for the best waves all around the world, dipping their longboards into waters in Australia, Tahiti, Ghana, New Zealand, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa.
“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” - The first film in the trilogy about a long journey through Middle-earth was filmed completely in New Zealand, a land of many different geographies. Cameras and actors were together in Wellington, the Hinuera Valley, Kaitoke Regional Park, Port Waikato, Fiordland National Park, Rangipo Desert, Lake Wakatipu, Takaka Hill, Tongariro National Park (which stood in for Mordor) and Mount Ngauruhoe (which stood in for Mount Doom).
“Lost in Translation” - Over-the-hill movie star Bob (Bill Murray) and lonely tourist Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) form an offbeat friendship in Japan. The filmmakers catch their story at sites all over Tokyo and Kyoto.
“Midnight in Paris” - Woody Allen’s romantic literary fantasy jumps back and forth in time between present day and 1920s Paris, and seems to explore every part of the city. Scenes are set at Notre Dame Cathedral, the Hotel Le Bristol, Musée Rodin, Musée de l’Orangerie, Shakespeare & Company, Cleopatra’s Needle, Pont Neuf and the Arc de Triomphe.
“The Spy Who Loved Me” - The Bond films always have fantastic locations on their shooting schedules. This one jumps from Italy to Scotland, and then on to Switzerland, Egypt, Malta and the Bahamas. The amazing parachute-ski jump during the opening sequence was shot - not in the Alps - but in Nunavik, Canada.
“The Trip” - The first of the quartet of films starring bickering and competitive travel buddies Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon driving through gorgeous areas and eating in fine restaurants was filmed in England, and featured the scenery of Whitewell, Cumbria Keswick, Lancashire and the North Yorkshire Dales.
“The Trip to Italy” - Filming took place in Piemonte, San Fruttuoso, Viareggio, Rome, Ravello and Capri
“The Trip to Spain” - We get to see Port Getaria, Prejano, Cuenca, Almagra and Malaga
“The Trip to Greece” - It doesn’t start in Greece, it starts in Turkey, specifically in Troy, then moves on to Kavala, Pelion, Athens, Hydra, The Mani, and Ithaca, which was presumably the route Odysseus followed in “The Odyssey.”
Ed Symkus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.