Journalism: Reviews: Film: Bombay Beach

From the Ghettoblaster Magazine

Bombay Beach
Alma Har’el


The documentary Bombay Beach opens with historical promotional footage touting the
Salton Sea, a large saline lake in the California dessert (formed after an 1905 engineering
disaster) as a resort town, and then jumps to the present state of blight, abandonment, and
decay. The Full Monty (1997) begins the exact same way, but in Bombay Beach there is
no story and nothing much happens. It is a lyrical meditation on the detritus of the
American dream told to us through 80 minutes of anthropological cinema, quirky
characters, and music videos.

Har’el (a director of music videos) goes to her cinesthetic comfort zone with musical
interludes where the film’s subjects themselves perform. In doing so, she lets the music of
Beirut and Bob Dylan convey the mood. But it leaves the audience with questions: “Why
did the people leave?” (massive, stinking fish die-offs) and “Why did the fish die?”
(saline run-off from agriculture).

The Salton Sea and the people in its margins have been better covered by Plagues and
Pleasures on the Salton Sea, a documentary by Chris Metzler (narrated by the king of
camp John Waters) and by Ransom Riggs in his short film The Accidental Sea that can be
seen on YouTube.

– Zachary Barowitz