Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea Movie Review

To say the Salton Sea is obscure is an understatement. My wife was born and raised in San Diego, two hours from the Salton Sea and had never even heard of it.

The Salton Sea is a complicated ecological mess that most Californians would prefer to forget about. This enchanting documentary tells the full story of the place. It begins thanks to pioneering, turn-of-the-1900s entrepreneurs who diverted the Colorado River into the SoCal desert, filling in a giant lake. Soon it's the "other" Palm Springs, with legendarily good fishing, and plenty of resort activities like swimming, skiing, and getting drunk. But the water was sustained in the Sea by runoff from nearby farms, which led to the salinity increasing out of control. The lake became so salty (saltier than the ocean) that it could kill fish, which led to an incredible stench, dead birds, botulism, and the utter collapse of the area's economy. It didn't help that flooding put most of the coastal buildings and streets underwater, permanently.

But Salton is still there, as are stragglers who hang on to their trailer homes and dive diners, attracted by the ultra-cheap land ($400 a lot in some places), despite the lack of any sort of greenery and the omnipresent smell of dead animals.

The documentary balances the history of the sea with a look at its potential resurgence, something all the locals would love to see but which seems increasingly unlikely. And naturally, the kind of people who remain in Salton are just what you'd expect: Eccentric and strange, whether they be a nudist waving at passersby or the unofficial "mayor" of Salton City, a Hungarian immigrant known as Hunky Daddy with a fondness for beer.

Directors Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer imbue this touching and abbreviated documentary with some somber warnings about how destroying the Sea -- even though it's entirely man-made -- could be a catastrophe, but John Waters' blowsy narration ultimately keeps things on a lighter, almost frivolous, note. I'm not sure how I feel about that: After all, we've seen movies about eccentrics before (Grey Gardens, Gates of Heaven), but few of them have much to do with anything that's actually important.

DVD extras include a commentary track, extra interviews and deleted scenes (skaters in Salton!), and other ephemera.

Cast & Crew

Director : Chris Metzler, Jeff Springer

Producer : Chris Metzler

Starring :

Comments

Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 2004

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