Film Review: Bombay Beach
By Adam Clery on February 20, 2012 in Film
Friday past, we ran a little preview piece about a film coming up at The Tyneside Cinema, namely the “innovative, ethereal and distinctive” documentary Bombay Beach. Saturday past, we rescheduled our fake tan and waxing appointments and actually went to see the thing.
My expectations of the film had it sitting somewhere between a jovially-soundtracked Panorama episode, and that episode of The Simpsons where Bart, Milhouse, Martin and Nelson go on a road trip to the World’s Fair, but end up getting stranded at a wig shop. In reality though, Bombay Beach is something much, much more original.
Following the lives of three separate residents of the forgotten American town of Bombay Beach, the film is part fly-on-the-wall documentary, part surreal staged imaginarium that constantly treads a line between harsh social commentary and deleted scene from Where The Wild Things Are. Sobering in parts, surreal in others.
Ultimately it’s a frightening look at just want can happen to civilisation when politicians, corporations, and various other “decision-makers” get things horribly wrong. Bombay Beach was designed to be a social utopia and vacation hotspot of what once was America’s blossoming South-Western tip, now it’s essentially a ghost town.
Where there should have been tens of thousands of tourists making the pilgrimage to an artificial haven in the desert, there are now less than 300 inhabitants, most living under the poverty line surrounded by the ruins of hotels and various other attractions. It takes you at least an hour to get to the nearest hospital, and a lot of people get around in golf buggies because the nearest petrol station is 20 miles out of the way. The truth of this place is stranger than any fiction.
Which in itself is the source of its only problem. Traditionally fact and fiction tend, cinematically speaking, to have something of an oil/water relationship. You can wrap one up in the other, but trying to have a clear distinction between the two looks and tastes slightly weird. The deliberately choreographed scenes (which include dancing, fire engines, and a slightly creepy metaphor about racial and social mobility using china doll masks) are all excellent, but do leave you wondering precisely how genuine the rest of the film is. And given what a bizarre place Bombay Beach actually is, makes you wonder why director Alma Har’el felt they were necessary.
That aside though, this an absolutely spellbinding spyglass into the decaying remnants of the American Dream. The relationships, aspirations and frankly startling revelations about the over-dosing of childhood medication are all the stuff of serious perception-challenging filmmaking and make it one of the most unique pieces of cinema I’ve seen for a while.
There’s only two screenings left in it’s current run at The Tyneside Cinema though, so if you want to catch it (you do) then you’ve got either 12.00 and 18.40 on Tuesday the 21st to choose from.
- Preview: Bombay Beach @ The Tyneside Cinema