01/02/2012

Bombay Beach


Bombay Beach is a desolate wasteland in southern California occupied by just over 300 people who use golf carts to get around. In the 1950s it was billed as a new Palm Springs-style holiday resort that attracted the likes of Frank Sinatra, but now it's more famous for its wacky locals and meth labs - a legend which should change after watching this intriguing and original documentary from award-winning Israeli photographer and video artist, Alma Har'el.

Since only normal people occupy densely-populated cities, Bombay Beach is filled with quirky (translation: weirdos you wouldn't sit next to on the bus) folks and Har'el chose three protagonists whose personal stories are different yet somehow say the same thing about the broken concept of the American dream. What stands out is the way Har'el utilises her interest in dance and music by creating dreamy vignettes that absolutely shouldn't work but do. Documentaries like this only work if you give a shit about the people featured and while old man Red may have some funny lines, it's Benny (a boy from a troubled but loving family who takes more pills than Demi Moore - too soon?) and CeeJay (who escaped from gangland LA so he could live to become an athlete) who provide the most entertainment. Har'el captures undeniably sweet moments - Benny playing with an abandoned fire truck, CeeJay making a glitter-covered gift for his new gal pal - with care and subtlety while the accompanying Bob Dylan covers by Beirut are seamless rather than shoehorned in.

There's been a lot of chat and hype about Bombay Beach but unlike so many recent releases, it actually deserves it.