Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Bombay Beach

Out past the borders of America, on the shores of a dead lake, schemers and dreamers spend their days scrabbling, dancing and drifting in Alma Har’el’s arresting, Dylan- and Beirut-scored art project of a documentary.

Oct 14, 2011

-By Chris Barsanti


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1283498-Bombay_Beach_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

If there had been one more shot here that reminded one of a faux-poetic Levi’s commercial or sunset-hued music-video, just one, Bombay Beach would have tipped the balance into unbearable. As it stands, filmmaker Alma Har’el—veteran of a few music-videos, surprise, surprise—very nearly stands guilty of imposing too much of her vision on the post-apocalyptic landscape where she trains her camera. It’s a hardscrabble collection of wastrels, strivers and desert rats who make their home in Bombay Beach, a scraggly community on California’s Salton Sea, that massive inland lake once pushed as a recreational paradise. What Har’el’s camera captures is a ghostly afterimage left behind once Bombay Beach’s initial promise as a resort town faded (glimpses of which are seen in half-comic, half-tragic old booster footage); it’s like the dark, David Lynch side of the desert iconoclasts from Nick Brandestini’s Darwin.

Har’el weaves several different characters into this tone poem of a film; they don’t have much to do with one another but help her present a multitude of viewpoints. Red is a lean piece of old hickory who gets by selling bootleg cigarettes from an Indian reservation and doesn’t mind scaring off punks with his cannon of a .44 handgun. With a casually outlaw and fatalistic air, he holds court in a dusty circle of trailer homes and, in his William S. Burroughs grumble, makes pronouncements like “Life is nothing but a habit anyway.” CeeJay is a bundle of bright-eyed teenage physicality and hope, an anomaly on these empty and somewhat hopeless desert avenues. A refugee from South Central Los Angeles (he was sent to Bombay Beach to live with his father after his cousin was shot and killed), CeeJay is a star player on his school football team and thinks he has a shot at a scholarship.

Stage center, though, is the Parrish family. When Har’el starts filming, they are not far removed from jail time that they served for running a military-style gun and explosives range. (“They like to play war,” one local comments.) Now living with three children and apparently unemployed, the Parrishes try to figure out what to do with their youngest, six-year-old Benny. A discipline case at school the previous year, Benny has been placed by the local therapist on a steady diet of Ritalin and other heavy-duty drugs that leave him spacey and aloof, an astronaut adrift.

Har’el has no problem breaking the objectivity barrier in this art-documentary. There is a staginess to her concept which doesn’t try to hide itself, using the songs of Beirut and Bob Dylan to great effect at several moments. She clearly has a rapport with each of the people she’s following, and leavens their narration gracefully over the glimmering, dusty beauty of her images. But there are many irruptions of planned fancy, from the white masks that CeeJay and his girlfriend place around them as they kiss on the ground, to the couples she is always happening to find while slow-dancing (the credits at least do list a choreographer). A scene of CeeJay and his friends dancing in abandoned houses while also smashing windows is stunning eye-candy, but feels too planned by half, like Larry Clark without the perversity.

When Bombay Beach approaches true art, instead of art project, is when it doesn’t try to force the story, particularly in the case of Benny. After listening to his relating a harrowing dream (“I was in jail for a hundred years…”), and seeing his vacant stare in the middle of a cheery birthday party, you feel that you have witnessed something true and lonely and deadening. If the rest of Har’el’s admittedly powerful film could have been less drunk on American Gothic stylistics, it might have had that kind of skin-tingling honesty.



Film Review: Bombay Beach

Out past the borders of America, on the shores of a dead lake, schemers and dreamers spend their days scrabbling, dancing and drifting in Alma Har’el’s arresting, Dylan- and Beirut-scored art project of a documentary.

Oct 14, 2011

-By Chris Barsanti


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1283498-Bombay_Beach_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

If there had been one more shot here that reminded one of a faux-poetic Levi’s commercial or sunset-hued music-video, just one, Bombay Beach would have tipped the balance into unbearable. As it stands, filmmaker Alma Har’el—veteran of a few music-videos, surprise, surprise—very nearly stands guilty of imposing too much of her vision on the post-apocalyptic landscape where she trains her camera. It’s a hardscrabble collection of wastrels, strivers and desert rats who make their home in Bombay Beach, a scraggly community on California’s Salton Sea, that massive inland lake once pushed as a recreational paradise. What Har’el’s camera captures is a ghostly afterimage left behind once Bombay Beach’s initial promise as a resort town faded (glimpses of which are seen in half-comic, half-tragic old booster footage); it’s like the dark, David Lynch side of the desert iconoclasts from Nick Brandestini’s Darwin.

Har’el weaves several different characters into this tone poem of a film; they don’t have much to do with one another but help her present a multitude of viewpoints. Red is a lean piece of old hickory who gets by selling bootleg cigarettes from an Indian reservation and doesn’t mind scaring off punks with his cannon of a .44 handgun. With a casually outlaw and fatalistic air, he holds court in a dusty circle of trailer homes and, in his William S. Burroughs grumble, makes pronouncements like “Life is nothing but a habit anyway.” CeeJay is a bundle of bright-eyed teenage physicality and hope, an anomaly on these empty and somewhat hopeless desert avenues. A refugee from South Central Los Angeles (he was sent to Bombay Beach to live with his father after his cousin was shot and killed), CeeJay is a star player on his school football team and thinks he has a shot at a scholarship.

Stage center, though, is the Parrish family. When Har’el starts filming, they are not far removed from jail time that they served for running a military-style gun and explosives range. (“They like to play war,” one local comments.) Now living with three children and apparently unemployed, the Parrishes try to figure out what to do with their youngest, six-year-old Benny. A discipline case at school the previous year, Benny has been placed by the local therapist on a steady diet of Ritalin and other heavy-duty drugs that leave him spacey and aloof, an astronaut adrift.

Har’el has no problem breaking the objectivity barrier in this art-documentary. There is a staginess to her concept which doesn’t try to hide itself, using the songs of Beirut and Bob Dylan to great effect at several moments. She clearly has a rapport with each of the people she’s following, and leavens their narration gracefully over the glimmering, dusty beauty of her images. But there are many irruptions of planned fancy, from the white masks that CeeJay and his girlfriend place around them as they kiss on the ground, to the couples she is always happening to find while slow-dancing (the credits at least do list a choreographer). A scene of CeeJay and his friends dancing in abandoned houses while also smashing windows is stunning eye-candy, but feels too planned by half, like Larry Clark without the perversity.

When Bombay Beach approaches true art, instead of art project, is when it doesn’t try to force the story, particularly in the case of Benny. After listening to his relating a harrowing dream (“I was in jail for a hundred years…”), and seeing his vacant stare in the middle of a cheery birthday party, you feel that you have witnessed something true and lonely and deadening. If the rest of Har’el’s admittedly powerful film could have been less drunk on American Gothic stylistics, it might have had that kind of skin-tingling honesty.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

May in the Summer
Film Review: May in the Summer

Jordanian brides, their sisters, difficult moms and diffident men would seem to have a lot in common with Kate Hudson, Jennifer Aniston, Katherine Heigl and other WASP princesses with their own predictable white-gown blues in countless rom-coms. More »

To be Takei
Film Review: To Be Takei

The kaleidoscopic life of the Enterprise's chauffeur—an Asian and gay showbiz pioneer—is explored in this entertaining but diffuse documentary. More »

K2: Siren of the Himalayas
Film Review: K2: Siren of the Himalayas

Mountaineering documentary follows an expedition to K2 in the Himalayas. More »

The Possession of Michael King
Film Review: The Possession of Michael King

All unhappy families may be unhappy in their own way, but movies about possession/exorcism tend to a numbing sameness. That said, The Possession of Michael King, yet another "found footage" frightener, whips up some creepy moments and features a strong performance by Shane Johnson as the atheist who makes the mistake of daring the Devil to prove he's not just another bogeyman. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Film Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Neither significantly better nor worse than its predecessor, the belated Sin City sequel is more of a repeat, rather than a continuation, of the original. More »

If I Stay
Film Review: If I Stay

Delivers as promised. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here