The Salton Sea—California's largest inland body of water, where movie stars and millionaires once milled about—is today such a desolate, decaying destination that a documentary about it almost has to have a sense of humor.
And so Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea does: it is narrated by the always arid and droll director John Waters and features "Hungarian revolutionaries, Christian nudists, pop stars, land sharks, hard drinkers." How could it not? They—except Waters—live there.
Surprised? You should be. Our collective jaws should stay agape that it has come to this: the meek have inherited the Salton Sea. Filmmakers Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer—deserved winners of some 16 Best Documentary awards—have amply succeeded in capturing on film the long winter of the Salton Sea's discontent: a dead season that seems never to end.
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As Metzler and Springer show, what was once billed as "Palm Springs with water"—a lush inland land of yacht clubs and sparkling beaches—has been soured for a generation by rising water levels and toxic agricultural runoff that make it a caricature of its former self. With characters.
There's the aforementioned Hungarian revolutionary—self-proclaimed "Hunky Daddy," a contemporary of the 1956 Hungarian revolution—who lives today in Bombay Beach, a hamlet on the Sea's eastern shore. There's Leonard White, whose Salvation Mountain of castoffs is the platform for his message: God is Love. There's Donald Scheidler, the "Christian nudist." There's the band Throw Rag, some of whose members hail from the region and proudly claim Salton Sea.
And everywhere, there is the sense that whatever future awaits Salton Sea—a wildlife preserve where millions of fish and birds have perished in the past decade—it can't be good. But also that, like this short film, it will be vividly recalled.
PLAGUES & PLEASURES ON THE SALTON SEA SCREENS AT EDWARDS ISLAND, NEWPORT BEACH. THURS., APRIL 27, 1 P.M.