June 16th, 2007


Another in our "Delights of Dysfunction" series

Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea is a wonderful movie.  It's about a huge man-made (accidentally) lake in California that, over the years, people have tried to develop into the next French Riviera, the next Las Vegas, the next Palm Springs and the next LA-style megalopolis.  It almost happened in the '50s and '60s, but because of one disaster or another (natural or unnatural), it now lies nearly abandoned in the California dessert, looking for all the world like the aftermath of Armageddon.

The movie explores the history of the Salton "Sea," what's going on there now and what's likely (or not) to happen in the future.  While remaining--for the most part--apolitical,* it explains (without trying to) exactly why George W. Bush is president of the United States.  The human capacity for denial and delusion is, it turns out, infinite.  People can look at something and see exactly what they want to see no matter what is actually there.

Some of the residents of the communities around the Salton Sea (one of which is called Bombay Beach) see it as a paradise.**  Another gentleman says, "It's a perfectly serviceable sewer, just leave it be, just use it for that."  Some people fish there,*** eat the fish and always have. Others think the fact that the Fish and Wildlife Service has purchased, and installed on the premises, a crematorium for disposing of the bodies of pelicans who died of botulism they got from eating the fish, is an indication that maybe TV dinners are a better idea.

There is the underlying reality that, before the movie was made, regular 1/4 acre housing lots in this paradise--with city sewer, water and utilities--were selling for $400 each.****  Or not.  Truth is you couldn't give them away.  Since the area has received some publicity, some lots have been priced as high as $25K.*****  The underlying reality there, though, is that people are buying up lots and trying to resell them for a profit.  Nobody is buying land and building houses that they, themselves, want to live in.

Plagues and Pleasures gets my June 2007 "Tell Me a Story I Haven't Heard in an Engaging and Entertaining Way" award.  Today I have to see Day Watch, though, so it's not like there isn't any competition.

. . .

*The only really political statement it makes is how monumentally useless our governments are at all levels, and this it makes through exposition and demonstration rather than open accusation.

**It is pretty much crime free, seein' as how the 5000-odd residents don't have anything anyone else wants.

***It's teeming with fish, believe it or not, for reasons the movie explains.

****How undesirable does a piece of land have to be to be located in southern California, 50 miles from Palm Springs and not be salable?  Rent the movie and see.

*****This is from one of the co-creators of the film (Chris Metzler) who was there at the screening.  The movie doesn't say that because a movie can't speak to what happened two years after it was in the can, if you know what I mean.