There was a point in time when the Salton Sea, which sits like a festering sore some 50 miles south of Palm Springs in the Imperial Valley, was thought to be the vitalist, most elegant playground to the rich ever assembled by man (and river). Imagine a saline lake so immense (36 miles long), so fisherman friendly (fishing capital of the world!), so populated with celebs (Beach Boys, et al) and so decorated with come-see catchwords like “Riviera” and “resort” and “paradise” that five decades later a broken lot of weathered residents are still confused by the promise.
Thus, the fascinating backdrop for Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea (Tilapia), a documentary film by directors Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer which explores the Salton Sea’s past, present and future—each only distinguishable by a waffling variance in perception. Now looking like a third-world wasteland, the remaining residents seem half-mendicant, half-Thunder Dome, and wholly—oft-hilariously—conflicted. Appearing to be the only living human beings in a world long blasted to smithereens, there’s Hunky Daddy, a thickly accented Hungarian who drinks can-upon-can of beer to keep the Salton Sea looking to him paradisiacal; there’s The Landman, who still believes the resort boom is around the corner and that he’ll cash in; and there’s Norm Niver, a long time resident who eats the tilapia he catches raw, “like you would at Japanese restaurant,” without fear of the botulism that has downed so many pelicans and fish over the last decade. Plus a cast of other peaceable forgottens who speak at length of the problems, desolation and beauty of the Salton Sea—often in the same breath. The feeling of post-nuke desolation is narrated by none other than John Waters, whose lispy voice merges sad-to-funny with that sort of “oh, the wonderful absurdity of it all!” giddiness. It’s like no other documentary film you’ve ever seen.
On Thursday, October 4, the two filmmakers will premiere Plagues & Pleasures at the UCR California Museum of Photography, and will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A after both showings. If you’ve ever wondered at all the mysteries surrounding the greatest disaster that ever threatened (and continues to threaten) to be Eden on Earth, here’s the chance.
Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea, Thursday, October 4th at the UCR California Museum of Photography (3824 Main Street) in Riverside, 6pm and 7:45pm. Q&A to follow each screening; HYPERLINK "http://www.cmp.ucr.edu" \t "_blank" www.cmp.ucr.edu; $3 for screening, free for students.