• Bb4
  • Bb3
  • Bb1
Film

Alma Har'el: Bombay Beach

Posted by Liv Siddall,

Rarely does a documentary come more beautiful and gloriously silver-lined as Alma Har’el’s sensational film Bombay Beach that came exploding into our cinemas last week. Everyone’s going on about the soundtrack (Bob Dylan, Beirut – I know) but that’s only the tip of the iceberg, as Har’el’s delicately inquisitive film takes us into the broken promise of one very particular American Dream.

Years ago in post-war Southern California, a town called Salton Sea was a thriving holiday resort. Built on the green banks of a fresh blue lake, the location swore decades of sunshine, a sun-trap for tourists from around the world.

Bombay Beach opens with 1950s stock footage of this utopian bay – people jumping off piers, mouths chomping on ice creams, pin-up style girls with gleaming teeth reflecting the sun etc. etc. After a minute or so, the sunshine is cut short, and Har’el’s own footage of a present day, and barely recognisable Salton Sea is revealed.

For the next 80 minutes we are dragged around the dead dog-strewn wasteland, following the very different and poignant lives of Benny, Ceejay and Red – three men, all at incredibly different but equally key points in their lives. 
Visually we are thrown into a barren, difficult wilderness – children poke dead birds and take an alarming amount of ritalin; teenagers bump and grind so seriously you feel like a third wheel; wizened and trailer-dwelling old people drop like flies in piles of counterfeit cigarettes.

With those images in mind, what Har’el has managed to do is pull out every single dream-droplet of happiness and love in this deserted place and display it in front of us like a picnic. By spending four trust-gaining months with these people, she has managed to show them to us through her eyes, revealing Benny’s loving family, Ceejay’s dreams of a future elsewhere, and Red’s utter happiness with a life that could be incredibly easy to complain about.

Even though we are wholly being presented with truth, it is clear to see that Alma was not afraid to step in and use artistic direction on scenes to emphasise something she felt was worth highlighting. Ultimately, this gave the film a reassuring feeling of control, and a warm, nostalgic style reminiscent of her previous and very well respected music videos.


It would be a shame not to mention the soundtrack to Bombay Beach, I am sure I was not the only person lassoed in by the promise of a film set to music by Bob Dylan and Beirut. While the wistful brass tones of Beirut still remind me more of Europe than southern California – Zach Condon’s voice cannot fail to crank up the level emotional content of any moving image – it is Bob Dylan’s Series of Dreams that is a perfect accompaniment to the typically American-dream images flashing before us.

A perfect combination of Alma’s true talent at film making and with Dylan’s lyrics doing the narrating: “Thinking of a series of dreams, Where the time and the tempo fly, And there’s no exit in any direction,’Cept the one that you can’t see with your eyes…”

Ls-300

Posted by Liv Siddall

Liv joined It’s Nice That as an intern in 2011 and is now one of our editors. She oversees itsnicethat.com and has a particular interest in illustration, photography and music videos. She is also a regular guest and sometime host on our Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Film View Archive

  1. Oneminutewondr-peterblake-int-list

    “I think an artist is never happy with their work. Occasionally you make a mark that you like but that’s a good thing because you’re still aiming higher than you can physically attain.” This lovely line comes from the latest One Minute Wonder video profile, featuring the inimitable Sir Peter Blake. The short-but-sweet snapshots from Dutch agency Present Plus are among the best creative films out there, managing to pack enough insight into 60 seconds to give you a great introduction to the subject but also leave you hungry for more. I hadn’t actually been to the site for a while but I was delighted to find a raft of great new profiles, including Sam Bompas, Lucy McRae, Matilda Tristram and Craig Ward.

  2. Johnnolan-hereeast-list

    John Nolan may have the coolest job title on earth, described as he is as “a designer and creator of robots.” An animatronics expert who’s worked on a whole heap of blockbusters (from Harry Potter and Hellboy to Where The Wild Things Are and Clash Of The Titans), John was the go-to guy when Poke and directorial team The Theory wanted to do something pretty special to promote Here East, a new maker space on the site of the Olympic Park in east London.

  3. Flylo-coronus-the-terminator-int-list

    Coronus, The Terminator is the latest single from Flying Lotus, taken from the album You’re Dead! As the album title suggests, it’s a moody, atmospheric tune, backed up by an equally heavyweight video. The five minute epic comes courtesy of Young Replicant and Pulse films and follows a dying man through his last minutes on Earth, hovering between conscious and unconscious worlds, battling the demons of his past before he moves into the next world.

  4. Main

    There are a lot of people talking about this documentary. It’s something of a whirlwind 12 minutes in which Guardian writer Kieran Yates and director Marcus Plowright immerse themselves in one of London, or perhaps the world’s most intriguing, exciting countercultures: Muslim drag queens. Through east London bedrooms and the back seats of taxis we are led into the world of men whose lives revolve around transforming into women and performing in increasingly packed-out drag clubs across the country. Kieran, who originally pitched this idea to The Guardian, kindly allowed us to ask her some questions on what is a small but phenomenally informative and powerful short.

  5. List

    For all the fashion world’s beauty and prestige – both in the clothes and those who wear them – it really can be a little daft sometimes. In fashion films in particular the seriousness, the peculiar facial expressions and the melodrama are rife for a gentle, affectionate ribbing: a route that director Danny Sangra took in his refreshing and brilliant Fashion Creatives film for Mercedes-Benz, A Fistful of Wolves.

  6. Listan-allegory-with-venus-and-cupid-bronzini

    “Each film is a roll of the dice. You don’t know what you’re going to get,” says Fred Wiseman, director of the brilliant new film National Gallery rather philosophically, chatting to The Telegraph’s Mark Hudson at the film’s screening in its titular home last week.

  7. Simon_portehome

    Simon Porte Jacquemus is a Paris-based, self-taught designer who started his label at 19. He cites “off” taste and juvenile humour as inspiration for his clothes, and each collection has a narrative through not only the fabrics and colour-ways but a sense of identity, place and character. Simon works with filmmaker and photographer Bertrand le Pluard on the films and lookbooks.

  8. Jesse_kanda_home

    Self-taught artist Jesse Kanda makes dystopian, macabre films made up of distorted images of alien car crashes, dancing dead babies and everything in between. You’ll no doubt have seen his work on the brilliant and now ubiquitous cover for FKA Twigs’ LP1.

  9. Lsit

    Whether in the art world or in the tabloids, the Turner Prize has no small amount of artistic baggage to schlep about from year to year. As such, creating designs around the awards ceremony itself is something not to be treated either too flippantly or with too much deference to its heritage, a bridge crossed very deftly indeed in the promotional video by Why Not Associates for this year’s Channel Four Turner Prize broadcast.

  10. List

    Scott Carthy only graduated from Kingston University’s Graphic Design course last summer, but the 22-year-old Irish creative looks like he has a very big 2015 in front of him if the first week is anything to go by. Uploaded just seven days ago, Scott’s new film Litefeet has racked up thousands of views and been featured on many of the leading creative blogs around. The film – which follows New York subway dancers against the backdrop of a city-wide crackdown on their activities – is the follow-up to 1050.6© Scott’s first look at the same issue which we featured back in May.

  11. Lsit

    Ever wondered what your furniture gets up to when you’re out the house? All sorts of naughtiness, if the video for Dan Deacon’s Feel the Lightning is to be believed. Directed by Andrew Jeffrey Wright, we see a pair of mischievous armchairs get up to no good; defacing pictures, knocking sweeties all over the shop and learning about sex, then practising it. The party might be over for most of us, but not for these sneaky seats, who are joined in their revelry by a book about colours and shapes, which apparently parps the contents of his pages into being, resulting in a glorious carnival of dancing and brightly-hued frivolity. And like only the most meticulously planned (and lucky) teenage house parties, everything is perfectly back in order once the master of the house returns home. Almost…

  12. List

    Lernert & Sander’s brilliance lies in their ability to see a brief from a point of view that manages to be both really obvious and completely novel at the same time. So when the Dutch artists and directors were commissioned by 3.1 Phillip Lim to promote their new shoe range, they went back to basics and realised that footwear, in essence, is all about feet. They then tracked down and interviewed four of the world’s leading foot models, pedicured professionals who have stood in for the likes of Brad Pitt, Sarah Jessica Parker and Madonna in the past.

  13. Main

    Some video directors like to head straight to the lyrics of a song for inspiration. The lyrics of Tom Rosenthal’s song Watermelon are as follows: “It’s watermelon time, I said boom boom boom boom boom boom boom. It’s watermelon time, I said boom boom boom boom boom boom boom. It’s watermelon time, I said boom boom boom boom boom boom boom. It’s watermelon time, I said boom boom boom boom boom boom boom. It’s a fruit based love.” It only seems fitting then that the video accompaniment to this tune is footage of a man in an extremely well-crafted watermelon suit, bounding around the British countryside willy-nilly. Hats off to Sidd Khajuria, Ben Elwyn, Nathan Jones, and Tom Rosenthal himself for keeping things simple, with fantastic results.