• 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. Main

    If you’re slightly unhappy in your day-to-day job and secretly feel that perhaps you should be doing something a tad more creative, look away now. This film leads you up whitewashed stairs to a gargantuan, high-ceilinged New York studio, inhabited by two well-known artists, Ana Kras and Devendra Banhart. We’ve featured Ana’s work a few times on the site for her beautiful, simplistic, friendly furniture design and works on paper.

  2. List-3

    I’m happy to admit that after watching all three minutes and 47 seconds of Stevie Gee’s new music video for Archie Bronson Outfit, my computer desktop is littered with so many screenshots of boobs, beers and motorbikes in psychedelic hues that I can scarcely find anything else. And the thing is I don’t even mind.

  3. Main

    This is nuts. When you thought OK GO couldn’t do any better in one take than their last, famed effort then think again. The foursome are back with one of the most staggering efforts in the history of music videos, this time set in some sort of airport where the gang ride around on electronic unicycles popping umbrellas with about 1000 extras to form kaleidoscopic patterns when shot from above. The jaw dropping first few minutes is totally trumped in the last minute where the whole formation quadruples in size leaving you with your jaw resting on the desk in front of you. Unreal.

  4. List

    There are moments in life when Abba really seem to speak to us. Not just in how the band really seems to get how it feels to be seeing the winner smugly taking it all, or to be terribly grateful for the music, but in the literal sense that they’re actually talking to us. This nonsense is all now a reality thanks to the superb video for beatboxer Roy Kafri’s single Mayokero that’s been doing the internet rounds for a few days.

  5. List

    Some writers create page-turners; masters of narrative and plot that compel you to keep on reading. In some ways Joan Didion is the opposite, although her writing is no less compelling. When reading her work, its brilliance stops me dead over and over again, such is her ability to analyse a person, a place or a concept and then articulate her thoughts.

  6. List-2

    Peter Brookes is a demigod among political cartoonists. The septuagenarian is now in his 22nd year at The Times where he still produces a cartoon every day, distilling the frustrations, jibes and political unrest of the nation into one biting image to a looming and unmoveable deadline. This short film The Art of Satire examines Peter’s work in the contexts both of political cartooning and of The Times, who recognise Peter’s exceptional skill by allowing him to contradict the editorial direction of the paper in favour of following his own line.

  7. List

    New York-based artist Daniel Arsham is a figure with fingers in a lot of different conceptual pies, from installation works to short films. While architecture plays an important part in his work, so too do the paradoxes and oddities of human nature, and that’s what’s under the microscope here.

  8. List

    CANADA are the epitome of supercool; everything our favourite Barcelona-based filmmakers and producers touch turns to chic, so it’s time the rest of us just put down our on-trend moccasins, blacked-out sunglasses and tiny man-buns and just let them get on with it. What better way to retire our cool-hunting ways than to watch the collective’s latest short, Laberinto (Labyrinth), directed by Marc Oller, which sees the classic love story of a boy chasing an aloof girl played out sublimely.

  9. List

    In the design world, the brief plays many different roles – ubiquitous, all-important, loathed, misunderstood; it can be a starting point, a back-up and a battleground. And yet we don’t often hear that much about the brief and its place in the creative industry – enter design strategy firm Bassett & Partners. Posing the question “if every project starts with a brief, why aren’t there more projects that end up with exceptional results?” the San Francisco-based company have tried to rectify this imbalance with their interesting short film Briefly.

  10. List

    Guillermo Del Toro usually associates himself with the darker side of filmmaking, but the Mexican director and producer has just finished work on an altogether more upbeat and life-affirming movie. The Book Of Life follows the story of Manolo, a young man caught in the middle of a wager between two deities who must embark on an epic adventure in order to see the woman he loves again.

  11. List

    Gothenburg’s Goat are probably one of the most interesting bands out there at the moment. Their infectious fusion of world music, psych and heavy rock has captured the imagination of a now massive fan base, and their live performances are notoriously theatrical; the whole band costumed and gyrating like some kind of ancient Dionysian cult. Their music videos are pretty nuts too.

  12. Jw2list

    It actually takes a lot of hard work to make something seem effortlessly cool, but it helps if the raw ingredient you’re working with is, well, Jude Law. And your backdrop is the tranquil waters of the British Virgin Islands. This great new short for Johnnie Walker Blue Label opens with two men entering into a wager: if one wants to win the other’s vintage yacht, he’ll have to dance for it.

  13. Main

    We’ve been talking a lot recently about the gradual shift of the internet: websites becoming more advanced, successful blogs being abandoned left right and centre, artists adopting new ways of uploading and sharing music. What I’ve been curious about is the gradual change we’re going to witness in music videos. Gone are the hi-octane, fleshy, music videos that were rife a few years back, and it seems that increasingly bands are not as keen to peacock themselves around and taking a back seat is the cool thing to do. Maybe it’s also to do with the attention span thing that everyone goes on about, why would you want to watch a four-minute music video with a narrative that you won’t understand until you see the end when you can just watch a beautiful piece of ambient animation?