Bombay Beach ain’t no luxury vacation spot.
Bombay Beach, California is not even considered a city; it’s “A census designated town,” located on the Salton Sea. Director Alma Har’el makes a surprisingly sweet documentary about a forgotten place that was once a getaway for tourists, but is now inhabited by a small population of folks crazy enough to live in an area so remote it has no doctor and the nearest hospital an hour away. Har’el’s film is a stark look at what life is like for three distinctly different individuals who call Bombay Beach home.
Doran “Red” Forgy is an old man who buys his cigarettes from the Indian reservation then, in order to make a little cash, sells the cigarettes for profit to his friends and neighbors. Red’s story is a complicated one. Divorced from his wife and estranged from his two children for 50 years, he’s created a sort of replacement family with 3 women young enough to be his daughters. He explains his past as somewhat shady, but doesn’t go into detail
about the rough crowd he ran with as a younger man. Har’el shows us a tough and stubborn person whose attitude is the epitome of the people who live in Bombay Beach. Red is adored by his neighbors and acts like a father to his community in a way he never did with his own children. His inexplicable love for this destitute beach area is no more evident than when he has to leave it for short a time. Even though Red finds himself in a much nicer area, all he can talk about is getting back home. Upon his return, you can see the light come back into the
old man’s eyes.
Cederic “CeeJay” Thompson left Los Angeles after his cousin was killed in a drive-by shooting. To escape the violence, his mother sends him to live with his father in Bombay Beach. Instead of dodging bullets, CeeJay dodges defenders on the gridiron, hoping one day to play professional football and move his family out of the poverty and violence they’ve grown accustomed to. Like any other teenager, CeeJay has a girlfriend and is obsessed with what college he should attend. But he also has some not so typical teenage problems, like
preventing his younger brother from heading down the same violent gang culture path CeeJay avoided by moving out of LA. CeeJay manages to remain positive in a situation where he could easily give up. It may be hard to believe, but his story is the most positive of the three; with CeeJay, there is a great possibility he will make it out of the poverty of Bombay Beach.
The real heart wrenching story of the film centers on Benny Parrish, a child barely able to walk when his parents were sent to prison. Now a bit older and his parents back in the picture, Benny is now suffering behavioral issues (go figure) his doctors believe are best treated by using every mood altering drug you can imagine. His dad checks out, leaving mom a single parent administering medications she knows are having adverse effects. Benny is a sweet kid, but unable sit still for long, gets into fights at school, and can’t read at an age when he should be able to. But no one seems to have a solution that doesn’t involve medication, resulting in a child who drools uncontrollably and can hardly stay awake in the classroom. Benny had the cards stacked against him from birth and is now stuck in a situation not of his own choosing. My heart goes out to him, because of all the stories Har’el tells, Benny’s leaves me least optimistic.
Directed by music video impresario Alma Har’el, Bombay Beach is a strange little film that leverages her music background to stage peculiar scenes that gives the documentary a surreal feel. Bombay Beach looks like a sad and miserable place to live, but Har’el presents it in an almost positive light, thanks to the likeable subjects she chooses to focus on.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with 5.1 Dolby surround, the release features bonus material that includes a director’s commentary, deleted scenes, and music videos for some of the featured songs. The most notable extra is a “Where are they now” segment, that shows what became of everyone after filming ended, making it clear Har’el had grown quite fond of these people and their town.
Bombay Beach definitely isn’t a film for everyone, but for those willing to share time with the people who reside in this “census-designated town,” you’ll discover a new appreciation for living life on your own terms
in a community of people who accept you “as is.”
Bombay Beach (DVD)
2012, E1 Entertainment, 76 minutes, NR (2011)
VIDEO: 1.78:1 AUDIO: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English) SUBTITLES: English (SDH)
EXTRAS: Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Featurette, Music Video ACCOMPLICES: IMDB