Bombay Beach focuses on a small American community inhabiting the remains of a once prosperous holiday town which is now nothing more than a trace memory of better times. Acting as an insightful journey into the real core of natural human behaviour each of the townsfolk we’re presented with has their own entrancing back story and unique way to survive amongst what is now little more that an isolated dust bowl of a town.
Located in California, Bombay Beach lacks any of the glitz and glam of Los Angeles or San Francisco. The area was transformed into a holiday destination due to the creation of a man made sea from the bursting of the Colorado River banks but as the vacation industry began to crumble so did the infrastructure of the surrounding population – a dream town now left with nothing but hopeless dreamers
The first striking element of Bombay Beach is its obvious beauty and hypnotic score (Comprised of tracks by Beirut’s Zach Condon inter-spliced with a few Bob Dylan tracks here and there). Yet despite its obvious stylish flare this documentary has very little depth to it, feeling very much like an art-house reality TV show extended far beyond the point that our interest begins to subside.
Issues such as how poverty can bring out our true natural skill-set for survival is certainly nothing new, neither is the well documented wealth divide across the United States. Whilst each character has their fifteen minutes to shine, as a viewer it’s difficult to truly connect with them on any level other than pity. It all results in a somewhat voyeuristic experience which comes very close to seeming like exploitation. No truer is this than the choreographed dance sequences, perhaps interjected to represent how life, when broken down past the superficial facades we masks ourselves with (normally in an attempt to claim our own unique identity), is little more than a dance you must perform to survive. However, that shouldn’t mean we should have to witness it literally for the message to come across. For all the visual titillation it may achieve it’s very much a case of ‘smoke and mirrors’ and as the shiny gloss recedes when entering the harsh telling natural light outside the cinema, you realise you’ve learnt very little about these people, with even less desire to uncover any more – an indicative sign that a documentary has failed to deliver the message it set out to tell.
It all culminates in a film which despite its sensual elegance is nothing more than an overblown ballet of impoverished personal misery not dissimilar to a human version of bear dancing.