Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea (2004)
Critic Consensus: Plagues And Pleasures is a thoroughly engrossing account, both humorous and disheartening, of a once bustling community ravaged by ecological change and human greed.
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Critic Reviews for Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea
While the doc flounders as a coherent story of human folly, it's a cheeky travelmercial guaranteed to get the curious to make the road trip to this near-abandoned resort.
It makes for a strange, but somewhat endearing, melange of the grim and comic.
The movie is engaging for the way it documents the rise and fall of a semi-natural landmark, and especially for the way it shows how people still come to California to remake themselves.
Plagues and Pleasures is simultaneously fun and creepy, best appreciated by those who enjoy similar profiles of Detroit's crumbling grandeur.
Narrated with morbid relish by John Waters, this witty doc chronicles the rise and ruination of the Salton Sea, a tiny inland ocean once promoted as 'California's Riviera' but now a festering, apocalyptically hideous ecological disaster zone.
As documentary subjects go, the Salton Sea was ripe for the plucking: This man-made phenomenon is one of the weirdest stories of the West.
Audience Reviews for Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea
Everything Is Weirder Narrated by John Waters I've been to the Salton Sea, but it was something like thirty years ago. I don't remember the trip, but there is a picture of me, my older sister, and my dad, all of us with our backs to the camera looking out at the water. All my experiences with the place beyond that are the sort of vague references that you get when you grow up in Southern California. I heard about it on the news occasionally, and Kinsey goes there in [i]A Is For Alibi[/i], and that's about the extent. The idea that anyone once believed it would be a resort to rival Palm Springs is a bit startling. One of the special features on the disc quotes an article claiming that, by the year 2000, it would be one of the twenty-four cities of importance in California. (One wonders how many of them are bedroom communities of LA.) This has not, in fact, been the case, and probably few people outside of California have even heard of it. However, there are still people living in the handful of communities strung around that great man-made inland sea, and this is the story of not just the sea but those who live alongside it. There is a certain kind of quirk hardiness that is required to survive in a community like those profiled here. For one thing, it's awfully hot there; the high temperature this month hasn't dropped below ninety and mostly stayed over one hundred, and the [i]low[/i] has only gotten below eighty four times. For another, while we see promotional film of the vacation paradise the area was planned to be in the '60s, none of that is there now. One of the things the film documents is the closing of one of the only restaurants in the area. We are told that there is no fast food, and the grocery stores all close at six. There are characters, but they are mostly old. This is not a place for people to live; the towns themselves are dying as well. Oh, and it's one of those exciting California ecological wastelands, though how bad things are seems to depend on whom you ask. Certainly the Sea is no longer getting the same level of water inflow that it used to, because cities like San Diego are using it now. Residents interviewed in the film resent having the water taken from the Sea only to be wasted in the cities; if the water were still flowing, the towns might live as well as the Sea. And despite the fact that the Sea isn't natural, there's an argument to be made for keeping it, given that it now serves as a habitat for countless birds, including some thirty percent of the US population of white pelicans. The wetlands elsewhere in Southern California have all been drained; this artificial one seems to be serving their purpose, but it is plagued with problems. Botulism runs rampant in the maggot population, which kills pelicans and fish alike. Sometimes, toxins make their way into the Sea from points upstream, especially since much of the water is agricultural runoff. Water is such an important issue in Southern California that it shows up in all sorts of movies, both fictional and documentary. The plot of [i]Chinatown[/i] relies on water rights. As does [i]Rango[/i], which is kind of [i]Chinatown[/i] with talking animals. Southern California has a higher population than the rainfall there can support, and the constant draining of water from elsewhere in the state takes its toll. Several of the ecological disasters of California are caused by the thirst of the Southland. And, yes, it's infuriating to hear about how many golf courses there are in Palm Springs when that water could save bird populations--or even just be used for food crops instead. I take the fastest showers of anyone I know, a habit I got into during the droughts of my childhood. I can never quite believe in droughts up here, because everything is still green, whereas back home, the natural colour of everything at this time of year is brown. I don't claim to have the answer for the Salton Sea. There's certainly an argument to be made for letting it return to its natural state--which is not, of course, an inland sea at all. The creation of Salton Sea involves failings in irrigation. Its death may well come from the same cause. I slant toward adding more water, for the sake of the bird population more than the human one. I can't imagine voluntarily living in inland California, but a lot of what the movie shows is hard for me to comprehend. The nudist by the side of the highway? The folk artist making an enormous and tacky "mountain" and painting it for the glory of God? People like that are everywhere, but there is something about small towns, especially in hostile climates, that seems to concentrate them. The birds started migrating to the Salton Sea because their habitat was being taken away from them elsewhere. However, places like the Salton Sea seem at the same time to be the natural habitat of the Great Individualist American Loon.
It is a documentary narrated by John Waters, who breathes life into the unique ecosystem of The Salton Sea and the memorable die-hards who refuse to give up the dream of what the sea once was and what they feel it could be again. Enhanced by the arid minimalist soundtrack of Friends of Dean Martinez, by documentary end, this viewer was smitten and continues to be so. Thank you to Jeff Springer and Chris Metzler for putting The Salton Sea back on the map.
VERY interesting documentary on one of my favorite places to visit. For those who know a lot about the Salton Sea or for those who know little to nothing at all, this documentary will intrigue you.
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