At one time projected to be “California’s Riviera,” the Salton Sea instead turned out to be an ecological disaster. The stagnant, polluted lake, called a “giant puddle” by some, coughs up dead fish and birds by the thousands.
With the documentary Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea, filmmakers Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer explore what’s left of Southern California’s failed vacation destination, its strange history, odd beauty and the quirky lives of the locals who hang on to the belief that a Salton Sea resurgence is just around the corner.
Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea is scheduled to be screened locally at 9 p.m. as part of the Seven Dudley Cinema series at Sponto Gallery, 7 Dudley Ave., Venice. Admission is free. A pre-screening concert by trumpeter Paul Litteral (who has played with the Rolling Stones, Tom Waits and Robert Plant) starts at 6:30 p.m.
Directors Meltzer and Springer plan to attend the event and discuss the film with the audience.
Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea is narrated by John Waters, a counterculture film director dubbed the “King of Trash” for his portrayal of on-screen bad taste in cult classics including Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Cecil B. Demented, Hairspray and Polyester.
Curious and eccentric Salton Sea locals interviewed in the documentary include a roadside nudist who spends his days waving at passing European tourists, a man building a religious shrine out of mud and paint, a beer-loving Hungarian Revolutionary known to locals as “Hunky Daddy,” and the area’s “real estate Ronald McDonald” known as “The Landman.”
Through the perceptions and more often misperceptions of the locals, the story of the Salton Sea unfolds.
The 35-by-15-mile freshwater lake was created by an engineering error in 1905, when the Colorado River overran a dam and flooded the Imperial and Coachella Valleys. Soon, mineral deposits in the basin increased the Salton Sea’s salinity level drastically.
In the 1950s, the area saw a boom as a working class vacation destination due to its idealness for fishing, water skiing and bird watching.
The Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher and other celebrities began to frequent the area, adding to its hipness.
Miscalculations by promoters and hurricanes followed by tremendous flooding that submerged yacht clubs, boat ramps and shoreline properties brought havoc to the area and by the 1970s, its popularity was in sharp decline.
The Salton Sea itself was overrun with pesticides and mineral deposits and pollution became a big concern to residents and potential vacationers. The water became deadly and killed countless birds and fish and the area was portrayed as an ecological disaster by media sources, according to the film.
Politicians and residents in the area hope to see a reversal in the path of the Salton Sea, but the fact that the sea has no natural inflow and relies on agricultural runoff creates a tricky ecological quagmire, according to sources in the film.
The documentary portrays the oddness of the area and the idiosyncrasies of the remaining locals, and takes an offbeat sociological look at one of Southern California’s cultural and ecological anomalies.
Locals talk of the affordability and availability of land and homes in the area like its a well-kept secret of the burgeoning Southern California’s real estate market, but it seems few want in on the secret.
Co-director Jeff Springer was himself born in a near-abandoned town in the California desert and later attended USC Film School.
The directors describe the experience of making the film as “four years, two sunburned guys, one melted camera, 120-degree heat, 75-percent humidity, dust storms, earthquakes, beautiful sunsets, flooded towns, palm trees, air boat rides, double-wides, bombing ranges, amputees, meth addicts, swinging seniors, naked Christians, mooning Hungarians, infatuated 11-year-olds, dead sh*t, botulism, toxic muck, an unfathomable stench, and a whole lot of cash — all washed down with a warm 40 ounce beer.
Information, (310) 306-7330.