STUDIO: New Video Group
MSRP: $23.99
RUNNING TIME: 73 minutes
• Audio Commentaries with Filmmakers and Salton Sea Locals
• Lost Interviews
• Deleted Scenes
Leonard & The Mountain Short Film
Miracle in the Desert Real Estate Promotional Film
Fruit of the Vine: Vignette on the Salton Sea Skateboarding Scene
LSD A Go Go Short Film
• Filmmaker Biographies
• Short Film on Friends of Dean Martinez

The Pitch

The Salton Sea: a great place to be…aside from all that ecological devastation and stuff.

The Humans

Salton Sea locals, historians and activists, narration by John Waters.

Good to see my summer house’s bathroom is already up and running…

The Nutshell

Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea is a documentary about the entire history of the Salton Sea, which began at the turn of last century as an ecological mistake by trying to change the course of the Colorado River to irrigate farmland. The mistake resulted in the river flooding a desert basin called the Salton Sink and creating the largest lake in California…not that anyone would claim it today. At first a popular vacation getaway in the ’50s and ’60s, the Salton Sea eventually suffered from pollution from the irrigation runoff it requires in order to maintain its levels and also from ecological mishaps such as flooding, rising salinity and bacterial infestation resulting in the annual deaths of millions of fish and birds. Now an environmental oddity, the Salton Sea is in a state of perpetual flux as to what exactly to do with this area that is home to only the most diehard elderly Salton Sea veterans from the good years who refuse to leave and the eccentrics who choose to move there. This is the story of the sea and its people.

"Yes Mr. Oliver, garbage pickup is every Thursday…once a decade…"

The Lowdown

Plagues & Pleasures is a very interesting and engaging look at an area of California, which is just south of Palm Springs and – had things worked out a bit differently – could easily have been a more popular vacation getaway than Lake Tahoe. The filmmakers mix history of the sea’s creation and ecological breakdown of the region with the personal stories of the Salton Sea residents, some of which aren’t exactly what you would call…ordinary. As narrated by film director John Waters, Plagues & Pleasures paints a picture of desolation and an essentially forgotten time and place of our culture.

Looks like seafood won’t be a problem…

The Salton Sea area is pretty much what Lake Tahoe would look like if it went polluted for a few decades and became neglected by the government. Early reminders of the vacation haven it used to be are all around in the form of abandoned settlements, rusted out hulks of buildings and vehicles, and the select few who were there for the good times and have never left. Rotting fish and birds frequently pollute the coastline and the area could easily compete with Chernobyl in terms of property values. But it’s not all bad, there are glimpses of what the area could be. The weather is temperate, although frequently in the scorching triple digits, there are still plenty of palm trees dotting the landscape and areas of the sea itself look inviting…at least from a distance.

"I don’t know what they’re all *uhhh* talking about this being an ecological *hhhnn* disaster and all…ain’t no better place *uhhh!!* to take an outdoor shit anywhere else I’ve found, *uhhh* yeah…"

But the real story of the area comes from its inhabitants, a rag tag lot who look like a cross between the denizens of Mad Max’s stomping grounds and the weekday slot playing crew in virtually any casino on Fremont street in Vegas. Among the more colorful residents are Hunky Daddy, a Hungarian expatriate who fled to Salton City after the 1956 uprisings against the Soviets in his homeland. With the thick Hungarian accent and a penchant for mooning the camera and swilling beer, he’s the unoffical "mayor" of the town and is seemingly beloved by all. Then there’s "The Landman" Manny Diaz, who used to be featured in real estate commercials. There’s also a preacher, Leonard Knight, who’s obsessed with building and painting a mountain with bible scriptures on it. Then there’s Donald Scheidler, who likes to stand on the local road in the altogether and do his part to spur on tourism, such as it is. There are also more normal residents such as Lechon, a welfare mother who moved there to escape gangland violence in the city. It takes a hardy brand of human being to live in the Salton area and they come in all shapes and sized from all walks of life and many of them couldn’t see living anywhere else.

Some captions simply need no words.

The documentary also covers possible solutions for saving the Salton Sea, and also what the problems the area continues to face are. Sonny Bono had become an advocate of the area before he decided to play kissyface with a pine tree, but with his death brought false hope that anything could or would be done in Congress to do something about the sea’s plight. So now everyone sits and waits for an absolution that may never come, but they’re enjoying themselves while they wait. They invite you into their lives to catch a glimpse and it’s a fun place to visit, but you definitely wouldn’t want to live there.

Basically the government’s position on the whole Salton Sea issue…

The Package

For an indie film distributed by an indie label, this Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea disc is loaded with extra features at an amount that you’d b hard pressed to find on many studio offerings. There are a multitude of featurettes, lost interviews with the locals, which total 12 minutes; deleted scenes totaling 13 minutes, and two commentaries, one by directors Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer and one by locals Norm and Steve. The shorts include Leonard & The Mountain, totaling 11 minutes on mountain artist Leonard Knight; a Miracle in the Desert Real Estate Promotional Film from the ’50s clocking in at 13 minutes; Fruit of the Vine: a vignette on the Salton Sea skateboarding scene running four minutes; LSD A Go Go, a 10-minute short film on LSD from 1969 with modern updates that has to be seen to be believed. There’s also From Tucson to the Salton Sea, a doco on Friends of Dean Martinez, a local music group totaling eight minutes. Filmmaker biographies round out the offerings. There’s way more here than anyone would ever hope to want to know about an ecological nightmare…and it’s all quite entertaining.

Okay, I can take the smell of rotting fish, the lake you can’t go anywhere near, the ridiculous heat and the flies buzzing around like Messerschmitts, but when the Jesus Freaks start building a friggin’ mountain outside my patio…hey Landman, I changed my mind…

8.2 out of 10