Bombay Beach Review


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
06 Monday 06th February 2012

The hundred or so residents still left on the banks of the Salton Sea are a myriad of general have-nots and castaways. Essentially Har'el stumbled across the town on the 'Concubine' video shoot for Beirut, met one family then ended up staying for the better part of a year, with just her home video consumer HD camera in hand. The film centres on three characters, one of whom she initially cast in the music video before delving into his story further.

That little boy is Benny Parrish (above), a bipolar and wildly creative child with an infectious energy that's got him in enough trouble at school for his parents to see medication as his only solution. 

When Har'el first returned to the Parrish house to film after wrapping the 'Concubine' shoot, she remembers being captivated by Benny immediately: "He showed up in two black wool gloves, a jacket and a mask and asked me 'what are we doing today?' on my first day there. I noticed him then and was hooked; he's so smart, funny and not a lot of people get him."

"He has such a strong spirit and is so charismatic in the best possible way.", she continues. 
Har'el charts Benny's transformation from a tiny cannonball into a doped-up version of himself, splicing scenes of him in a fuchsia wig with choreographed dance sequences with his friends. We learn about the shocking event from his childhood that may have triggered all the instability, yet Har'el never presents Benny as a charity case.

Our second protagonist, Ceejay Thompson (above, in the red hat), is a young teen using Bombay Beach as a refuge from his gang-affiliated family in South Central LA, following the murder of his teen cousin. "Ceejay lived on the Parrish's street, and when I was walking on the street looking for people to film he was just hanging with his friends. I asked him if he wanted to be involved, and he said yes straight away". 

Har'el paints his scenes with that quintessential American high school tinge that never gets old when done well, and portrays his high school experience with a bold honesty that you feel never forces the audience to perceive him in any certain way.

Finally, there's Red. He's that last relic of Old America we never thought we'd still see this far into the twenty-first century, and serves as the wonderfully gravel-voiced narrator for a lot of the story. "Life's nothin' but a habit anyway" he muses, tying together stories of his complicated past with observations on the rest of the Salton Sea inhabitants.

Somehow Har'el places teen lust, the loneliness of old age, giddy childhood games and the power of personal resolve all beside each other without compromising on telling this town's story. The end result is a charming, well-crafted and captivating piece of film that's worth watching for a glimpse into a town most of us would never know existed otherwise.

Bombay Beach is out in cinemas now. Click here for a list of nationwide screenings.

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