Who's In It:
John Waters (narrator), Sonny Bono (archive footage), various Salton Sea residents
The Basics: Fifty miles south of Palm Springs is an artificial salt lake called the Salton Sea that was once a booming resort town. Then, in the '60s and '70s, tropical-storm flooding devastated the area, and people just up and left. For the next three decades, a combination of environmental problems millions of fish dying at once, mass bird deaths, agricultural runoff causing the water to become saltier than the ocean and rumored industrial waste pollution turned the area into a near ghost town.
What's the Deal? Think the description of the area's hard times sounds off-putting? Wait till you see the place. Dead animals, rusted boats, abandoned and broken-down buildings, standing sewage and trash are the landscape of a place where this documentary's residents live their lives. They're mostly poor and mostly elderly, and even though it all sounds horrible, this has a weirdly upbeat feeling. For that, thank the tragedy-reveling narration from Waters and the goofy interviews with the townspeople, most of whom give their testimonials with a cigarette in one hand and booze in the other. In fact, more than a few of them are visibly drunk.
What to Expect If You Stop by Salton City: Stores that close at 6 p.m., a boarded-up town café, permanently hopeful and seemingly delusional real-estate agents, an amazing, handmade (from dried mud) art installation by a Christian folk artist called Salvation Mountain, the leather-skinned town nudist who stands by the side of the road and waves at cars, beleaguered wildlife workers trying to save dying pelicans, a Hungarian revolution vet who drops his pants for all the ladies and unleashes, according to Waters, "a curious odor."
The Serious Side, Provided by the Late Bono: He fought to rehab the environmental problems and the town's post-Katrina atmosphere, hoping to bring back the tourist traffic. But according to one smirking old woman, "Unfortunately, he went skiing."
My Favorite Scene: Adults talk about how it's a better place to raise kids than in the big, bad city. No crime or drugs, they're proud to say. Cut to a 10-year-old girl saying, "You can get weed anywhere here. People try to give it to me all the time. But I like soccer."