Short visual interpretation of W.S. Merwin's poem, "The River of Bees." Shot at Pleasure Beach in Bridgeport/Stratford, CT March 2010. Music by Harold Budd and Brian Eno.
Filmed on the Sony EX3, 1080 24p.
I grew up on the coast of Stratford, Connecticut. One of my favorite pastimes as a child was going to Pleasure Beach, which was a small public beach on a peninsula of Stratford and Bridgeport, its neighboring city. The beach was home to a small amusement park and dozens of cottages that were rented for the season. In the summer of 1996, someone flicked a cigarette out the window of his or her car while driving across Pleasure Beach’s old, wooden bridge. In an instant, the bridge was destroyed, and access off the peninsula could only be obtained by walking across 2.5 miles of rocky sand and swampland. Residents had to be evacuated by rowboat, leaving behind their cars, furniture, and other large valuables. Summer was officially over for Pleasure Beach.
In the months to follow, battles of ownership and financing took place between the two towns. Neither wanted to pay to repair the bridge. Meanwhile, the summer residents of Pleasure Beach had been only allowed back for one weekend to recover what they could from their cottages. After that, access was closed indefinitely, and the bridge was never rebuilt.
The summer before I left for college, my friends and I frequented Pleasure Beach, trudging through sand and shrubs to get there, getting covered with ticks or thistles along the way. But the grueling course was worth it—we had somehow entered a perverse kind of Oz, a coastal ghost town. We wove in and out of people’s yards, taking note of all the bicycles, seashells, and beach toys that were left behind in the frantic rush of a mass exodus. We explored the empty Polka Dot Playhouse Theatre and chased each other around the merry-go-round, careful to preserve everything as it was left to us. It was a truly magical, and beautifully sad, enchanted place. And it was ours.
When I returned a year later after my freshman year of college, the beach was the same. My friends and I vowed to return every summer as a pilgrimage to our youth. That was 10 years ago this summer, and we never made it back, until my trip this March.
In the past few years, I had thought about making a film on Pleasure Beach, but time, Masters’ degrees, and other areas of life just would not allow for it. Last September, however, I promised myself to return during Emerson’s Spring Break. Out of curiosity, I searched the Internet to see if someone else had gone there to film or take photographs. There were photographs, and sadly they all depicted how time, nature, and humanity had left the place a shell of what it once was. The beach had been completely taken over by squatters and vandals. Some of the cottages had been burned down, and the merry-go-round had been mysteriously demolished. Then I discovered that Stratford and Bridgeport had finally settled on a deal: Bridgeport sold off the property to Stratford, and Stratford would turn the land into wildlife preservation. Demolition of the land was to take place in March 2010, the same time I had planned to return to film.
Driven by a ticking clock, I contacted my friends who still lived in Stratford and asked them to keep me informed of the latest on the demolition, hoping that it would be stalled by local bureaucracy (it was). In March, I drove down to Stratford, met my friend at the nearby airport, and went up in his airplane to get aerial footage of the beach. To my relief, the cottages still remained. From the plane, they looked like tiny dollhouses, all vibrant and full of life.
We landed, and I met with two of my friends from high school. Together we set out to spend one last day together at Pleasure Beach, before it’s taken away from all who summered there.
W.S. Merwin is one of the poets whom I studied while in summer writing camp-- the same summer that Pleasure Beach closed. I chose his poem, “The River of Bees,” because it portrays the same kind of surreal, dreamlike nature that Pleasure Beach created for me. Its post-apocalyptic imagery eerily matched that of what I filmed—lone telephone booths in a field of tall grass, prophetic doors, dead houses. Both the poem and the beach suggest a wasted past, and a foreboding future.