SOUTHLAND TALES - Or How I Learned How To Love the Bomb
Like most dudes my age, I was obsessed with DONNIE DARKO as a teenager. My late teens and early twenties were spent desperately trying to make liking Richard Kelly's film equivalent with my personality. I spent hours discussing the movie and trying to parse out the meaning in its symbolism. And then Kelly released his director's cut of DONNIE DARKO, a version of the movie that attempted to over-explain the film and I realized I preferred my understanding of the movie over the director's.
When SOUTHLAND TALES came out, I was still shrugging off my disappointment with the DONNIE DARKO director's cut and, after what seemed like years anticipating the film during its lengthy post-production and flailing release, I finally had a chance to see the movie after it was dumped on home video following a stilted theatrical release. It didn't do much for me. But then something happened. Over the next decade, I would continue revisiting DONNIE DARKO but the film would lose some of its magic with each viewing. I was becoming overexposed to DARKO and its edges were wearing off. On the other hand, I kept thinking about SOUTHLAND TALES and its strangeness. This was a movie that I had still not figured out and its weirdness was calling to me like a beacon in this new world where DONNIE DARKO held less appeal.
I had a lot of chances to revisit SOUTHLAND TALES over the years - including one screening I hosted at the Alamo Drafthouse in Houston with Richard Kelly in attendance. But stuff kept getting in the way and I never got that chance to just sit down and concentrate on a reappraisal of the film.
Cut to last night. I finally had a chance to see SOUTHLAND TALES - specifically the Cannes Cut that ran 20 minutes longer. To prepare, I read the three graphic novel prequels (Kelly's film is actually chapters 4 - 6 of a larger story, the comic books being the first three chapters). I was ready to meet the film on its own terms and, guys, I loved it.
SOUTHLAND TALES is a flawed but endlessly fascinating masterpiece. It's a movie that Kelly himself calls unfinished. A widely ambitious sophomore project, Kelly took a script he had written as a homage to IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD and, following the events of 9/11, kept adding more and more social commentary and sci-fi weirdness to the project. The end result is some kind of weird love child of Robert Altman and Philip K. Dick. It's a movie that's super funny, features amazingly committed performances from its entire cast (and what a cast!), and even attempts to synch up with the DONNIE DARKO universe through a few connections you'll only pick up if you read the comic book.
Kelly described the writing of SOUTHLAND TALES as scope creep. He kept adding more and more elements into the script during the development process. Some of those elements work better than others but the end result is a movie that tackles the war on terrorism, time travel, the Book of Revelations, drug trips, the adult entertainment industry, and celebrity. It's a movie that features nearly a dozen former SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE cast members as members of a Neo-Marxist political terrorist group. It's a movie that features multiple musical dance numbers including ones set to The Killers and Moby. It's a movie that features Kevin Smith in old man make-up playing a dungeon master military general who trips on dreamscape sludge pulled up from the Earth's core.
SOUTHLAND TALES is a weird-ass movie and I love it.