AUTHOR’S NOTE: We originally covered this movie all the way back on February 28, 2020, which feels like a million years ago. With the new Arrow Video release of this movie, it feels only right to watch it one more time.
Richard Kelly made Donnie Darko, a film that had a cult that is still obsessed with it, and then followed that movie with Southland Tales, which has, well, probably me still trying to figure it out.
Luckily, the new Arrow release has the 160-minute Cannes cut, which has about 15 minutes more footage than the original, which was one of my holy grails. Between that and a new documentary, It’s a Madcap World: The Making of an Unfinished Film, which has new interviews with Kelly and the crew of this movie, plus everything else in this set, I’d like to say that I’ve figured out more of this movie and have an answer as to what it all means, but let’s be honest. I’m not even sure Kelly is completely sure what this is all about.
Much like Boxer Santaros/Jericho Cane, the character played by Dwayne Johnson/The Rock, who has a script to a new movie The Power basically downloaded directly into his brain that isn’t just the best movie he’s ever considered, but also the way that the world will end, I think that either Kelly had his soul split in two by Fluid Karma or — most likely — had access to the best in drugs after the success of his first film.
The thing is, while so many people dismissed this movie as five years dated in the wake of 9/11, which inspired Kelly to rewrite his story in light of “some of the biggest issues that I think we’re facing right now …the increasing obsession with celebrity and how celebrity now intertwines with politics,” the fact that we are still in the end stage of having a celebrity in the White House who created a cult — not just a cult of personality — makes this film even more relevant in the last twelve months than it was for the past fifteen years.
Somehow, this film — which made $374,743 worldwide against a production budget of $17 million — still obsesses and confuses me long after I forget the latest movie that everyone can’t stop chatting about.
In our world of influencers and bubbles and a public who doesn’t understand the meanings of words like socialism and fascism — while at the same time our leaders on one side misrepresent what defunding means and the other side knows exactly the talking points to speak most directly to the blood and circuses heard of the easily swayed — Southland Tales feels like it really could be the world outside my door. Is it because it was so prescient? Or has life over the COVID-19 confined and protest filled year of 2020 moved reality to science fiction?
I don’t really recommend this movie to many people, because ten minutes in they’re going to realize that it feels like chapter four of a narrative that has already been going on without them — this is exactly what is happening, there were three graphic novels that begin the movie’s story that no one would ever know about or should have to read, but there you go — which never works for any movie other than the ones that I get all mental over.
Therefore, instead of a traditional narrative review — the one we did last year does that and you can refer to it right here if you’d like — I’m going to instead list off some of the questions in my head in the hopes that they will get answered by the universe (or Kelly is Google searching for himself, manages to make his way here and decides to bless me with whatever passes for answers).
Why is the neo-marxist porn-based conspiracy army — as well as USIDeath — staffed by nearly all actors with Saturday Night Live origins, like Amy Poehler, Jon Lovitz, Nora Dunn and Cheri Oteri?
How did the overdubs of Justin Timberlake, who plays Private Pilot Abilene, change the story that Kelly intended? Adam Lorincz, who commented on the original review, said that Kelly redubbed “only the parts when he doesn’t speak on-screen, we just hear his inner monologue, and keep the parts where he is actually speaking, resulting in a character that’s sometimes almost sage-like in it’s wisdom, other times an absolute douchebag.” What’s going on there?
Did Kelly just want to work with a collection of his favorite actors from movies? Like how do you get Wallace Shawn, Zelda Rubenstein and MIranda Richardson and throw them in a film with people like Christopher Lambert and Bai Ling? Building off the SNL question, why are there so many comedic actors — John Larroquette, Curtis Armstrong, Janeane Garofalo, Will Sasso — in this movie? Sure, Kelly has said that he “sought out actors that he felt had been pigeonholed and wanted to showcase their undiscovered talents,” but is there a deeper message to their casting?
What is the point of Kevin Smith’s legless veteran, Simon Theory?
Come to think of it, what is the point of why the zeppelin needs to be shot down and why Boxer has to be there and what the point of the dance number is, other than to entrance the audience of USIdent people so that they all stay and die?
Why is the soundtrack so stuck in mid-90’s — Jane’s Addiction, The Killers and Moby figure prominently — yet the rest of the movie not feel lost in time? I mean, even the chapters take their titles from songs from that time period: “Temptation Waits” is a Garbage song, “Memory Gospel” is a Moby song in the movie and “Wave of Mutilation” is by the Pixies.
Did he pay any of the artists or credit them for taking lyrics as words that the characters say? For example, the line “We saw the shadows of the morning light, the shadows of the evening sun until the shadows and light were one,” comes directly from Jane’s Addiction.
Does it make the movie make more or less sense when you know that The Power was not written whole-cloth by Boxer, but was written by Krysta and given to him after he’s found with his memory wiped away in the desert? Oh yeah — this is another fact that you’d only know if you read the comic books.
Why is Boxer’s other name — Jericho Cane — the same name as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in End of Days?
I don’t have the answers. I do have the new blu ray set, which you can get from Arrow Video.
This film is like putting your head in a blender….
I will revisit this film once released…maybe the longer version will make more since.
Oh, I’m in this! 😮
I timed my Richard Kelly-rewatch perfectly, I didn’t even know that this was getting another release right now.
So yeah, he said somewhere that the original version of Pilot Abilene was too sarcastic, but half the time (what he couldn’t fix with dubbing), the final version of Pilot Abilene is still sarcastic, so… weird decision to go with that.
And the casting? I can’t help feeling that by “actors who had been pigeonholed” he actually meant “one-bit MTV stars, who are pretty much the same shallow people as whom they portray in this”, and he was just f*cking with everyone’s head. I mean, I just can’t accept that anyone would call The Rock actually talented.
Honestly, after rewatching it again, I like it juuust a tad less now. Still super fascinating, in a “what the hell was he thinking?” kind of way. With the whole comic-book stuff, he took a huge risk, and it was just his second movie!
But the tone, the almost incomprehensible overload of details, and that final musical number are really something.
I just wish the actual movie would make as much sense as the comics, because around chapter V or VI, I usually just give up trying to follow stuff.
A couple of days ago I’ve rewatched both the theatrical cut, and the DC of Donnie Darko, trying to make myself watch the Cannes cut of this for the first time tonight… 😀
Very important update: just finished the Cannes cut, and it is clearly the superior version, things are easier to follow, but the final act still feels a bit disjointed from everything else.
The reaction at the festival led him to the wrong decision, while trying to fix the movie, he made it significantly less probable to succeed.
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I agree. I still love it and it made me love it more.