Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Southland Tales (2007): The Revolution will be satirized

Southland Tales (2007)
dir: Richard Kelly

Is it too soon to start the Southland Tales redemption movement?  Because, this movie is the messiest mind explosion that has ever exploded in pure form on screen.

The original form of Southland Tales shown at Cannes was an unfinished film that ran 160 minutes, and ended up with disastrous results including critics booing the screen. But the time it reached theaters, it was shrunk down to 144 minutes, but the final version of Kelly's movie is still border incomprehensible, tonally uneven, and just a big brains-on-the-wall splatter criticism of everything.

Southland Tales is a savage indictment of everything that existed in 2006. This is just a partial list of the topics Richard Kelly directly references: war, military, oil, energy, pollution, pop culture, porn, celebrity worship, commercialism, government, surveillance states, Republicans, class warfare, anarchists, Marxists, drugs, television, marketing, police, armageddon, and slam poets. Kelly is weaving a tale so sprawling, and so huge, that he didn't even keep it contained to the movie on screen. The movie starts with chapter 4, with the first three chapters being designated to a series of graphic novels which were released just before the movie. The problem is that the first three chapters do not provide a key to what Kelly is saying.

The closest experience to Southland Tales is the sprawling jungle of Infinite Jest, which took on many of the same subjects in an even more incomprehensible, sprawling, and lengthy take. Southland Tales is, in my opinion, far more successful than Infinite Jest, and I believe that Southland Tales is one of the most unfairly maligned films of the 00s.

To try to unravel the story of Southland Tales is an exercise in futility. The Rock is an action star who had been lost in the desert and comes back with amnesia. He had been married to the daughter of a prominent Republican politician, who is also in the pockets of big business, and also the biggest pusher of the surveillance state which has the politician's wife at the head. The big business in question is Treer, who is developing a new energy source pulled from the waves in the ocean to create a wireless energy field. Treer also has discovered another energy source from beneath the mantle of the Earth. Both are named Fluid or Liquid Karma. The liquid form is also a drug which was tested and given to people, and it causes them to bleed into the past and the future. Treer is also a mega-airship company who has created the largest airship.

Meanwhile, The Rock, with amnesia, is dating a porn star who is also psychic and created a script which is a metaphorical version of the end of times, which is a hilarious commercialized version of Southland Tales. She is also tied, by another porn director, to a neo-Marxist movement which is trying to rebel against, and overthrow, the fascist government mentioned in the earlier paragraph. They plan to do this by creating controversy around the amnesiac The Rock, and also using an ex-military officer who had been partying with the porn star before the movie.

The ex-military officer also has a second form, who is actually the true form, and is a guilt-ridden aggressive racist. He had been serving with another military officer who is overseeing the Los Angeles area, and also dealing Liquid Karma to those who need it. The two forms of the military officer meet up in the end on a floating ice cream truck to bring about the end of the current times, and bring about a new world under Christianity.

And, that's just the basics. This doesn't include the pre-movie graphic novels, in which The Rock and the military officer had been partying with the porn star, did Karma, and jumped through a time rift where both of their versions came out separated by 69 minutes. A car explosion killed one version of The Rock, but left the second version alive. Or, the subplot of the arms dealer who is suppplying everybody with their weapons. Or, the side character of the racist cop. Or the porn star's attempts to commercialize herself as a pop culture artist.

This is also all founded in the Book of Revelations, where Treer is the anti-christ, the government is the false prophet, the porn star is the whore of Babylon, there are two witnesses, and the re-connection brings about the second coming of Christ.

This actually all exists in Southland Tales, and it really is no wonder why this was savaged by critics and given up by the audiences. I don't think that most people are ready for sprawling messy headtrips that are also angry sci-fi twinged dark comedies which have the effect of listening to 2.5 hours of some guy ranting about everything under the sun. That being said, Southland Tales will never have the mass audience that it so badly wants. It's completely cerebral head-candy for those willing to take the trip.

But, what it is is nothing short of amazing. I mean, this movie is near perfect. It reflects the chaotic and distracted times that we live in. It's multi-media. It uses books and advertising and screen scrolls and scripts. There are groups upon groups warring with each other. It's about everything under the sun. It's raging against the system that surrounds us. And, when unweaved, the movie is an embarrassment of riches.

Southland Tales has a shitton of actors, all playing fucked up versions of themselves, if not against type. Jon Lovitz is a serious racist cop. Justin Timberlake is a pop star whose career was derailed by WWIII. Sean William Scott is a military guy who is amnesiac and innocent. Cheri Oteri, Wood Harris, and Amy Poehler all play self-important artists who are also anarchic Marxists. The Rock plays an action star married to the government but who really doesn't have any action sequences. Sarah Michelle Gellar is a porn star who is trying to market herself as a news icon. This brings a layer to the movie that will be lost in 20 years, as all of these stars start fading into the silence of the past.

But, really, Southland Tales is just constantly pushing. It is more aggressive than Moulin Rouge in its constant assault of the senses. In that, it is reflecting the world we live in. We are constantly bombarded by advertisements, music, news, commercialization, and information. We have groups constantly warring for our attention and our dollar. Even in the current, incomplete form we have now (where Janeane Garofalo was completely dropped, as was the motivations of a sorceress who has a key role in the movie), Southland Tales constantly reminds us that we're never meant to get the full story all at once. It's only on repeated viewings that Southland Tales fully reveals itself as a snarling full-plotted movie.

This isn't a movie of little heart, either. This is a combination of cerebral calculation, emotional rage, and faith. Richard Kelly cares about this movie, perhaps more than he did for Donnie Darko. This is his version of a primal scream. We're struggling out here. And, the thing is, with primal screams, it will resonate with those who share it, but also reflect by those who don't want it. It is more like a wolf howling, where it will probably be amplified by other wolves.

It is about time for a re-evaluation of Southland Tales, especially with it available on home video and in need of rewind and repeat viewings. In theaters, it flies by. You have no idea what brick you were just hit with, but you have an idea that it was amazing. It's not an obvious movie either. Southland Tales will not take your hand to walk you through its themes. It throws them at you and sees what sticks. In a world where everything seems to be spelled out for people, this is a needed novelty.

Highly highly recommended, and required viewing.

P.S. This review doesn't even mention that the movie poster used the 2004 Presidential cartogram as it's logo. Nor the musical number of The Killers' All The Things That I've Done. Nor, the amazingly bizarre dialogue like "I'm a pimp, and pimps don't commit suicide." Nor "Nobody rocks the cock like Krysta Now." There is so so much detail in Southland Tales that to make reference to everything that the movie is would be a multi-post, book version of an undertaking.

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