Southland Tales

Southland Tales ★★★★½

Here’s the thing: I saw this movie in the theater after driving two hours to the closest place showing it in 2006. I was a big fan of Donnie Darko at the time and was extremely interested in what Kelly would do for his next film. 

I remember being confused and excited by the movie I saw. At the time, I hadn’t read any Philip K Dick or TS Eliot. I didn’t know much about Robert Frost. I didn’t know much about politics. Or renewable energy. Or Marxism. Or Quantum Theory. I didn’t know anything about Moby, either. I didn’t know Duane Johnson would somehow, in the next fifteen years, become one of the biggest movie stars in the world. I didn’t know I’d watch every season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer twice. Or that Justin Timberlake would be an exciting comedic performer. Or that Amy Poehler would become a major star of a sitcom. 

All I knew was this movie was aggressively strange, dense, tonally bizarre, singular. I was active on IMDb boards at the time and had been reading about the disastrous Cannes cut. About how much of the film was changed between Cannes and its official release. I already liked the film as it was, but knew it wasn’t perfect. Like a lot of my favorite films, the flaw of being overstuffed is part of the reason I like it. 

Watching the Cannes cut after finishing Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and now knowing all the things I didn’t know before, I can say, without hesitation, this is one of the most amusing and intriguing and densely woven movies I have ever seen. 

It has one major flaw, though; a flaw I also kind of count as a positive—it isn’t really a movie so much as Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander or Scenes from a Marriage are movies. It’s a miniseries that has to be over in under three hours. This Cannes cut is better, but it may need to be over four hours before it tells the story in a way that doesn’t feel like a round of speed dating with the most interesting person you have ever met.