Sometimes, instead of watching soap operas and eating bon bons, I like to pull out old film magazines and reread articles about films that I have subsequently had the chance to see first hand. Despite my distribution whining, most films eventually make their way through the Twin Cities sooner or later. When I went back through magazines from Summer 2006, there were two big films that were talked about at Cannes but did not hit the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. The first is Bruno Durmont's most recent, Flanders. I'm no fan of Durmont, but feel that, much like Catherine Breillat, he is a director with a very acute sense of the audience. Flanders was released in more important parts of the US earlier this summer. The second film that has not made the rounds, I can at least say has not made the rounds anywhere in the world. Ironically, it was one of the films that got the most press (be it bad, good or ambivalent) and seemed the most likely film to be released sooner than later, especially here in the US: Southland Tales by Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly.
Richard Kelly's Southland Tales landed in Cannes with a resounding two hour and forty minute critical thud that could be heard around the world. Regardless, anyone with half a brain should realize that the potential audience for the film could care less what the critics thought at Cannes and might actually revel in the fact that is was dismissed. Everything I have read about this film makes it seem not only very interesting but maybe even important. The good news is that, a year and a half later Southland Tales is set for a November 9th US theatrical release. The real question and the potential bad news is how the 'final' version will differ from Kelly's Cannes premiere and how close it is to his ideal.
In an interview in Cinema Scope taken just after the screening of Southland Tales, Kelly already seemed resigned to making some very painful cuts that the studio had probably asked him to make even prior to Cannes: when the standing ovations didn't happen, he knew his ship was sunk. When asked whether he would be forced to cut the film, he very pragmatically said, " I think I have no choice in the matter because I want this movie to be seen, and I want the people who invested in it to recoup that investment, and I want the actors who worked so hard to get the exposure and recognition they deserve." At this point the version screened at Cannes is being called a "work-in-progress print" and Kelly now admits that "The time and additional visual effects that were added have allowed me to achieve my original vision for Southland Tales."
Southland Tales is a sci-fi film that takes place in LA, June of 2008 (uh, yeah, that's next year...), three years after the detonation of a nuclear bomb in Texas. The US has been pushed over the line resulting in something resembling a fascist state. It is hard to summarize a film I haven't seen, but from what I can garner, Kelly takes everything that is already staring us in the face and shoves it down our throat (government oppression, obsession with violence, preoccupation with celebrity, overt corporate authority, etc) accompanied with the same time and spacial ambiguity that made Donnie Darko so compelling. Southland Tales is told in six parts, with the first three (Two Roads Diverge, Fingerprints, and The Mechanicals) in the form of graphic novels (illustrated by Brett Weldele) and the last three (Temptation Waits, Memory Gospel, and Wave of Mutilation) with be addressed in the film. The soundtrack was the consensual heartbeat of the film, from the few who championed it at Cannes. Moby does all the original music, and non-original music includes songs from The Killers, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Radiohead, Muse and others. The cast is nothing short of amazing, and from interviews with Kelly, it seems most were committed to the project.
Richard Kelly is the thinking man's populist, delving into guilty pleasures without the guilt. To call Southland Tales anything but ambitious, would be underestimating him. I'm more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and can't wait to see the film. Until then check out the graphic novels (available locally at Big Brain Comics) and keep your eyes on the various websites that are sure to come to life as the release date approaches:
Southland Tales official website (Trailer to hit mid-August)
USIDent website (this is the overseeing government agency ala Patriot Act; I like how it is a dot org site)
Boxer Santaros' myspace page (This is the character played by the Rock; loads of info here)
Krysta Now's website (Ex-porn star/product played by Sarah Michelle Gellar; hilarious stuff)
Treer Products website (The company who has harnessed the ocean for an unlimited supply of energy; "There is no alternative")