Southland Tales {Richard kelly, 2006}

Southland Tales {Richard Kelly, 2006} Time: Approx 2 hours 25 Mins (cut version). Other Films By Richard Kelly: The Goodbye Place, Visceral Matter, Donnie Darko, The Box


It has been a little over a year since I first saw Southland Tales at the Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge, MA. The initial blog entry from that advanced screening can be found on my personal website, Blog: #3 November 5th 2007. This new entry however, is an attempt to tackle a lot of information in order to educate and release a lot of frustration with the reception of this film. I want to use this intro to state that I am definitely a Richard Kelly fan and thus biased in terms of reviewing the film. That said, this is not a review, because that is not what this blog is about. It is about presenting my love of film and trying to explain and discover where my individual taste in cinema lies. I would also like to make it clear that I truly do love Southland Tales. I am not trying to defend a bad film because I have a fondness for the director and his other works, or to try and fit in with some cult of fans that consider themselves elite film goers who despise all things mainstream and inherently justify anything “Indie”. I simply love film and enjoy discussing it.

Richard Kelly

I think that a fair way to begin this post is to introduce my opinion of the director and how I perceive his filmmaking. The first time I saw Donnie Darko was at a DI sleepover when I was in high school. This was the theatrical version and it blew my mind. I didn’t walk away loving or hating the film, and it would take another 2-3 years before I would grab a copy of the director’s cut; subsequently changing my whole perception of film. Donnie Darko broke barriers in terms of re-defining genres, depth of storytelling, and its ability to engage viewers on a highly intellectual level. By that I mean that the film was not spoon fed to the public and thus attained a cult following of people who really wanted to understand the complexities of the narrative. It left people pondering and discussing many aspects of the film from character development and storytelling to whether or not it exemplified a science fiction theme or a love theme. To me this is a key aspect of independent film; something that really pushes the envelope and brings something new to the proceedings of the cinema world.
So with Kelly’s follow-up he decided to swing for the fences yet again. This time creating a world so large that it could not be contained by a single medium. For those that do not know, Southland Tales spans three graphic novels, the two hour and twenty five minute film, and a complex puzzle-inspired web page. It is really amazing that one guy could have so much information running through his mind and be able to organize it all into a chaotic pastiche of multi-media storytelling. The film can stand on its own, but is much more enjoyable/understandable with the supporting novels and web page. This takes Southland Tales from a lower level of storytelling engagement and escalates it into a 21st century expedition of narrative development. We are so ingrained as a culture to engage in single-medium entertainment (i.e book, album, videogame, film) that we get frustrated when a story is not presented and concluded within it’s designated media’s framework. This dynamic storytelling is purposely presented as an antithesis of the very society/culture that it is commenting upon. We live in a complicated world and thus the film is complicated to the point of forcing its audience to become active in attaining the information needed to understand its intricate nature. God forbid that a film break out of the confines of two and a half hours to invoke cerebral activity past the point of lethargically sipping soda and eating popcorn in the glow of a silver-screen. This is innovation. Yes Kelly could have proposed a trilogy in order to tell his story in a nine hour span akin to Star Wars, lord of the Rings, etc. Instead he broke barriers in storytelling by approaching the issue with an open mind and developing a storytelling system that encourages active participation and which drives home the central theme of a complicated information age. These are only a few of the reasons why I really respect Richard Kelly and his body of work; because this is a filmmaker who doesn’t play by the rules and who is potentially ushering in the future of storytelling in the information age. Not the typical view of the future of film, which relies heavily on technological development.

Critics & Criticism
Contemplate this: The static camera work demonstrated in Yasujiro Ozu’s Floating Weeds is perceived by critics as a growth in filmmaking that demonstrates a level of expert achievement on the part of the filmmaker. It took him years to realize the camera could be left still and didn’t require movement. I agree that Ozu made many breakthroughs in film theory by breaking the rules, including a disregard for continuity, the 180 degree rule, and even shooting for eye lines. Adversely a similarly shot film such as Clerks. (Kevin Smith) is seen as a flawed and amateur work because of the static camera, discontinuity, and eye line shots. This is because he was indeed an amateur filmmaker and he wasn’t necessarily sacrificing continuity for framing. Still Ozu is regarded as a master while Smith is ridiculed as a non-visual director. Still we regard Ozu as a master of cinema; a drunk who basically defied every convention of film that is still taught in film school to this day. The point being that film is subjective and I find critics to be highly hypocritical in their analysis of things. Its similar to the art argument. Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionism is not simply paint thrown on canvas, it is the masterful work of an accomplished artist. People aren’t paying millions for the art, because if they were I could easily create the same work, instead they are paying for something that has been culturally deemed worthy of recognition.
I recently listened to the audio commentary for Yasujiro Ozu’s film Floating Weeds. In the commentary Roger Ebert points out a lot of Ozu’s rebellious behavior and acknowledges it as being completely fine. He also has the following to say about the film which you can listen to in this audio clip. Roger Ebert (Floating Weeds)

Now that you have listened to the clip, couldn’t you apply the same acknowledgments to a film like Southland Tales? Well you could, but Roger Ebert would rather writea a very harsh review which he finishes with this:
“Note to readers planning to write me messages informing me that this review was no more than a fevered rant: You are correct.”
So apparently that’s how one of the most renowned critics in the country assesses films. Real professional. For the record I agree with what he says, and think that Ozu was indeed a maverick of the art of filmmaking, but why can’t he apply this level of critique toward other films? I am fine with people having an opinion, especially because a film like Southland Tales is very hard to swallow, but why couldn’t Ebert take a professional stance and bust out some of his Ozu knowledge and apply it here? Probably because Ozu has been deemed worthy and kelly has not as of yet. That being said I am of the mind that if you don’t like a film then fine, move on and find and watch films that you do like. For more on good vs bad films check out the “extended about section” page.

PS: The best part is that there has been so much discussion and controversy from both sides of the spectrum that I would argue that the film achieved one of its primary goals, to get people to think, and that itself makes the film a success. If  an audience can be engaged to this degree, not just the lovers but the haters as well, there is definitely something bigger going on in the film.

Finally The Film Itself

To be Cont…with screenshots very soon

Dan Pierce 2/18/2009 –


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