Monday, July 28, 2008
SOUTHLAND TALES (2006)
I have seen two of Richard Kelly’s films and I am unimpressed.
Several years ago when DONNIE DARKO came out I rented the DVD and watched this burgeoning cult movie with friends. My friends all professed to like it but I did not. It wasn’t terrible but it never came together in a satisfying way for me. It felt half finished as if someone had several great ideas and then jumbled them together hoping that the ending would impress everyone enough to think it all added up. Not that the movie is nonsensical, but it is rather ‘kitchen sink’ in its approach. It was as if the writer/director wanted to include so many things he couldn’t bring himself to edit his work down to create a focused piece. When the ‘director’s cut’ came out a while later I gave the film a second chance but the expansion didn’t make the movie any better- just longer. I felt the same way after seeing this longer version as I did with the shorter one. It just doesn’t connect with me. It’s fairly interesting but not very entertaining. I can see why it might resonate with others but it does nothing for me.
Having now seen SOUTHLAND TALES I can say with some authority that I will probably never be impressed by Kelly as a filmmaker. This movie is a much bigger, less coherent mess than DONNIE DARKO but I can at least now see where Kelly appears to be getting his ideas. SOUTHLAND TALES plays like an American Jerry Cornelius story straight from the pen of science fiction master Michael Moorcock. Very much like those tales this one involves a huge cast of briefly sketched characters in full gallop through a slightly futuristic world in which apocalyptic events are happening. But what Moorcock is fantastic at doing Kelly can’t manage. Usually by the mid-section of a Cornelius tale you get a handle on what’s going on and the story’s central idea grabs hold. Then the small things Moorcock has added in for each character begin to build a strong understanding of their motivations so that by the end you are caught up and loving the ride. Kelly can’t get there even though he works hard to create an interesting experience. Everyone remains a cipher and I was just wishing the thing would go ahead and end. Part of this comes down to the difference between written and filmed fiction and the trouble of translating one to another. But the first Jerry Cornelius novel was filmed back in 1973 and while its not a great film it’s a sharper stab at it than this bloated ramble.
I’ll give Kelly credit for trying but this film just does not work.