As part of the Richard Kelly blogathon on Exodus 8.2 I'm revising and re-posting my initial fractured skewed take on SOUTHLAND TALES which is heavily influenced by Steven Shaviro's highly recommended book, Post Cinematic Affect
"It is the business of the future to be dangerous."
----Alfred N. Whitehead (1925)
"Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more
futuristic than they originally predicted."
--- Krista Now (Sara Michell Gellar), Southland Tales
-- Bela Lugosi (Glen or Glenda)
After the cult explosion around Kelly's big debut, DONNIE DARKO, it was inevitable his follow-up would be needlessly obtuse. With a bit of post-modern affect discussion under your belt, or on a double feature with BOARDING GATE (also covered in Shaviro's book), however, it might tighten up. Might not. There is an annoying buzz of self-indulgent confidence at work in the film, a naivete that since DARKO has such a rabid cult so will SOUTHLAND--in that sense it's up there with BUCKAROO BANZAI as far as 'another think coming'. With its ceaseless frisson and funky breaks meant to dazzle fans of a certain age, it's a film made up of dead hypertext links and little text. At least BUCKAROO had Peter Weller's taciturn deadpan perfection to carry it along. The closest SOUTHLAND gets is The Rock, and though he makes some brave choices (Bob Hope-style faux cowardice), Rock's no Weller.
Kelly's presumption that we'll watch SOUTHLAND over and over and compare obscure references and symbolic meaning on the internet comes from an understandable for the young miasma about changing viewing habits. Even back in the Darko days movie watching was limited to cable and DVD, there wasn't the plethora of screens and youtubes and Netflixes that make just watching one film one time a daunting improbability. When BUCKAROO came out we didn't think it was great but we still taped it off cable and watched it 100 times, because it wasn't bad. Do you want to know why DONNIE DARKO was such a hit, and screened at midnight showings for years in my old East Village neighborhood? Because chicks loved the doomed, moody romance and Jake G's stoner stare; his battles with schizophrenia mirrored their own issues with existential expressions like cutting, anorexia, drugs, and (at least based on the girls I knew, at the time), grudge sex. It was a hand into their darkness, a friend who knew the score. And it was lyrical and poetic without being close to corny; it was there for you. And since girls went, guys went right after them. you could go to the midnight show in your pajamas and no one would bat an eye, or a ball, very far. In other words, it was a date movie for the midnight hipster set. They could go in their pajamas after a hot bout of break-up sex, and then not have to see each other afterwards.
|"Quantum teleportation, teen horniness, and war."|
But what I can't understand is why Nostradamus and--apparently--every ancient civilization with star savvy was so anxious to encode everything on earth with the date that is now rapidly approaching - 2012. In the new century, if we heard the world was gonna end 'exactly' five hundred years from now, would we care? The game of it all becomes what the Buddha calls "joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. When the world finally adapts that marvelous strategy, owning up to amnesia is the same as pressing the button because even Def-Con 5 needs love.
Even the bad guys who monitor everything from afar in SOUTHLAND are secretly enthralled by the notion of the end, and are all rebelling from one program or another to ensure that end arrives. Good guys and bad all want the same thing in an age when amnesia is inducible via an easily acquired drug. Anyone can be abducted and turned loose without being able to identify one's abductees. The Rock (Boxer Santeros), starts the film with amnesia and the first thing his wife (Mandy Moore) notes when seeing him--as if it was the reek of stale booze and cigarettes or stale perfume on his collar she was noticing instead of that he'd been kidnapped and mind-erased. He denies his amnesia on instinct as if its something to be ashamed of. It's a weird choice, but if you've ever come home from a party with a mind full of weird drugs you promised your ball-and-chain you wouldn't do, then you'll know the feeling.
What Kelly also understands is the nature of drugs and the weird habit alcoholics and drug addicts have of watching the same movie over and over again because... I forget why. They're too wasted to change the channel? Or dredge up another DVD? Or for that matter endless repeat seasons of reality TV shows, where our knowledge of what is going to happen, who will win, who will die, is granted us like benign rulers, or our own inner Pilot Abilenes. Revelation 6.8 and behold a pale horse and the name that sat on it was repeat business; if you've ever edited footage on Final Cut until it loses all meaning... or if you've ever conducted experiments on soldiers or sniffed paint fumes from a spray can, or had amnesia, forgetting you're Ronald Taverner...then you know what I mean, and if you're happy and you know it, hit the squib, and act shocked when you die, snivel as you swivel your electric high chair, so the Dead End Kids won't want to start no trouble in the rubble. Just leave them a DVD of SOUTHLAND TALES, and they'll think you were one muthufuggin' lost-ass generation. Weren't you, Perfect Tommy?