Back in 2001, writer/director Richard Kelly made his feature film debut with Donnie Darko, a genre-bending cult classic that featured a young Jake Gyllenhaal. As the title character, he learns from someone in a demonic bunny costume that the world is going to end in 28 days in 1988. Themes surrounding political satire and time travel are heavy throughout Donnie Darko, but it’s Holden Caulfield-like attitude stood out for young viewers like myself. I was 16 when I was able to rent a VHS copy of the movie as the theatrical release was minimal and I had yet to expand upon local theaters. It exposed me to a nontraditional narrative that soon after introduced me to the works of David Lynch. Its all-star cast with an ambiguous ending had me hooked and I was excited to see what else Kelly had up his sleeve. Darko was not an initial success, taking its time to become the well-known property it is now so it wasn’t a surprise that Kelly’s follow-up, SOUTHLAND TALES, took a while to flourish.
Set in the then near-future of 2008, the Patriot Act has extended its surveillance to pretty much all citizens after twin terrorist attacks in Texas. US-iDent is formed, which has security cameras in both public and private properties as well as requiring fingerprints of all citizens in order to access accounts of any sort. Naturally, this type of system doesn’t sit well with everyone. An underground organization utilizes an actor with amnesia, Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson) to not only be seen with an outspoken porn star (Sarah Michelle Gellar), but help expose staged footage of a racist cop (Sean William Scott). Santaros is the necessary tool due to his marriage to the daughter (Mandy Moore) of a Republican senator currently running for office. And that’s just the basic premise of the plot.
These characters are part of a much bigger ensemble attempting to rig an election but also are connected to energy companies with hidden agendas. There’s plenty of political and pop culture satire that Kelly loves to embrace to mixed results.
SOUTHLAND TALES is the embodiment of a science fiction cinematic experiment. The success of that experiment is one of the most interesting debates on film social media. Arrow Video embraces that by including both the theatrical release and the famously booed Cannes Cut, now available for the first time (legally).
The availability of the Cannes Cut alone makes this a worthy purchase for fans as its history and legacy speaks volumes for the journey of SOUTHLAND TALES. The most obvious difference is the lack of prologue in the Cannes Cut, which personally I feel never needed to be there. It starts the movie at a glacial pace and probably scares off those who attempted the theatrical version. While short, it’s fun to also see Janeane Garofalo get some actual dialogue in this version. The theatrical cut merely gave us a glimpse of her character during a montage at the end. The Cannes Cut is a bit longer and the pacing doesn’t improve much, but it lives as evidence of a project that wasn’t given a chance.
Arrow has put together a new documentary called “It’s A Madcap World: The Making of An Unfinished Film,” a three-part piece featuring Kelly giving an honest take on his experience making the film. Both the Cannes experience and struggles on obtaining financing before and during the process are discussed. Filmed during our current pandemic, interviews with him and crew look to be filmed using Zoom but are creatively placed onto iDent monitors to give a fresh look. However, the discussions don’t have much of a flow as they are edited to have random topics come up in between way too much footage from the movie. A new commentary would have been more informative as the archival track included feels too safe as Kelly clearly recorded back during the initial release.
Don’t let that stray you from purchasing this if you are a fan of the movie or Kelly’s work. Both versions of the movie have been restored and this new disc reflects that beautifully. New 5.1 audio mixes are included as well as the features from the original Blu-ray release.
Alongside a booklet with new writing and photographs on the film, Arrow Video’s new edition of SOUTHLAND TALES is an experiment to delve into as it provides a lot to discuss, shockingly eerie how relevant it is to our current political climate.