Southland Tales

southland tales

Southland Tales is a 2006 science fiction dark comedy-drama film, written and directed by Richard Kelly. The title refers to the Southland, a name used by locals to refer to Southern California and Greater Los Angeles. Set in the then near future of an alternate history, the film is a portrait of Los Angeles and a comment on the military-industrial news-tainment complex. The film features an ensemble cast. Original music for the film was provided by Moby. The film was a critical and financial failure.

The film opens on El Paso and Abilene, Texas, both of which fall victim to twin nuclear attacks on July 4, 2005—a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions which launches America into World War III. The PATRIOT Act has extended authority to a new agency known as US-IDent, which keeps constant tabs on citizens and heavily censors the media and the Internet.

In response to fuel shortage in the wake of global warfare, the German company Treer designs a generator of nearly inexhaustible energy which is propelled by ocean currents, called ‘Fluid Karma.’ Unbeknownst to all but its inventor, Baron von Westphalen and his closest associates, the generators alter the currents and cause the Earth to slow its rotation, and the transmission of the energy to portable receivers (via quantum entanglement) is ripping holes in the fabric of space and time.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, is a city on the brink of chaos overshadowed by the growth of the underground neo-Marxist movement, the film follows the criss-crossed destinies of Boxer Santaros, an action film actor stricken with amnesia; Krysta Now, ex-porn star in the midst of creating a reality TV show; and twin brothers Roland and Ronald Taverner (both played by Seann William Scott), announced to be the same person by the engineers of Treer.

Richard Kelly wrote ‘Southland Tales’ shortly before the September 11 attacks. The original script involved blackmail, a porn star, and two cops. After the attacks, Kelly revised the script. He said the original script, ‘was more about making fun of Hollywood. But now it’s about, I hope, creating a piece of science fiction that’s about a really important problem we’re facing, about civil liberties and homeland security and needing to sustain both those things and balance them.’

He described the film as a ‘tapestry of ideas all related to some of the biggest issues that I think we’re facing right now . . . alternative fuel or the increasing obsession with celebrity and how celebrity now intertwines with politics.’ With the film’s premise of a nuclear attack on Texas, Kelly wanted to take a look at how the United States would respond and survive while constructing a ‘great black comedy.’

‘Southland Tales’ is a musical in, ‘the post-modern sense of the word in that it is a hybrid of several genres. There [is] some dancing and singing, but [it’s] incorporated into the story in very logical scenarios as well as fantasy dream environments.’ Kelly said the film’s biggest influences are ‘Kiss Me Deadly,’ ‘Pulp Fiction,’ ‘Brazil’ and ‘Dr. Strangelove.’ He called it a ‘strange hybrid of the sensibilities of Andy Warhol and Philip K. Dick.’

The film often references religious and literary works; a policeman says, ‘Flow my tears,’ in reference to a Philip K. Dick novel of that name. (‘Taverner’ is the name of the main character in the same book and suffers identity problems of his own.) Pilot Abilene quotes Biblical scripture from the ‘Book of Revelation’ in narrating the film and allusion is made both to Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ and ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ and an altered version of T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men.’

Southland Tales was initially planned to be a nine-part ‘interactive experience,’ with the first six parts published in six 100-page graphic novels that would be released in a six-month period up to the film’s release. The feature film comprises the final three parts of the experience. A website was also developed to intertwine with the graphic novels and the film itself. The idea of six graphic novels was later narrowed down to three. The novels were written by Kelly and illustrated by Brett Weldele. Kelly wrote them while making the film and found it very difficult as it pushed him ‘to the edge of my own sanity,’ as he remarked in an interview.

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