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Jul 31 2019

Soundtracking: Southland Tales

byChris Feil

Recently resurfacing with repertory runs of its original catastrophic Cannes cut,Richard Kelly's notoriousDonnie Darkofollow-upSouthland Talesplays like the most bizarre time capsule.It captures not only a specific ideological moment in the timeline of post-9/11 anti-Bush anxieties,but it also captures the aura of MTV in its dying days as a culturally dominant force.For the uninitiated: imagine a Nashville porn parody peppered with internet conspiracy theories and set to the Pixies,then edited for television.It doesn't all work by a long shot but it's kind of awe-inspiringly out there,and at its best when it realized that it's really meant to be an opera.

For all of the film's inspired Gilliam-esque grand leaps,Southland Talesfeels like the definitive example of what people mean when they sneer the words "sophomore feature",right down to the bone-deep influence of MTV.The film is visually aligned with the work of Nigel Dick or Hype Williams,so much that entire scenes could be lifted and placed right at home in vintage TRL.It's not just the aesthetics of once-called Music Television that pervade Kelly's vision,the film ingrains hyper-specific era music into its veins: naming its chapters after alternative rock songs,lyric references as dialogue,an original score by Moby.For better and worse,it's like a dystopian NOW!compilation album fighting government corruption.

Kelly also borrows from the dominant icons of MTV's dying era,particularly with Sarah Michelle Gellar's Krysta Now.Today the character and her multi-hyphenate domination feels like it predicted Kim Kardashian,but the more obvious inspiration for her hypersexualized and overscrutinized persona is Britney Spears.Krysta's music is just a part of her package that includes reality television,faux self-helpism,and porny pastiche.Her anthem,"Teen Horniness is Not A Crime",is as much satire as it is a track conceivably found in the likes of Paris Hilton's album (she has one,remember?).

In her,the film sees the future of the catchall pop star and all of societal perversions we would indulge.By the time the film comes to its climax,the vision of Krysta swaying before the American flag is one of sexual persona as pop commodity.

But the film's signature musical moment is the one it is most memorable for,the sequence where the film's intentional garishness marries best with its themes of American desolation.Both out of nowhere and exactly as you expect,Justin Timberlake's crackpot veteran delivers a showstopping lipsync to the climax of The Killers' "All These Things That I've Done".

The sequence works because it feels like the film reaching its natural form,the ecstatic music video that the rest of the film should probably also be.Here Kelly's exclamation point themes and arch satire have a more hospitable playground in an outright musical sequence.It's a toxic candy of Americana channeled through internet era anxiety and male fascinations,excessive and with a wink.The song choice ties the film most specifically toSouthland's time - a staple of early aughts dorm rooms filled pot smoke and huge,inelegant ideas about What Was Going On.

Though the film's detractors might roll their eyes at such conception,the film's musicality wrings it for its grandeur and turns the film into something unique.

All Soundtracking installments can be foundhere!

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Reader Comments (3)

If you'll pardon the bluntness,I am still convinced that Richard Kelly was masturbating the entire time he was filming this movie

July 31,2019 | Unregistered CommenterPoliVamp

I'd like to see that set video,PoliVamp.

I hated ST the first time I saw it,and adored it the second time.I haven't watched it since.Who knows what'll happen?

July 31,2019 | Unregistered CommenterJason

Love this write-up,and love Southland Tales in all its loopy glory.

July 31,2019 | Unregistered Commenterben1283

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