During a three day heat wave just before a huge 4th of July celebration, an action star stricken with amnesia meets up with a porn star who is developing her own reality TV project, and a policeman who holds the key to a vast conspiracy.
Southland Tales is an ensemble piece set in the futuristic landscape of Los Angeles on July 4, 2008, as it stands on the brink of social, economic and environmental disaster. Boxer Santaros is an action star who's stricken with amnesia. His life intertwines with Krysta Now, an adult film star developing her own reality television project, and Ronald Taverner, a Hermosa Beach police officer who holds the key to a vast conspiracy. Written by
In the introductory titles, as Pilot Abilene narrates, there is a white map of the United States that implodes towards the screen as he says "Interstate travel visas were required for each state." Right before the map implodes, you can see that the state of Wisconsin is unaligned. See more »
Private Pilot Abilene:
In the aftermath of nuclear attacks in Texas, America found itself on the brink of anarchy.
[overlapping news reports]
Private Pilot Abilene:
World War III had begun.
Private Pilot Abilene:
The accelerated conflict in the Middle East placed significant restrictions on American access to oil. Alternative fuel sources became a lucrative commodity. Americans were transfixed by the terrorist's threat, and were willing to prevent another attack by any means necessary. Military checkpoints were erected at each State line. ...
[...] See more »
After the credits, a logo appears of a thumbprint over an American flag with the words: "DON'T TOUCH ME" See more »
I liked this enough to tell you in the first sentence that it would have been a candidate for one of only two 4-star ratings I give per year.
If you are an average viewer, you will be put off by the apparent narrative incoherence, the seeming lack of center and the childish nature of some of the devices. That's all fair enough. But let me point you to two things that make it for me.
The first is that it is inherently cinematic. It makes about as much sense when the sound is turned off. Indeed I watched the whole thing through this way once and it actually makes more sense. There's lots of cinematic nesting: movies about movies; videos, narratives and disguises within. There's lots of causality denoted visually. You will find scores of quotes from other films, many more than those "parody" teen movies. And you'll discover many of your favorite intelligent but not famous actors.
That would be enough for me, but there's something else. In fact, though the story is confusing, deliberately made so through how it unfolds, it does make complete sense. It makes as much sense as, say, "The Matrix." I wish it didn't, but there you are. But its the way the story slips about that is pretty wonderful. You see, a narrative works by the way the pieces connect.
Usually we don't have to work because the way the pieces connect is the way they happen in real life: the causal flow of the narrative telling is the same as in the story. But the detective story, and modern noir changed that and now we have a variety of causal connections that can glue the bits together. Even these you don't normally notice unless the writer as here makes the shifts between bits cover a greater distance than usual.
Pay attention to this. Greenaway uses reference to number sequence. Barney uses progress through the sexual encounter, clever that. Lynch provides these discontinuities by having characters shift selves a technique of discovery. Joyce who in a way is the gold standard because he reified this sort of art through cognitive plumbing connection depends on notational congruence. All these are exciting as getout in the hands of their masters.
But this is different, more rooted in noir, in cinema. These elements are connected in ways that only read in film.
Here's what I mean: film has evolved a set of notions we call noir. These capture two worlds; the world of the story where the laws of the universe seem to be deliberately arranged by strange occurrences, "mistakes" and coincidences to play havoc with key characters. Then there is the (usually implied) second world where those laws are manipulated and we the viewers sit. In almost all noir films, this effect only occurs in the long form, meaning that it is apparent when seem over the whole story.
Now look here. For all intents, there is no long form here, just a sequence of medium- sized events, each of which contain rather than follow the previous ones. This form was pioneered (I believe) by Altman. The narrative glue of the whole is how the segments slip against one another. We have "Magnolia" that plays with this concept as well, this slipperage. Its the connection that conveys the world. Its subtle and homeopathically powerful as a result.
Now this. Its another step forward in that the connection between elements involves changes in the way the world works. Each shift is not just between story segments that don't make sense, they don't make sense BECAUSE of the nature of the transitions. Many of these transitions involve a change in the laws of the universe. Its as if you were playing chess as a chesspiece, and the rules of the game changed according to the patterns of the pieces on the board. The whole thing would make sense afterward when seem as a whole, but the chessmen will be baffled.
What this does is build an ordinary noir with the two worlds: story, and gods. But it cleverly puts the viewer on the chessboard as someone at the mercy of the rules. Its no accident that the inspiration is Philip K Dick (who invented this sort of reverse introspection), that the key magical plot device is the magically named "fluid karma," and that the mascot is Bai Ling, who was our Béatrice Dalle surrogate for a while.
I want to give this a four, but I do think that the two others from this year are more important.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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