Peter Greenaway once said that if you want to tell a story, write a book, but do not make a movie. He may wanted to say that just telling the story is a waste of film media, as there are more possibilities to enrich consumer’s life through it. It is a simple fact that the film is a combination of several different artistic directions together, namely literature (script), fine arts and photography (cinematography, film visual, scenery, effects, costumes), music or choreography (dance in musicals, martial arts), etc. In short, the film is a complex piece of art attacking your senses on all fronts… and while watching Southland Tales I was realizing it more than ever before.
Thanks to this film Richard Kelly can be placed next to Greenaway and David Lynch, whose perception of film media is very similar to Greenaway’s. I would even dare to name Southland Tales Kelly’s Lost Highway. But in his work, Kelly went a bit further and created a sort of monstrous popcultural plaything in which a lot of thoughts and references come together (whether on other films or on the Bible… even on actual political situation in our real world), and which I boldly claim to be the mirror of contemporary film art.
With its genre neutrality it comes close to Asian cinematography – it’s a satire, comedy, drama, a musical movie (with one purely musical number), parable, and much more, and it’s fascinating how it all keeps together… and even it does not seem to make a perfect sense at first, it actually does if you get the job done and read the comic book in which you’ll find first three chapters of this epic Los Angeles drama. Yeah, you are reading correctly, the first part of the story is a comic book also by Richard Kelly. So the film starts with chapter four and can be partially understood even without the knowledge of a comic, but really only partially. You can solve the main story line, but still there will remain plenty of unresolved questions. So if you want a film you can watch only once that will simply entertain you for two and a half hours, you better avoid Southland Tales, but if you are willing to explore the film with every next view and to go after all the details and references, I guarantee you that this film will reward you with complex cinematic experience. And what is it all about? It’s about a lot of things… and some of them are quite important. Just watch it and you’ll see. And maybe you’ll love it as much as I do.