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iW PROFILE | “Southland Tales” Director Richard Kelly

iW PROFILE | "Southland Tales" Director Richard Kelly

A boxer/action star suffering from amnesia who is pushing a screenplay about the end of the world. An entrepreneurial porn star with her own talk show, energy drink, and a pop song called “Teen Horniness is Not Crime.” A police officer with doppelganger issues who is caught up in a conspiracy with a neo-Marxist group. A disfigured Gulf War veteran/drug addict who serves as the “Southland Tales” narrator and in a drug addled state imagines himself in a musical number performing a song by The Killers. All of these elements (and more, way more) make up Richard Kelly‘s new film “Southland Tales,” which is finally hitting the big screen on November 14th after a not so warm reception at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006.

The new cut is 19 minutes shorter and features a three-minute animation introduction as well as other new special effects which were created in a 14-month long post-production effort after Cannes to prepare the film for a 2008 release. Richard Kelly took part in a moderated discussion with film journalist Dennis Lim at indieWIRE’s ongoing series of film talks at Apple Store SoHo recently to show scenes from “Southland Tales” and discuss his latest trippy take on modern America.

“It takes place in an alternative future of America. In 2005 there’s two nuclear bombs that are detonated in Texas. The movie takes you over the course of three years in America and what has happened (as) it arrives at a July 4th weekend in Los Angeles and the culmination of how the apocalypse occurs,” Richard Kelly said in describing his film.

To flesh out his complex story, Kelly also penned a graphic novel that serves as a prequel to “Southland Tales” (and is available by Graphitti Designs.) “It was a such a big story in my mind. It was a six chapter story I wanted to tell and I came up with the idea to publish three graphic novel prequels.”

As Lim noted at the packed event at the Apple Store in SoHo, the film has many similarities with Kelly’s breakthrough cult classic, “Donnie Darko,” in that both films use a countdown structure and take place during Presidential campaigns. “It’s a strange cousin to ‘Donnie Darko’ in a way,” says Kelly. “That film took place in 1988 with the election of George Bush Sr. and this film takes place in 2008 which is sort of the climax of the reign of George Bush Jr. and things don’t end so pretty.”

Another “Darko” similarity is the use of doppelgangers in the film and how many of the characters play dual roles. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a character with numerous motives and many hats, being a screenwriter porn star with a talk show like “The View” who is caught up in a ploy to bring down the government.

“She’s essentially Arianna Huffington meets Jenna Jameson,” quipped Kelly.

A scene from Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales.” Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Digging deeper into the plot Kelly offered the following summation of the other main characters in the film:

Dwayne Johnson plays a world famous actor named Boxer Santaros. He is married to a character (played by Mandy Moore) who is the daughter of the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate. [Boxer] has been kidnapped and brought back to LA in hiding by a neo-Marxist fringe group and he has amnesia. This porn star (Gellar) has written this screenplay and has convinced him they are researching this role to play a character named Jericho Kane who is a renegade cop. This is all part of this elaborate conspiracy to humiliate the Vice-Presidential candidate to impact the election.”

Seann William Scott‘s character is a Hermosa Beach UPU officer, which is an “urban pacification unit,” where civilians have become cops because all the other men are in Iraq or Iran or Syria. So he’s this civilian cop who has this mysterious twin brother and he’s been ordered by the neo-Marxist underground to participate in a ride along with Boxer Santaros researching his role as a cop and to show him the ropes of what it means to be a cop. And than there’s this elaborate setup where they are going to humiliate him and film this whole scam. It’s obviously a very intricate plot but these two characters are layered together in and inextricably tied in more ways than I can describe here.”

“It’s really a simple film. I promise,” added Kelly, with laughter from the audience as Dennis Lim noted some attendees were taking notes.

On a more serious note, Kelly offered his reasons for making “Southland Tales”:

“Everyone has their post-9/11 anxiety and for me my way of dealing with it was to make this movie and to try to take a paint brush and paint my anxiety on a canvas.” Kelly added, “I’m a liberal and I’m frustrated and angry and I wish things were different. I wanted to show the polarization that has occurred and the extremes of the far right and the extremes of the far left.”

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