Southland Tales

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Southland Tales
Theatrical poster
Directed byRichard Kelly
Written byRichard Kelly
Produced by
CinematographySteven Poster
Edited bySam Bauer
Music byMoby
Distributed by
Release dates
  • May 21, 2006 (2006-05-21) (Cannes)
  • November 14, 2007 (2007-11-14) (United States)
Running time
144 minutes[3]
  • United States
  • Germany
Budget$17 million[4][5]
Box office$374,743[6]

Southland Tales is a 2006 dystopian black comedy thriller film written and directed by Richard Kelly. It features an ensemble cast that includes Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, and Justin Timberlake. An international co-production of the United States and Germany,[7] the film is set in the then-near future of 2008, and is a portrait of Los Angeles, as well as a satiric commentary on the military–industrial complex and the infotainment industry. The title refers to the Southland, a name used by locals to refer to Southern California and the Greater Los Angeles area. Original music was provided by Moby.

Southland Tales premiered at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival,[8] and was released theatrically in the United States on November 14, 2007. The film polarised critics,[9] who responded unfavourably to its running time and sprawling nature in spite of its "intriguing vision", and only made $374,743 during its international theatrical run.[6] Despite this, it has developed a cult following in subsequent years. Kelly has expressed interest in expanding the film into a franchise.[10]


On July 4, 2005, in a fictionalized United States alternate history reality, two towns in Texas (El Paso and Abilene) were destroyed by twin nuclear attacks, killing thousands and triggering a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions, sending the United States into a state of chaos and hysteria, as well as a Third World War (a fictionalized version of what the nation may have become under the War on Terror), with the US government re-introducing the draft.

The PATRIOT Act has extended authority to a new agency known as US-IDent, which keeps constant surveillance on citizens—even to the extent of censoring the Internet and requiring fingerprints to access computers and bank accounts. In response to the recent fuel shortage in the wake of global warfare, the German company Treer designs a generator of inexhaustible energy, which is propelled by the perpetual motion of ocean currents, called "Fluid Karma". However, its inventor Baron von Westphalen and his associates are hiding the fact that the generators alter the ocean's currents and cause the Earth to slow its rotation, and that the transmission of Fluid Karma to portable receivers (via quantum entanglement) is ripping holes in the fabric of space and time.

In near-future 2008, Los Angeles (referred to as "The Southland" by locals) is a dystopian[11] city on the brink of chaos overshadowed by the growth of an underground neo-Marxist organization. The film follows the criss-crossed destinies of Boxer Santaros, an action film actor stricken with amnesia; Krysta Now, a psychic ex–porn star in the midst of creating a reality TV show; and twin brothers Roland and Ronald Taverner, whose destinies become intertwined with that of all mankind. The Taverner twins are revealed to be the same person by the engineers of Treer, duplicated when Roland traveled through a rift in space-time, while Boxer has become the most wanted man in the world despite his political ties and his having the fate of the future, in the form of a prophetic screenplay foretelling the end of the world, in his hands.


Amy Poehler and Wood Harris appear as Neo-Marxist activists. Zelda Rubinstein and Beth Grant portray Dr. Katarina Kuntzler and Dr. Inga Von Westphalen, respectively, both being members of the baron's entourage. Janeane Garofalo appears as General Teena MacArthur. Cheri Oteri plays Zora Carmichaels, while Jon Lovitz plays violent police officer Bart Bookman who is in love with Zora. Holmes Osborne plays conservative Senator Bobby Frost, Will Sasso plays Fortunio Balducci and Christopher Lambert plays Walter Mung.


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."[15] 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".[17] 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."[17]

Kelly's breakthrough film, Donnie Darko, was released in the United States on October 26, 2001, the same day the PATRIOT Act was signed. Two months before Southland Tales was released, he announced the launch of Darko Entertainment.[18]

Kelly said: "[Southland Tales] will only be a musical in a post-modern sense of the word in that it is a hybrid of several genres. There will be some dancing and singing, but it will be incorporated into the story in very logical scenarios as well as fantasy dream environments."[19] 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".[20] 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 (Justin Timberlake) 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, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and an altered version of T. S. Eliot's The Hollow Men.


In March 2004, Kelly and Cherry Road Films began development of Southland Tales. Filmmakers entered negotiations with actors Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Lee, Janeane Garofalo, Tim Blake Nelson, Amy Poehler, Kevin Smith, and Ali Larter. Musician Moby was approached on composing and performing the film's score.[19] Kelly met with Rick Moranis about playing Vaughn Smallhouse.[21] Kelly consciously sought out actors that he felt had been pigeonholed and wanted to showcase their "undiscovered talents."[17]


Filming was slated to begin in July 2004, but after a year, it had not begun. Dwayne Johnson joined the cast in April 2005, and principal photography was slated to begin August 1, 2005 in Los Angeles.[12] Filming began on August 15, 2005, with a budget of around US$15–17 million.


Kelly sent the organizers of the 2006 Cannes Film Festival a rough cut of Southland Tales on DVD assuming that it would not be accepted.[22] Much to his surprise, they loved it and wanted the film entered in competition for the Palme d'Or. He stopped editing the film and was also unable to complete all of the visual effects in time for the screening.[22] Kelly's film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2006 with a length of 160 minutes.[23] Kelly describes the negative reaction at Cannes as a "very painful experience on a lot of levels" but ultimately felt that the film "was better off because of it".[22] After the film's festival release, Southland Tales was purchased by Sony Pictures (via their label Destination Films) and Samuel Goldwyn Films, originally Sony Pictures Classics, Screen Gems and TriStar Pictures were up for US distribution rights.[24][25]

Universal Studios had originally optioned the U.S. rights, but after the Cannes screening, it was sold to Sony, although Universal still retained studio credit only and some international distribution rights. Kelly sought more financing to finish visual effects for the film, and he negotiated a deal with Sony to cut down on the film's length in exchange for funds to complete the visual effects.[26]

Kelly edited the film down to the basic storylines of the characters portrayed by Scott, Gellar, and Johnson. The director also sought to keep the musical number performed by Timberlake, based on "All These Things That I've Done" by The Killers which he felt was the heart and soul of the film.[15] Editorial changes were made to restructure the order of the film's scenes, including re-recording all of Timberlake's voice-over. The director also added 90 new visual effects shots to the film and removed 20 to 25 minutes of footage from his initial cut.[27]


Southland Tales: Music from the Motion Picture
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedNovember 6, 2007
LabelMilan Records
Moby and various artists chronology
Donnie Darko
Southland Tales: Music from the Motion Picture
The Box
Professional ratings
Review scores

Southland Tales: Music from the Motion Picture is the original soundtrack of Richard Kelly's 2007 film Southland Tales.[28][29]

  1. "Wave of Mutilation" (UK surf version) by Pixies
  2. "Oh My Angel" by Bertha Tillman
  3. "Howl" (extended version) by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
  4. "Look Back In" by Moby
  5. "Me & Bobby McGee" by Waylon Jennings
  6. "Chord Sounds" by Moby
  7. "Lucky Me" by Roger Webb
  8. "3 Steps" by Moby
  9. "Broken Hearted Savior" by Big Head Todd and the Monsters
  10. "Teen Horniness Is Not a Crime" by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Abbey McBride and ClarKent
  11. "Tiny Elephants" by Moby
  12. "Forget Myself" by Elbow
  13. "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Rebekah Del Rio & the Section Quartet
  14. "Three Days" (live version) by Jane's Addiction
  15. "Memory Gospel" by Moby

The soundtrack for Southland Tales was released in stores and online on November 6, 2007. Amongst the songs not available on the soundtrack but featured in the film are Muse's "Blackout", The Killers' "All These Things That I've Done", and Blur's "Tender". Additionally, tracks from Radiohead, Louis Armstrong, Beethoven, Kris Kristofferson, and several tracks from Moby's Hotel:Ambient are likewise absent from the album. The reason for the exclusion of some of these tracks, like the song by The Killers was as a result of a dispute with the record label.[22]

The track "Memory Gospel" was used from time to time by the CBC Radio One program Q in the background of an opening monologue given by host Jian Ghomeshi.[30]



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.[12] The idea of six graphic novels was later cut 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.[22]

  • Part One: Two Roads Diverge (May 25, 2006, ISBN 0-936211-75-X)
  • Part Two: Fingerprints (September 15, 2006, ISBN 0-936211-76-8)
  • Part Three: The Mechanicals (January 31, 2007, ISBN 0-936211-77-6)

They have been collected together into one single volume:

The titles of the parts in the film are:[31]

  • Part Four: Temptation Waits
  • Part Five: Memory Gospel
  • Part Six: Wave of Mutilation

Theatrical release[edit]

Director Richard Kelly at a screening of Southland Tales

Following its May 21, 2006 premiere at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, where it was poorly received,[9][32] the final version of the film premiered at Fantastic Fest on September 22, 2007.[33] The film was originally scheduled to be released in the United States on November 9, 2007, in partnership with Destination Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films,[34] but in eventually opened in limited release in California on November 14, 2007. It opened in Canada, as well as nationwide in the United States, in just 63 theaters,[6] on November 16, 2007. The film was released in the UK on December 7, 2007, exclusively to UK cinema chain Cineworld in a limited number of locations.[citation needed]

Home media[edit]

The Region 1 DVD was released on March 18, 2008, in North America and the Region 2 release was on March 31, 2008, in the United Kingdom. The film was released on Region 4 DVD in Australia on April 30, 2008. Special features include a 33-minute documentary USIDent TV: Surveiling the Southland and a 10-minute animated short film This Is the Way the World Ends (which was not included on the R2 and R4 editions). On March 25, 2009, the R2 DVD was released in France.

On September 8, 2008, it was announced that it would be one of the five films being released on Blu-ray on November 18, 2008. The only new special feature announced was an audio commentary by Kelly. On October 26, 2020, Arrow Video announced a Remastered version approved by Richard Kelly would be released on Blu-ray on January 26, 2021. This release includes both the original theatrical cut and the Cannes cut.


Cannes Film Festival[edit]

Along with two other American filmmakers (Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette and Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation), Kelly's follow-up to Donnie Darko was in competition for the coveted Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival[8] and was screened on May 21 at the Grand Lumiere Theater.[23]

Many critics responded unfavorably to the film's long running time and sprawling nature. Roger Ebert described the Cannes screening as "The most disastrous since, yes, The Brown Bunny."[9] critic Andrew O'Hehir called the Cannes cut "about the biggest, ugliest mess I've ever seen."[35] Jason Solomons, in The Observer (UK), said that "Southland Tales was so bad it made me wonder if [Kelly] had ever met a human being" and that ten minutes of the "sprawling, plotless, post-apocalyptic farrago" gave him the "sinking feeling that this may be one of the worst films ever presented in [Cannes] competition."[36] A handful of the American and European critics, however, were more positive.[37] The Village Voice critic J. Hoberman, for example, called Southland Tales "a visionary film about the end of times" comparable in recent American film only to David Lynch's Mulholland Drive.[38]

Critical response[edit]

41% of 106 reviews compiled by review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes are positive, and the average rating is 4.9 out of 10. The site's consensus states: "Southland Tales, while offering an intriguing vision of the future, remains frustratingly incoherent and unpolished."[39] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 44 out of 100, based on 26 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[40]

Glenn Kenny, in his review for Premiere criticized the film's style, "Kelly's camera placement and framing are at best textbook and at worst calamitously mediocre."[41] In her review for the Los Angeles Times, Carina Chocano wrote, "You get the sense that Kelly is too angry to really find any of it funny. It's easy to empathize with his position, not so easy to remain engrossed in a film that's occasionally inspired but ultimately manic and scattered."[42] David Edelstein's review in New York magazine criticized the film's writing, "Kelly aims high and must have shot off his own ear, which is the only way to account for the dialogue."[43]

On the program Ebert & Roeper, Richard Roeper and guest critic Michael Phillips gave the film a negative review. While Roeper called the film "Two hours and twenty-four minutes of abstract crap," Phillips felt that "the film has a head on its shoulders despite the fact that it can't find any direction" but nevertheless gave the film a thumbs down.[44]

J. Hoberman defended the film, yet again, in his review for the theatrical cut. "In its willful, self-involved eccentricity, Southland Tales is really something else. Kelly's movie may not be entirely coherent, but that's because there's so much it wants to say."[45] Manohla Dargis also gave the film a positive review in The New York Times, writing, "He doesn't make it easy to love his new film, which turns and twists and at times threatens to disappear down the rabbit hole of his obsessions. Happily, it never does, which allows you to share in his unabashed joy in filmmaking as well as in his fury about the times."[32]

The film remains enigmatic to many viewers and even some of its makers. In a 2011 interview, Justin Timberlake himself said, "To me, Southland Tales is performance art. I still don't know what that movie is about."[46] In 2013, Kelly said he considered this work as "the thing that I'm most proud of, and I feel like it's sort of the misunderstood child or the banished child."[5]

Box office[edit]

Southland Tales grossed $275,380 in limited release at the North American box office and $99,363 in Turkey and United Kingdom for a worldwide total of $374,743,[6] against a production budget of $17 million.[4][5]


In January 2021, Richard Kelly announced that developments are underway to expand the film into a franchise with intention being that the original cast return. The filmmaker explained that the original film is chapters 4-6, while a prequel project will explore chapters 1-3 with intentions being to do so through an animation medium; while additional projects can explore events that take place in 2024.[10] He stated that discussions are ongoing as to whether the projects should be released as films or in a long-form format through a streaming service.[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kay, Jeremy (July 25, 2007). "Samuel Goldwyn to handle US distribution of Southland Tales". Screen Daily. Archived from the original on April 16, 2022. Retrieved October 5, 2021.
  2. ^ a b Kay, Jeremy (April 21, 2005). "Universal, Wild Bunch board Southland Tales". Screen Daily. Archived from the original on July 1, 2022. Retrieved October 5, 2021.
  3. ^ "Southland Tales (15)". British Board of Film Classification. November 5, 2007. Archived from the original on November 26, 2016. Retrieved November 24, 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Southland Tales (2007)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Archived from the original on November 19, 2013. Retrieved December 9, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c Riesman, Abraham (July 8, 2013). "Richard Kelly on Southland Tales: Complete and Unedited". Motherboard. Archived from the original on April 28, 2018. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d "Southland Tales (2007)". Box Office Mojo. Amazon. Archived from the original on March 27, 2019. Retrieved February 6, 2008.
  7. ^ "Southland Tales". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on January 13, 2009. Retrieved November 11, 2012.
  8. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: Southland Tales". Archived from the original on August 22, 2011. Retrieved December 13, 2009.
  9. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (November 16, 2007). "Southland Tales". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on June 3, 2013. Retrieved November 4, 2022.
  10. ^ a b Collis, Clark (January 22, 2021). "Southland Tales director hopes to reunite with Dwayne Johnson for planned sequel". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 29, 2021.
  11. ^ This Maligned 2006 Movie About Dystopian L.A. Is Too Real at This Point Archived June 9, 2018, at the Wayback Machine. (February 13, 2018). Retrieved on September 7, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c d e Cherry Road Films (April 21, 2005). "The Rock Heads to Tales". Archived from the original on October 18, 2012. Retrieved August 2, 2007.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Doland, Angela (May 21, 2006). "'Southland' Imagines L.A. Apocalypse". Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 2, 2012. Retrieved August 2, 2007.
  14. ^ "Gellar Heads To Southland". October 5, 2004. Archived from the original on August 4, 2007. Retrieved August 2, 2007.
  15. ^ a b c Peranson, Mark (May 30, 2006). "Goodbye Southland, Goodbye". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on September 21, 2007. Retrieved August 2, 2007.
  16. ^ Hilary Goldstein (July 26, 2005). "Before Southland Tales". IGN. Archived from the original on November 17, 2007. Retrieved August 2, 2007.
  17. ^ a b c Angela Doland (May 21, 2006). "Southland Imagines L.A. Apocalypse". Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 2, 2012. Retrieved June 7, 2007.
  18. ^ ""Kelly launches Darko Entertainment", by Dade Hayes, Variety". September 17, 2007. Archived from the original on December 11, 2018. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  19. ^ a b Cathy Dunkley (March 24, 2004). "Cherry Road hot for Kelly's 'Tales'". Variety. Retrieved August 2, 2007.
  20. ^ Etherington, Daniel (2006). "Southland Tales preview". Channel 4. Archived from the original on June 6, 2015. Retrieved September 16, 2005.
  21. ^ "The Character Rick Moranis Almost Played in Richard Kelly's Infamous Southland Tales". January 28, 2021.
  22. ^ a b c d e Sean Gandert (November 14, 2007). "Catching Up With ... Richard Kelly". Paste magazine. Retrieved June 7, 2007.
  23. ^ a b Jacobson, Harlan (May 22, 2006). "Volver, Southland Tales premiere at Cannes". USA Today. Archived from the original on May 23, 2011. Retrieved June 6, 2008.
  24. ^ Mark Bell (September 12, 2006). "How The World Ends: Conversation With Richard Kelly". Film Threat. Archived from the original on April 13, 2009. Retrieved August 2, 2007.
  25. ^ "Anatomy of a Cannes Disaster: What Happened After 'Southland Tales' Was Booed". The Hollywood Reporter. May 9, 2016. Archived from the original on December 3, 2020. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
  26. ^ Jeremy Smith (July 28, 2007). "Exclusive Interview: Richard Kelly (Southland Tales)". Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved August 2, 2007.
  27. ^ Patrick Lee; Cindy White (July 28, 2007). "Kelly Talks Southland Changes". Sci Fi Wire. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. Retrieved August 2, 2007.
  28. ^ a b Monger, James Christopher. "Southland Tales Original Soundtrack". AllMusic. All Media Network. Archived from the original on April 28, 2018. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  29. ^ Southland Tales - Music From The Motion Picture at Discogs.
  30. ^ "Q with Jian Ghomeshi". CBC Radio. Archived from the original on July 21, 2012. Retrieved February 28, 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  31. ^ Rogers, Thomas (December 19, 2007). "Everything you were afraid to ask about Southland Tales (Salon)". Portfolio. New York University. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  32. ^ a b Dargis, Manohla (November 14, 2007). "Apocalypse Soon: A Mushroom Cloud Doesn't Stall 2008 Electioneering". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 16, 2013. Retrieved November 14, 2007.
  33. ^ "Official Fantastic Fest blog". Archived from the original on July 8, 2011. Retrieved February 22, 2008.
  34. ^ Addie Morfoot (July 24, 2007). "'Southland Tales' opens Nov. 9". Variety. Retrieved August 2, 2007.
  35. ^ O'Hehir, Andrew (May 22, 2005). "Beyond the Multiplex: Cannes". Archived from the original on December 14, 2014. Retrieved December 8, 2014.
  36. ^ Solomons, Jason (May 28, 2006). "Get set for Palme Sunday". The Observer. London. Archived from the original on September 10, 2007. Retrieved July 10, 2006.
  37. ^ Links to many post-Cannes reviews, including multiple positive reviews by American, French, Spanish, Polish, and other reviewers.[permanent dead link]
  38. ^ Hoberman, J. (May 23, 2006). "Code Unknown". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on July 16, 2006. Retrieved July 10, 2006.
  39. ^ "Southland Tales (2007)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Archived from the original on August 21, 2015. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  40. ^ "Southland Tales Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on April 17, 2022. Retrieved March 30, 2017.
  41. ^ Kenny, Glenn (November 13, 2007). "Southland Tales". Premiere. Archived from the original on November 16, 2007. Retrieved November 14, 2007.
  42. ^ Chocano, Carina (November 14, 2007). "Southland Tales". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 20, 2020. Retrieved March 30, 2017.
  43. ^ Edelstein, David (November 12, 2007). "Family Guy". New York. Archived from the original on October 26, 2020. Retrieved November 14, 2007.
  44. ^ Southland Tales review on the At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper website.[permanent dead link]
  45. ^ Hoberman, J. (November 6, 2007). "Revelation". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on November 9, 2007. Retrieved November 14, 2007.
  46. ^ Hirschberg, Lynn (October 1, 2011). "Yes They Can! Interview with Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried". W. Condé Nast. p. 150. Archived from the original on May 26, 2018. Retrieved May 26, 2018.
  47. ^ "Richard Kelly Talks 'Southland Tales', The Time Travel Prequel & His James Cameron-Inspired 'Donnie Darko' Sequel [Interview]". The Playlist. January 26, 2021. Archived from the original on January 28, 2021. Retrieved January 29, 2021.

External links[edit]