After plundering a friend’s bookshelf, I have been working my way through the Southland Tales “prequel saga”. For those who don’t know, ST was initially planned as a nine-part “interactive experience”, with the first six parts published in 100-page graphic novels that would be released over a six-month period leading up to the film’s release. The feature film would then comprise the final three parts of the narrative, with a website intertwining with both media. The idea of six graphic novels was later narrowed down to three, all of which were written by Richard Kelly and illustrated by Brett Weldele.
It’d been a few years since I’d last seen the film, and I quickly found myself being drawn into the story, with little memory of how it would actually end (except, y’know, “with a bang”). I was hoping that the whole thing would cohere a little more in my mind, with the benefit of the g-novels’ expanded backstories… but I was wrong. Clearly, it’s not supposed to be a coherent experience. It’s just a collage of cool stuff that Kelly came up with, and threw at the page/screen. There’s no point going on about the failings of the film, which was a huge critical and commercial flop… but it’s frustrating to see so many potentially awesome elements, ideas and scenes squandered. The old saying goes that “too many cooks spoil the broth”, but equally you could say that a single cook can screw it up all by himself, just by throwing too many ingredients into the pot, willy-nilly, without any consideration for the consumer’s palate.
It’s interesting to note the different portrayals of certain characters between the two media… particularly ‘Krysta Kapowski’, aka ‘Krysta Now’, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. In the g-novels, she’s depicted as a powerful porn-star-cum-prophetess, and a seriously shrewd operator, wrapping everyone around her perfectly manicured pinky… while in the film, she’s more of a comedic dupe/dope, with only a marginal role to play in the plot. It’s a shame we don’t get to see more of the g-novel version on screen, because we all know how great SMG is at playing the seemingly vapid “valley girl”, with hidden reserves of power and intelligence. Still, she does score a couple of very funny, quotable lines in the film, and also contributed her vocals to the wickedly funny (and embarrassingly catchy) faux-Britney ditty, “Teen Horniness Is Not a Crime”. I’d love to hear a full album from her, if it meant more of this sort of slick, ironic, parody-pop. Prior to 9/11, Kelly intended to write a more down-to-earth satire about our celebsessed culture, but the national tragedy and subsequent political climate obviously shunted that particular train of thought on to a very different track… which is a bummer, because I think Krysta deserved a starring role… and the story of a porn-star looking to make a leap into more legitimate media (à la Traci Lords) seems like perfect fodder for a very contemporary, bitter-sweet rom-com… so maybe I’ll have to write the damn thing myself! Not that I’d want to advocate that career route, of course!