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Docurama presents
Southern Comfort (2001)

"What a curious thing to be so uptight about. Nature delights in diversity. Why don't human beings?"
- Lola Cola

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: August 21, 2003

Stars: Robert Eads, Maxwell Scott Anderson, Lola Cola
Other Stars: Cas Piotrowski, Stephanie Piotrowski, Corissa Anderson, Bo
Director: Kate Davis

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief nudity, language, mature subject matter)
Run Time: 01h:27m:43s
Release Date: March 25, 2003
UPC: 767685953938
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Southern Comfort is a documentary about a most unusual romance, an affair between a man and woman, or more accurately, a man-who-used-to-be-woman and a woman-who-used-to-be-man. It follows the last year in the life of Robert, who was born Barbara, married, had children, and then decided to become a man.

The initial draw is an odd sense of fascination with the unusual subject matter. Robert, even under prolonged scrutiny, appears unquestionably male, a good ol' boy in cowboy boots and hat, smoking a pipe. He's dating another transsexual, a male-to-female who goes by the name Lola Cola. Lola isn't as far along in the "transition" process, and she still sometimes lives as a man, but it's clear that she identifies as female. Indeed, director Kate Davis seems to be unobtrusively arguing that gender is more a state of mind than a physical reality, and that true happiness comes from following the heart, rather than societal norms.

Davis' camera follows Robert through the last seasons of his life, and the film progresses from spring to winter and the annual Southern Comfort Conference, a convention for the transgendered and transsexual, at which Robert and Lola are to be keynote speakers, provided Robert lives that long. He is dying, a victim of fate's cruel irony, from a cancer in his ovaries. "The only part of me that was female was killing me," he says.

Southern Comfort is, in part, a "message" film about the transsexual community (Robert couldn't find a doctor willing to help him when he first became ill, Lola is forced to identify as male in order to keep a job), but it is more about the ultimate resilience of the human spirit. Shunned by flesh and blood relatives, Robert (who rarely sees his sons and interacts only tentatively with his parents) finds a new family. Maxwell, another female-to-male transsexual, is like a son to him, and the two care deeply for one another, scrutinizing the other's choices in women (Maxwell is also dating a female transsexual).

Kate Davis was allowed nearly unlimited access to her subjects' lives, and they trusted her to tell their story without turning them into a sideshow. She does, and more. Initial curiosity quickly gives way to understanding and compassion, and the hot button, "PC" subject matter is revealed as a simple, powerful love story. An award winner at nearly 20 major festivals (including the Grand Jury prize at Sundance), Southern Comfort is a surprisingly touching, achingly poignant powerhouse of a film.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Southern Comfort was a low-budget film and was shot on video, so the quality suffers a bit due to the source materials, but this is, by all accounts, a fine transfer from Docurama. The image is crisp and largely free of digital graininess and artifacting, and colors appear natural. Sometimes contrast is lacking, and blacks aren't truly black, but those faults lie in the source materials, not in the transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English Stereono

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in a basic stereo mix. There isn't a lot to say about it. It suits the film well enough (speech is always clear and understandable), but the recording quality varies a bit (as all audio was captured on-location). There is some occasional background hiss, but it rarely intrudes. Though used sparsely, the musical score is likewise nicely recorded.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
10 Other Trailer(s) featuring Regret to Inform, Speaking in Strings, Don't Look Back, Paul Taylor: Dancemaker, Fastpitch, Sound and Fury, Sophie B. Hawkins: The Cream Will Rise, Todd McFarlane: The Devil You Know, Go Tigers!, Keep the River on Your Right
3 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Filmmaker Statement
  2. Photo Gallery
  3. Cast Interviews
  4. Awards and Honors
Extras Review: Docurama always includes a number of insightful extras with their releases. Though Southern Comfort doesn't feature anything as substantial as a commentary track, there is a nice batch of features.

Three deleted scenes feature some excised interviews with Robert, who talks about his relationship with Maxwell, his parents, and the medical community. He tells a few scary stories about the troubles he went through in finding doctors who were willing to treat his ovarian cancer.

There are also two lengthy interview segments with the cast. In the first, Lola Cola talks for around 13 minutes about her life and her relationship with Robert. In the second, Maxwell and Cori discuss their relationship, Robert (who had by then passed on), and the experience of seeing Southern Comfort win awards at film festivals.

There are also a few text extras, including a statement from director Kate Davis, an impressive list of awards won, and biographies for the "crew" of two people, Davis and Elizabeth Adams, who recorded the soundtrack.

Rounding out the disc is a photo gallery (from photographer Mariette Pathy Allen, for whom a brief bio is included), and a Docurama catalogue with previews for Regret to Inform, Speaking in Strings, Don't Look Back, Paul Taylor: Dancemaker, Fastpitch, Sound and Fury, Sophie B. Hawkins: The Cream Will Rise, Todd McFarlane: The Devil You Know, Go Tigers!, and Keep the River on Your Right.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Docurama's DVD is a nice presentation of a simple, touching documentary that could easily have fallen prey to sensationalism. Recommended.


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