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Eclectic DVD presents
"I needed to get on the road and play some music. So I was trying to make it into this new band that was going on tour. But I needed a gimmick to get the gig. I didn't have the haircut, couldn't understand the clothes. I figured maybe this keyboard was my magic pass, my ticket out of town."
DVD ReviewSubtitled "The Diary of a Desperate Musician," Southlander is the story of Chance (Rory Cochrane), who hasn't paid his rent for three months, and is desperate for some "blue skies and green lights," in his words. The problem is, his only chance to get out of town is by joining the band Future Pigeon, who are about to leave on tour, and he's already failed a couple of auditions with them. But once he buys a 1969 Molatron, a futuristic space age synthesizer, he's in, and ready to fly the coop.
Or almost ready—unfortunately his car is broken into and the Melatron is stolen, and thus begins his desperate search to recover the synth. Together with his pal Rossangeles (Ross Harris), the two begin to scour the classified ads in a paper known as Southlander, which lead them to several amusing encounters with a number of odd characters, such as a self-important jingle artist, the former funk superstar Motherchild (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), and especially Lane (Gregg Henry), a new age guru and self-styled musician whose hobby is burning technology that he considers to be ugly. Meanwhile, the Molatron is passing from hand to hand, and the search becomes more and more difficult...
I didn't really expect much from this movie, but was very pleasantly surprised. Director Steve Hanft, who has done videos for Beck, Beth Orton, and The Cure, has together with Ross Harris concocted an amusing, sometimes surrealistic, quirky movie. Yes, at heart it's basically a chase movie, but within that framework the characters are taken in unpredictable directions, meeting unusual characters, and the crossing plot lines make for a very enjoyable watch.
Filmed in DV, the image is not all that pleasant to look at, but within the bounds of the medium, Hanft does a good job. Other than the deliberately surrealistic elements, the visual style is mostly functional, but it gets the work done. The video special effects are not all that special, but there is a scene where falling snow and giant snowflakes are superimposed over a couple dancing, resulting in a beautiful and evocative image.
And any fans of indie/alternative music will find a lot to enjoy here. Singer Beth Orton plays the lead singer of Future Pigeon and Chance's would-be girlfriend, and indie favorite Beck plays "Bek," who assists Lane in his search for electronic gadgets to burn. Both contribute music to the movie, in the form of surreal pseudo-music videos, and the song by Beck is especially good. Eddie Ruscha, son of artist Ed Ruscha, formerly with the band Medicine and who now records under the moniker Da Da Munchamonkey, is responsible for the excellent, indie-fueled soundtrack. The music for the end credits is by Elliott Smith, and we're even treated to a glimpse of the sculpture used on the cover of Beck's Mellow Gold album!
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Given that Southlander was filmed mostly on video, the image is quite good. You won't for a second mistake this for film, but the colors are steady and there is a reasonably amount of detail. The greyscale is a bit off, and in many scenes the whites bloom, but this is obviously a limitation of the video source and not the transfer. There is a bit of pixelization in some of the darker scenes, but again, this is probably not the fault of the transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: In contrast with the image, the sound here is excellent. The Dolby 5.1 mix is big and spacious, with an excellent dynamic range, and the subwoofer kicks in when appropriate. Given the importance of music in the film, this is an extremely pleasing mix. The two-channel version, while it maintains the same fidelity as the 5.1, seems flat and lifeless by comparison, and is best avoided.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
1 Other Trailer(s)14 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Steven Hanft and co-writer Ross Harris
Packaging: Keep Case
The deleted/alternate scenes are a little disappointing, although some of them do help to clarify some obscure plot points. Mostly, they are taken directly from the editing deck, complete with timecodes, but there is some anamorphic footage of the giant robot used in the film. Again, the cover claims both "Uncut Performances" and "Music Videos", but neither is here, and I suspect that they are referring to the slightly-extended versions of songs from the film, which are included.
The most important extra here is the commentary, which has Hanft and Harris discussing a wide range of topics, from the rushed three-week preparation time to the freedom of filming when the union crew wasn't around. It's an entertaining and informative commentary, and the "dude, that's gnarly" comments are kept to a minimum.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsSteven Hanft and Ross Harris' Southlander is an amusing trip through the underbelly of Southern California, as the main character desperately tries to recover his stolen synthesizer. Filmed in DV, the image isn't that much to look at, but the excellent Dolby 5.1 sound and great music make this DVD well worth a look AND a listen.
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