Loosely structured and undermined by slapdash production values, veteran music-video director Stephen Hanft's feature debut showcases some great musical sequences featuring Beck, Beth Orton, Hank Williams III and other artists. "The Southlander" is a weekly buy/sell paper for struggling Southern California musicians, who exchange equipment at fire-sale prices...read more
Loosely structured and undermined by slapdash production values, veteran music-video director Stephen Hanft's feature debut showcases some great musical sequences featuring Beck, Beth Orton, Hank Williams III and other artists. "The Southlander" is a weekly buy/sell paper for struggling Southern California musicians, who exchange equipment at fire-sale prices through its ads. Down-on-his-luck keyboard player Chance (Rory Cochcrane) makes an exceptional score, buying a rare and beautiful 1969 melatron synthesizer that he hopes will help him land a touring gig with snooty dub-pop band Tomorrow Pigeon. And it does, which should be the end of his troubles but is instead only the beginning. While Chance is spending a blissful night with Tomorrow Pigeon's charismatic lead singer, Rocket (English neo-folk singer Orton), the stylish keyboard is stolen from his car. With the help of his equally luckless friend, Rossangeles (co-screenwriter Ross Harris), Chance embarks on a surreal odyssey through the fringes of the Los Angeles music world in search of the melatron, guided by leads he teases out of "Southlander" classifieds. Among the individuals with whom Chance crosses paths while chasing his electronic grail: junkyard cowboy Hank (Williams), technophobic new-age gas-bag Lane Windbird (Gregg Henry), fading funk star Motherchild (Lawrence Hilton Jacobs III) and his entourage (Meghan Gallagher, Richard Edson), TV psychic Five Equals Seven (Laura Prepon), music-shop owner Steely Danzig (Kurt Lilly) and scruffy musician Bek (Beck). Overall, the film is a disconcerting mix of the promising and the amateurish. Hanft appears to have called in a lot of favors from friends, and the mix of actors and non-actors is awkward Orton has a low-key, natural screen presence, but other extremely grating performances stop the story dead. More a series of vignettes than a sustained narrative, Harris and Hanft's script incorporated improvisation by the cast, which probably accounts for some of its shapelessness. Polished and proficiently staged sequences like the pretentious, $20-a-head party at Lane's house or Ross and Chance's dreamlike encounter with Motherchild's flaky girlfriend, Snowbunny (Meghan Gallagher), are juxtaposed uneasily with scenes so artless they resemble home-movie footage. Despite a certain loopy charm, the film's appeal ultimately hinges on the musicians. The more interested you are in seeing Beck, Orton and others including the late jazz luminary Billy Higgins outside the context of music videos, the more rewarding you'll find it.
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