L.A. Eccentric Finds Synth, Then Loses It, Along With Script


The videos director Steve Hanft shot for Beck back in the ’90s—including “Loser,” a smog-huffing nightmare complete with squeegee-wielding Grim Reaper—eloquently translated the scavenger-savant aesthetic of their star’s Mellow Gold album, grounding Beck’s folk songs in the found surrealism of Los Angeles folk culture. Said culture takes center stage in Hanft’s first feature, the ragged-in-more-ways-than-one freeway-travelogue Southlander. After scoring a rare vintage synthesizer—valuable, we’re led to believe, as much for its dope white-on-white styling as for its unearthly sound—through the classifieds, laconic keyboard player Chance (Rory Cochrane) lands a gig with a local “dub-pop” band and strikes up a romance with hazy chanteuse Rocket, played by hazy chanteuse Beth Orton. When someone swipes Chance’s synth, he goes looking for it, encountering all manner of Hollywood freaks in the process. Visually, Hanft makes good use of what’s obviously a thrift-store-basement budget, turning a coke moll’s bedroom into a snow globe and setting a band of quasi-Arkestran Watts jazzbos (including now deceased free-jazz pioneer Billy Higgins) adrift in chroma-key space. But the script doesn’t give the cast (which includes indie vet Richard Edson, Welcome Back Kotter‘s Lawrence Hilton Jacobs, and Beck himself) much to play aside from vague eccentricity, and movies like this one rise and fall on the vividness of their weirdos. —Alex Pappademas