In retrospect, that kind of backfire might have been preferable. After the initial 9 a.m. press screening, Kelly started getting calls from members of his PR team. His heart dropped.
“There was a lot of shell-shocked, ‘Oh, Richard. Man. People were…'” He trailed off in the retelling, shaking his head. Lightning-round critical snippets were extremely negative. The film had been loudly booed.
Kelly still had to go through with the black-tie screening that night. “I barely remember it,” he said. “It was surreal. I think we all had dinner the next night and said, ‘Okay, we have to cut it down.'”
Luckily, Sony picked up Southland Tales at the festival, but the path to a mainstream opening was going to be a long one — more than a year long — muddied by the behemoth challenge of turning a movie that was already “unfinished” at 160 minutes into something marketable to popcorn-munching audiences. He would have to cut out Janeane Garofalo’s character, as well as a number of scenes that explained various characters’ entire motivations. For example, the theatrical cut doesn’t explain the presence of Chinese magician Serpentine (played by actress Bai Ling), even though she is, in fact, the secret puppetmaster behind the spacetime apocalypse.