Sunday, April 20, 2008

Day Late and a Dollar Short Movie Review: The American Astronaut

Just got this disc in the post from the Dragon's Arkansawyer correspondent, Iain de Sane, and I gotta say it is a Drive-in Classic!

Now Iain has been raving about this film to me for some time, and quite honestly, I thought his hedonistic lifestyle had finally caught up with him, and he was just getting the name of that Astronaut Farmer flick wrong... How wrong I was...

The American Astronaut defies easy classification. Some reviews call it a Science Fiction / Western / Musical / Comedy, but that really doesn't give you much concept of what this film really is, and actually does it a disservice. The American Astronaut is what would happen if a rock band attempted to make a independent science fiction art-house movie which broke all of Joe Bob Briggs' Drive-in traditions, but would still be something that Joe Bob would say, "check it out."

If you have no idea what I am talking about, yet take this as a sign that this film is not for everyone, then you are correct! Indeed, Jes couldn't make it all the way through. I, on the other hand watched the film, then watched the director's commentary (given live, with Q&A from an audience in a Brooklyn bar), then watched the movie again!

Now, I'm not big on musicals. Though I'm an obvious fan absurdism, the average musical in absurd in a way that bugs me. I suppose the absurdity is generally not taken to the aesthetic and humorous extremes I'd like. A short list of musicals I like will make this obvious, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Ruling Class, and Improv Everywhere's guerilla performance art piece Food Court Musical, all illustrate a peculiar and original interpretation of the genre.

The American Astronaut definitely qualifies as peculiar and original. Set in a Sci-Fi universe which seems one part William S. Burroughs and one part Philip K. Dick, it's musical numbers either fit seamlessly with the plot, as performances which are taking place in bars or mass assemblies, or they are completely absurdist, beyond that absurdity of characters just bursting into song which one might expect of Broadway. No, these explosions of song, verse and choreography are delivered with a Discordian wink, a nudge, and even a "say-no-more." The number linked above "Hey, Boy" is just one example.

So, I don't know if Joe Bob would have reviewed The American Astronaut, as it is a strange mix of B-Science Fiction, and Art film (or more likely, art-school drop-out turned rock-musician), but I'd like to think it woulda gone a little like this:

No dead bodies, but countless piles-of-ashy-remains-of-disintegrated -bodies. No breasts, but one "Boy who actually saw a woman's breast." Disintegration pistol fu. Public restroom Polaroid. Two giant fish bowl space helmets. Two F-bombs. Space-gimp in a rubber suit who smells like poo. Description of homo-erotic acts by 19th century Nevada silver-miners. Gratuitous Flash Gordon-esque painted space scenes. Spaceship hidden in floating space barn.

Also check out this review from Boulder, CO, where for sometime the film has shown with Rocky-Horror-like frequency:

The whole movie, including the music, is infused with an odd mix of working-class sensibilities and intellectual irony. The roughnecks at the bar wear leather, don’t shave, drink rotgut, and dance as though their masculinity depended on it. At the same time, the longest mis-told joke on film can only really be appreciated in a post-modern, ironic frame of mind. And our hero is subjected to the humiliation of having a Polaroid taken of him on the toilet, something you will see in no blue-collar commercial for Chevy Trucks.

In music, if you mix the aggression of hard rock with ironic lyrics, you get something like punk. Add a little country, and you have the music from The American Astronaut. Maybe the fact that it’s all so incongruous and puzzling (and still funny) is what makes the movie watchable over repeated viewings.

Four stars. The Dragon says, Check it out!

Buy The American Astronaut at Amazon

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