Welcome to the first ever edition of WTFlix, in which I discuss those movies that leave you staring at your TV screen is disbelief that what you're viewing was actually made. Sometimes, weird films are flat out masterpieces. Other times, the sheer whatthefuckery of the proceedings make up for major flaws that would otherwise make the film unbearable. Then, of course, are the films that are just weird in all the wrong ways with nothing to redeem it.
I intend to cover all three types here, but today's selection is a real joy to discover. It's 2001's sci fi musical THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT:
The Girl With the Vagina Made of Glass."
Space, this movie tells us, is a lonely town. It's a solar system full of manual labor camps, dive bars, and very few women. Except, of course, on Venus, an entire planet populated by the fairer sex.
The women there, while fully capable of reproducing on their own, prefer to have a breeding stallion. The only problem is that their most recent mate has died, leaving a void that only another highborn male can fill. There's a suitable replacement on Jupiter, but getting him want be easy.
Enter Samuel Curtis, played by writer/director Cory McAbee. Curtis is kind of like Han Solo, if Han Solo was in a universe straight out of the old Flash Gordon serials. He's a man who knows how to get things from point A to point B in the vastness of space.
When we first meet him, he has just landed on an Asteroid with a cat in tow. His destination is a local saloon on the asteroid that caters to space traders and working men. There, he is to trade the cat with the bar owner. The fact that it's the night of a big dance contest is just icing on the cake.
In the bar we meet Eddie the bespectacled barkeep, The Blueberry Pirate (who gives Curtis his mission to Venus), and the film's antagonist, Professor Hess. It's also in the bar where we get the first musical number, "Hey Boy", performed by two guys who couldn't look less like featured players in a musical. There's a unique stand up routine performed by Tom Aldredge, and the previously mentioned dance contest. Both are great at establishing what life is like for these lonely men who ply their trade in the stars.
Through all of this, McAbee creates a vision of space travel unlike anything you've ever seen. Shot on black and white 35mm, the film looks a product of another time. Shadows are used to great effect, and any budgetary restraints the film had are well hidden in the film's spacenoir production design. The costumes are pitch perfect, seeming very real within the film.
The music, which could be the downfall of a film like this, is a rare blend of catchy and strange. It's all performed by The Billy Nayer Show, a band that McAbee fronts. This isn't the first time they've blended music and visuals. There are a series of shorts where they hone their craft. Incidentally, those are also available on DVD and well worth a look. Here, the band's unique sound draws you into this world, and the songs are amazing, which I was very surprised by on my first viewing. My favorite would have to be "A", which is sung by The Boy Who Actually Saw A Woman's Breast.
Speaking of TBWASAWB- his whole character is a very interesting concept. On Jupiter, a mining planet, he is treated as royalty for an experience he once had where he saw a woman's breast. He tells this story to the workers often, boosting morale. His outfit is probably the most outlandish of the costumes in the film, but it works to show how different he is from the rest of his coverall sporting planet mates.
There's a lot to love about THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT. From the atmospheric painted special effects shots to the perfect casting, this is a movie that will stick with you. It's the kind of movie that you want to make your friends watch so that they can pass it on themselves.
McAbee has made a followup of sorts called Stingray Sam that I have not seen yet. If it's anywhere near this one, you can expect a WTFlix on that as well.
THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT is available on DVD, and is on Netflix streaming (6/4/13).
Have you seen THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT? Did you like it? If not, why?
Leave a comment below. I love to discuss film and get differing opinion.