srijeda, 13. lipnja 2012.

Cory McAbee - American Astronaut (2001)

Svemirski vestern-mjuzikl, po vizualnom dojmu i pomaknutosti sličan Eraserheadu (ali u više vic-adolescentskoj verziji) i Clerks (ali u više nadrealno-apsurdističkoj verziji). Likovi koji se zovu Dječak Koji Je Zaista Vidio Ženske Grudi i Djevojka S Vaginom Od Stakla. Niskobudžedtni, namjerno-loš kultni film. Sulud i pomalo zamoran istovremeno. Obvezna okulistička lektira.

"If you go into Cory McAbee's The American Astronaut with a straight face, you deserve what you get. Any film that bills itself as "a musically driven space western" has pretty much laid it all out on the table. It's going to be campy. It's going to be silly. There's only one question left: is this good camp, or bad camp?
With The American Astronaut we're in luck, because camp doesn't get any better than this. In fact, calling it camp isn't really fair. The American Astronaut doesn't wear labels comfortably. Too wicked to be camp, too earnest to be satire, too odd to be a straight-up comedy, it's all of those things, with a soundtrack so good you'd feel cheated if it hadn't been integral to the film.
The American Astronaut is the inspired work of artist / actor / musician / filmmaker Cory McAbee and BNS Productions, home of his experimental musical group The Billy Nayer Show. Astronaut brings the band's music and storytelling together with a handful of Broadway performers, the lowest-rent sets a space musical can buy, and enough enthusiasm to make it all gel.
McAbee stars as Samuel Curtis, a space trucker making his rounds through the solar system in a rickety slab of a space ship, moving deliveries from Earth to Jupiter to Venus and parts in between. Bringing a package to a the Ceres Crossroads, a desolate bar on a more desolate asteroid, Curtis takes on a complex delivery job which might land him enough cash to retire in South America in style, meets his old friend and dance partner the Blueberry Pirate, wins a dance competition, and barely escapes a mass-murdering psychopathic professor who's been dogging his trail for years. The job takes Curtis to an all-male mining colony on Jupiter (where he's to trade a real girl - or what will grow into one, anyway - for the local hero, The Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman's Breast), a ranch-house lost in the middle of space, and a clan of inbred Southern Belles in need of a new man on Venus.
Didn't I tell you it was going to be silly?
The story kicks into comedy at once. Two rural toughs corner Curtis in the bathroom and intimidate him with the most menacing song-and-dance number I've ever seen. The foreman of the Jupiter mine exudes square 1950s father-figure intensity as he barters away his young hero for a real girl. The Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman's Breast proudly wears a thin brassy costume straight out of a 1930s Flash Gordon serial. I haven't even gotten to the Venusian belles, or Curtis belting out the Billy Nayer Show classic, "The Girl with the Vagina Made of Glass." And the insanity of the murderous Professor Hess raises just enough surreal fear to give it all a little balance.
Shot in a grainy, stark black and white more reminiscent of Treasure of the Sierra Madre than Commander Cody and the Radar Men from the Moon, The American Astronaut takes its low budget for all it's worth, playing up its retro feel in the cheap furniture of Curtis's space ship, the still paintings that serve to illustrate the ship's flight through space, the New Jersey basement standing in for the Ceres Crossroads, and a gleeful lack of attention to anything resembling physics. If you're looking for an accurate treatment of gravity, interplanetary travel, or the weather on Venus, you're missing the point entirely. -  Shane Ivey

"...Unsurprisingly, the film has been a cult smash.
Equally unsurprisingly, its Ed Wood aesthetics – it was doing ironic low-fi when many of today’s hipsters were still in primary school – and Pickwickian plot make it ripe for a stage adaptation. Especially a Fringe stage adaptation. Enter: New Holland Theatre Company.
A relatively new company (its Facebook page was created in May), New Holland was founded by Erin Voth and James Wray for the usual reasons an independent, not-for-profit theatre company is formed: contribute to the culture, engage in meaningful dialogue, producing multi-dimensional collaborative works, you know the deal. The American Astronaut is its first stand-alone production.
Whether or not Voth and Wray deliberately chose the tenth anniversary of the film’s release to stage their version – the first ever stage adaptation, they claim – the timing is fortuitous, and not just because pop culture’s love affair with both nostalgia and irony is probably at its apogee right now (or nadir, depending on your point of view).
As the news breaks that Australian women will soon to be allowed to fight on the frontline, thus igniting old arguments about how women’s morality (formerly: desires, behaviour, intelligence, et cetera) is inherently different to that of men, a story about gender segregation and its implications, such as that of The American Astronaut, couldn’t be more apt.
But what of the play? Director James Wray notes that his decision to adapt such a cult favourite was underscored by the challenge of making it new. “Have no reservations: this is not the film. This is an entity unto itself,” he writes in the programme. Technically, he’s correct, of course: it’s not the film. But I’m not convinced the play is an entity unto itself.
At just under an hour, it’s some 30 minutes shy of the film, but it remains pretty faithful to its source – down to the awkward dialogue pauses and deadpan delivery – and it plays out like a sped-up, defatted version. Liam Sutherland as the astronaut of the tile is engaging and, to fans of the original, convincing. Tim Camilleri captures Professor Hess’s oiliness while Alia Vyrens is more upbeat as the Boy than Gregory Russell Cook was in the film, imbuing him with a pervasive sense of joy.
Significantly, the look is right. The sets, constructed by Joe Chester and Andrew Whitcombe, and the costumes by Mia Zielinksi, Eleanor O’Connell, Courtney Webber and Greta Weiner are all shot through with just the right amount of authentically technical slapdashery. Again, the look and feel of the film helps here.
The original work was a kind of paean to rock’n'roll, with McAbee’s own band, the Billy Nyer Show, providing the music. New Holland’s play is anchored by Daddy Ferguson and the Ray Babies, who provide perfectly acceptable versions of the film’s most treasured tunes, some commentary and their own sounds.
All up, the company hasn’t added too much to the film’s vision; but I wouldn’t expect its fans to tolerate too much remodelling. Whether it’ll play as well with non-fans, I’m not sure. It has reproduced the film’s awkward clunkiness well enough that those not familiar with it might mistake this for a fault.
Presenting the play as part of Fringe, where such artistic foibles are more tolerated, is ideal. And, really, the story is so droll and ludicrous I’d expect most viewers to just go with it and have fun. Because, ultimately, the show is a fun live-action version of the film." - Melanie Sheridan

"I suppose that there's an inherent trade off to independence. On the one hand Cory McAbee's fiercely independent work ethic must have been absolutely integral to the creation of The American Astronaut, as distinctively surreal a film as you're ever likely to see. On the other hand McAbee's insistence on controlling all aspects of the film has ensured that virtually nobody has had the chance to actually see the thing, a situation only just beginning to change now that the film is available on DVD.
The American Astronaut is the stuff that cult legends are made of. Shot for no money by a little known performance art band in starkly beautiful black and white the quasi-musical sci-fi flick occupies a space somewhere between David Lynch and Guy Maddin but with a far goofier b-flick sense of humor.
Writer / director McAbee stars as Samuel Curtis, a blue collar long haul astronaut who we first meet on his way to deliver a cat to a bar on Ceres. After a pair of musical numbers, a stand up comic and a very odd dance contest Curtis sets off on a quest involving a cloned fetus in a briefcase, a barn floating aimlessly in space and the fabled Boy Who Actually Saw A Woman's Breast - all of this while being pursued by the maniacal Professor Hess.
You should know by this point whether this is the sort of thing you'd be interested in, the only question is whether or not the film is well made. Absolutely yes, on all levels. The script captures the 'aw shucks' tone of classic fifties sci-fi while simultaneously revelling in just how absurd the whole scenario is. The musical sequences - provided by McAbee's compatriots in performance art outfit The Billy Nayer Show - are loose, energetic and inventive. The cast is very strong and loaded up with a wealth unique faces that seem to have been lifted straight from the old west. Most impressive, however, is how McAbee has managed to turn what should have been his largest weakness - a tiny budget - into a huge strength. How? By forcing him into unique solutions to work around necessary elements that they simply couldn't afford - the use of still paintings for the outer space sequences is brilliantly effective. The high contrast lighting used to mask the limited scale of some sets gives the film a classic expressionistic look while an impressive attention to detail makes everything that actually does appear on screen instantly believable.
McAbee has created an utterly unique world with the film, one that combines sci-fi and western elements from the fifties, and he sells it effortlessly. Is it an homage to the period? A sly parody? Yes. It's also a film that could have very easily become a latter day Rocky Horror. An absolute must for cult film fans." - Todd Brown

“Why not a space flower?” asks Nancy Bellicec in Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. “Why do we always expect metal ships?” A sardonic observation of the Cold War era, when America’s idea of space involved pie-tins floating down from the cosmos and dart-like rockets soaring up: perceptions typified by the idealistic pulp-magazine paintings of Chesley Bonestell. It was a notion that sci-fi author Ursula K. Le Guin banished to “a nice safe hideyhole” in an essay the same year of Kaufman’s remake. Twenty-three years later, director Cory McAbee went a step further, trading in the idealistic rockets and ray-guns of Buck Rogers for a space-faring RV and dancing barflies. His vision of the future is, to say the least, skewed and unromantic—a shindig to Kubrick’s slow, operatic ballet of the late 1960s. And, as Captain Samuel Curtis, McAbee experiences every distorted corner.
The American Astronaut begins as Captain Curtis lands his ship on Ceres, an asteroid, and enters a disgusting tavern. There he meets the Blueberry Pirate, an old friend and interstellar fruit trader who gives Curtis a new assignment: the only man on Venus has died, and his replacement lives on Jupiter, an all-male mining planet, and goes by the name The Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman’s Breast. It’s Curtis’ responsibility to retrieve the Boy and escort him to Venus, where he’ll be used for reproduction until, someday, he dies and needs replacing.
Out to stop Curtis is the ungainly Professor Hess, played dutifully by bowtied Rocco Sisto. We learn in the beginning that The American Astronaut is his story, of how he became a father. Only later do we discover that his child, a boy, is the offspring of long-lost silver-miners; another child, a fluid-like daughter in a suitcase, also makes rare appearances. For much of the movie Hess follows Curtis, intent on finding, forgiving, and killing him, adhering to his philosophy of murdering only those he has no ill will towards. It’s Professor Hess who infuses the movie with its most beautifully anomalistic moments, especially as he disintegrates tens of hundreds of men and dances in their remnants. Consider the following exchange between Hess and Curtis halfway through the film:

Professor Hess (on the phone): Guess who this is.
Captain Curtis: Professor Hess.
Professor Hess: That’s right! You got it on the first try! For that you get a kiss!
Captain Curtis: I’ll pass.
Professor Hess: What? You think I’d kiss you? You’d love it if I’d kiss you. And I would never kiss you!
Captain Curtis: You said you were going to kiss me.
Professor Hess: I never said I’d kiss you. I never said that. You just want me to kiss you!
Captain Curtis: Um… not really.
Professor Hess: Oh. I’m not good enough to kiss you, is that what you’re saying?

But the most remarkable scene occurs in a floating barn, where Curtis and the Boy decide to take refuge. Inside, the two encounter the leader of that long-forgotten race of traveling silver-miners. Hidden in the darkness of space, we can barely see his decalcified body, thin and brittle from atrophy and bobbing like a worn-down marionette puppet on rickety strings.
The American Astronaut is an experiment in genre-bending. It’s a western without any high-noon shootouts, a sci-fi work of art with musical numbers, a drama with exaggerated characters. Transitions are accomplished using dark, empty paintings inspired by Orson Welles, and shadows become much of the viewer’s focus. And, on top of the black-and-white photography and subdued sets, it’s helped along by an agreeably nontraditional soundtrack by the Billy Nayer Show, a cult band of which Cory McAbee is a member. Songs like “Bodysuit” and “The Girl with the Vagina Made of Glass” are the antithesis of Rogers and Hammerstein, but rather than acting as brazen displays of emotion, they’re moments of actual dialogue.
The only true downside is the ending, which comes off as almost a copout. Though the film’s scientific unfeasibility is both genuine and perfectly well-suited, the final few minutes on Venus are disillusioning. A planet famed for being bathed in the heat of the sun is, in fact, more reminiscent of the backwoods of Wisconsin. In his “live” commentary, director McAbee explains that “This scene is a huge change in dynamics… This is the first time you see sunshine, and it’s the first time you see girls, or women… And the idea behind that was to have a new feeling in the film. Again, it’s not in keeping with regular dynamics of a Hollywood film, but I think it’s lovely and refreshing.” Truly, because McAbee and his crew are such professionals at using innovating objects and subjects, the last scene’s shortcomings are paled by the astonishing final product." - Adam Balz

Drugi McAbeejev film, Stingray Sam, varijacija je na prvu temu.

"Been to Mars lately? No? You should go sometime. It’s not like it used to be, but still has its charms. Yes, there’s the odd barroom brawl, and maybe an abandoned building or two, but what planet doesn’t have such sore spots? And, frankly, who are you to judge? If you do hang up your cultural biases and go, however, be sure to look up Stingray Sam, a local lounge singer created by master of cosmic gun slinging, Cory McAbee.
Who is Stingray Sam you ask? Stingray Sam is a stand up guy. Actually, he’s THE stand up guy. A lover of justice with a loyalty to his profession as entertainer, Stingray Sam (played by McAbee [musician/ writer/ actor/ provocateur]) is the man you want on your side. If you’re lucky he might even write a song about ya.
But, Stingray Sam is not just a person. Lest I forget, Stingray Sam is also a film. And, as a film, STINGRAY SAM bares a close resemblance to the man. It’s cool. It’s committed to its style. It’s self-aware without being self-assured. It’s a film you want to bring your new love interest too, because it’ll show him or her that you feel comfortable having your postmodernism smothered in hilariousness. It’ll prove to this new love in your life that not only can the avant-garde disturb filmic conventions, but also be kind-hearted and sweet, subversive yet caring and generous. This is not, however, some Ice Storm or Squid and the Whale coming-of-age whinery (though I did enjoy those movies, just not the seemingly infinite rip-offs), this is the wild galactic frickin’ West. Bring your gun. Bring your dancin’ boots.
From the website:
"A dangerous mission reunites Stingray Sam with his long lost accomplice, The Quasar Kid. Follow these two space-convicts as they earn their freedom in exchange for the rescue of a young girl who is being held captive by the genetically designed figurehead of a very wealthy planet."
Sound familiar? McAbee’s first feature was the acclaimed AMERICAN ASTRONAUT. A more comparative person might spend a lot of time relating the two films. That person would have a good deal to go on, but that’s not my interest. However, as the films have similar themes to be sure, for those who’d like a little “What are the characteristics of a McAbee work?” here’s a taste:
Both films have space cowpokes finding and bringing a person from one planet to another for a reward. Both films have not-ironic John Spencer Blues Explosion-esque film scores by McAbee’s bands The Billy Nayer Show (in American Astronaut) and American Astronaut (in Stingray Sam). Both films are in black and white. Both films walk a very fine line between reality and fiction, but more in the way that hat dream you had last night about that guy who’s not really the same guy from your work but in the dream he was the same guy even though he was a woman, did.
From the very first frame of the film we are given a glimpse of Cory McAbee’s ability to construct entirely self-contained if surreal environments. The “film” opens with a message from its sponsor, Liberty Chew Chewing Tobacco, which firmly positions the audience as not only viewer, but also as potential consumer. You see, STINGRAY SAM is less a film and more a television show. Television being one of the more overt sell-to-audience mediums, McAbee doesn’t waste a second tapping into that quality. For, what the audience is treated to is a historically in- and out-of-place miniseries divided into six episodes, each complete with an introduction, a musical number, an evolving to-be-continued plot, and a credits role.
Did I mention dance routines? Yeah. There are a generous helping of choreographed numbers ranging from the very measured (as Lounge Singer) to the very unrestrained (as pregnant man research conference attendee). That’s right Pregnant men. Did I forget to mention that? Yes. The plot of STINGRAY SAM also revolves around a complex story of pregnant men populating the planet with more men who will someday become pregnant. Of course this is all explained in one of the musical numbers listing the names of the male progeny.
Oh! And then there’s the brilliant and delicious collage work of John Borruso. Not unlike the work of Terry Gilliam (Monte Python), (but quite different) Borruso’s art adds en entirely other dimension to the film. Color. Borruso’s collages are acts of détournement, smoothly upending images of the past and creating an entirely new future from their semiotic inversion. Picture of a missile here. A still life of a couch there. Voila! Mars.
One of the beauties of the postmodern is that it teaches us to embrace the blurriness of arbitrary lines. While in the past an artist might have been required to make clear distinctions between life and art, today, not only can some of us handle a fair amount of what Keats’ dubbed “negative capability,” but often such distinctions feel artificial. STINGRAY SAM takes this new-found ability and drags it to its logical conclusion. Is Cory McAbee Stingray Sam? Does he just play him in a film? What about his band names. They sometimes seem to be the names of his movies. Are the bands the movies? His band mates feature in the films. Are they real? Are they present or in the past?
Either way you slice it, STINGRAY SAM is timeless. That’s a word I really don’t want to use, but it is, and in two distinct ways. The first, subjective timelessness, is the one where I feel all sentimental and use words like “timeless” because that’s what you’re supposed to call pieces of art that touch you. Timeless. Everlasting. Eternal. But, that sounds like an ad for an insanely priced engagement ring set with the most beautiful blood diamond.
The second, more angularly temporal timelessness, is the one where I say, yes, this film will last forever. It’s more timeless in the way future generations of progressively art-minded punk kids will hip their friends to films that preceded their arrival on the planet. It’s timeless in the way bands like The Ex or Can are timeless. Don’t know them? Go find them. Timeless like mixtapes layered in the shamanism of rock-and-roll are timeless.
Timeless like the memory of running into Cory McAbee on the street. Shake his hand. See his films and impress yourself. At that point you’ll be on the cusp of what should presently be going on in the art world." - Bob Doto

O njegovu ovogodišnjem filmu Crazy and Thief zna se ovo:

"A seven year old girl takes her two year old brother on a voyage through a world of homemade mythologies by using star graphics found on the streets as navigational tools." - IMDb

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