The American Astronaut

With a stylistic tip o' the space helmet to David Lynch's ERASERHEAD, this debut feature by musician-animator-filmmaker Cory McAbee is a retro-futuristic sci-fi musical oozing the same black-and-white oil and axle grease, albeit with tuneful tongue-in-cheekiness. Cowboyish Samuel Curtis (McAbee), the titular spaceman, plies space in what looks like a giant...read more

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Reviewed by Frank Lovece
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With a stylistic tip o' the space helmet to David Lynch's ERASERHEAD, this debut feature by musician-animator-filmmaker Cory McAbee is a retro-futuristic sci-fi musical oozing the same black-and-white oil and axle grease, albeit with tuneful tongue-in-cheekiness. Cowboyish Samuel Curtis (McAbee), the titular spaceman, plies space in what looks like a giant hot-water heater; the interior captain's cabin resembles an old Bowery hotel room, with chintzy wallpaper and bare light bulbs. Curtis is transporting a cat to the asteroid Ceres for Eddie (Bill Buell), owner of the Crossroads Bar, a saloon where grizzled roughnecks pass the time competing in comradely dance contests. As payment, Eddie gives Curtis a box of DNA for cloning a Real Live Girl. (The film gives verbal uppercase letters to lots of Important Signifiers.) Curtis' buddy, Lawrence Blueberry (Joshua Taylor), aka the Blueberry Pirate, suggests Curtis take the Real Live Girl to low-rent Jupiter mining czar Lee Vilensky (Peter McRobbie), who regularly gathers his worker-drones in an old union hall where his protégé, the Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman's Breast (Gregory Russell Cook), describes the sight and sends them on their way. Curtis exchanges the DNA for the Boy, whom he'll take to Venus where antebellum Southern ladies, led by the cordial Miss Cloris (Annie Golden), need a new male consort; they'll exchange him for the body of their old one, whom Curtis will then return to his family on Earth for big bucks. Adding tension to this Rube Goldberg plot is the calmly psychotic Professor Hess (Rocco Sisto), who seems to have the only weapon in the solar system, a disintegrating gun. And brother, when it disintegrates, it really disintegrates. Setting his sights on our inner hipster, writer-director-star McAbee has produced something that's equal parts Douglas Adams and Ansel Adams. Blending steampunk and cyberpunk with a nostalgia for the wide-open America of Kerouac and Route 66, McAbee and his collaborators (including his San Francisco-based band, The Billy Nayer Show) create a wry, off-kilter collage with an admirably straight-faced point of view. The characters may be one-dimensional ciphers with nothing much to say, but boy, do they not say it with style; many shot compositions are breathtaking outer-space still-lifes, punctuated by a single moving object. That also means a lot of languid time-killers — the visual equivalent of a 20-minute concert drum solo — but this midnight-movie-in-the-making compensates for them with a lot of damn good songs. The dance number "Hey Boy!" is as fine a bit of rockabilly as ever graced Sun Studios.

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: With a stylistic tip o' the space helmet to David Lynch's ERASERHEAD, this debut feature by musician-animator-filmmaker Cory McAbee is a retro-futuristic sci-fi musical oozing the same black-and-white oil and axle grease, albeit with tuneful tongue-in-chee… (more)

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