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The Fearless Freaks

While a bit too up-close-and-personal for the uninitiated, Flaming Lips fans will greet Bradley Beesley's fitful portrait of this great American band like manna from heaven. Named for an Oklahoma City neighborhood football team formed in 1972 by Flaming Lips front-man Wayne Coyne and his four brothers, this is the kind of intimate, deeply affectionate rockumentary that only a close friend of the band could make. Beesley, the man behind many of the band's home movies and early music videos, has been chronicling the Lips' fascinating evolution since befriending Coyne in 1991, when the band was just emerging from their acid-damaged, Butthole Surfers-influenced chrysalis. Today the Flaming Lips routinely top rock critics' best-of lists and their devout followers use near-religious to describe the band's elaborately staged arena shows. It's a long way from this 22-year-old band's DIY roots, which Beesley lovingly recounts through home movies and extremely personal interviews (multi-talented drummer, keyboard player and guitarist Steven Drozd is shown preparing a shot while frankly discussing his heroin addiction). After spending so much time documenting the early days of the band's core members, however, Beesley inexplicably skips over the early part of the Lips' recording history — he completely ignores their early indie masterpiece, In a Priest Driven Ambulance — and picks up the story with the band's second major label album, Transmissions from the Satellite Heart and its surprise hit single, "She Don't Use Jelly." The subsequent departure of guitarist Ronald Jones heralded a new exploratory phase that saw Coyne embarking on a series of ambitious synchronic sonic experiments — turning the stereos of a parking-lot full of cars into an orchestra, conducting an "interactive tape deck performance" with an ensemble of 40 boom boxes — that culminated in the bold, quadraphonic "Zaireeka," an ambitious set of four CDs meant to be played simultaneously on four separate CD players (amazingly, Warner Bros. released it). The following symphonic pop-operas, 1999's The Soft Bulletin, and 2002's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, firmly established the Flaming Lips as critical and popular favorites. Beesely might be a little too close to his subject to properly judge the average viewer's interest in Coyne's homemade feature film, Christmas on Mars, the kind of artist's indulgence that only a true fan could love. But having been involved in helping the band craft its decidedly bizarre visual imagery for so much of its history, Beesley's film is perfectly in sync with the Lips' unique vision.