By Michael Scasserra/IFC News
Way back in 2001, we started reading about a hot indie title that sounded right up our alley: a science-fiction-western-musical stuffed with ingenious, low-budget set design, clever low-tech special effects, and lots of alternative rock. The New York Times called “The American Astronaut”: “a tale that evokes Brecht, Beckett and Ed Wood.” Details described it as: “‘Star Wars’ mud-wrestling ‘Flash Gordon’with Frank N. Furter officiating.” Entertainment Weekly summed it up as: “a Laurel & Hardy skit directed by Salvador Dali.” All that, plus a flinty, black-and-white look that evoked the cheapest expressionistic sci-fi flicks of yesteryear.
We couldn’t wait to see it when it opened in New York in September 2001. Then 9/11 happened, and no one was going to the movies (not even us), so “Astronaut” fell back to Earth with a thud. But now, at last, this one-of-a-kind indie is available on DVD and all is right in the galaxy. (Stop whatever you’re doing and put it in your Netflix/Greencine queue.)
Written and directed by Cory McAbeean alt rocker who also happens to be one heck of good leading man”Astronaut” follows the adventures of Samuel Curtis (McAbee), an intergalactic trader on a Homeric journey through a remote solar system. His mission: to supply the all-female population of Venus with a suitable single male. Along the way, his dirty job brings him into contact with a variety of bizarre outer-space derelicts, as well as an enigmatic, murderous professor with a score to settle.
“Astronaut” was developed and premiered at Sundance, then played some other prestigious festivals, including the big ones in Toronto and Moscow. The movie also earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for its outrageously inventive cinematography by W. Mott Hupfel III (whose hip factor continues to rise with his latest project, Mary Harron’s “The Ballad of Bettie Page”). Since then, McAbee’s arty B-movie has been an audience favorite and an award winner at dozens of smaller festivals around the country. We were finally able to catch up with it last year at the Southside Film Festival in Bethlehem, Pennsylvaniaand we’ve been a believer ever since.
Astronaut features supporting performances by Rocco Sisto (“The Sopranos”), Broadway regular Annie Golden (formerly of New Wave band The Shirts), PJ Ransone (“The Wire”), and seasoned stage veteran Tom Aldredgealong with an ass-kicking original score written and performed by The Billy Nayer Show, the cult band that McAbee fronts as lead singer and songwriter. The recent DVD release of “Astronaut” dovetails with the release of the group’s latest CD, “Rabbit.”
Meanwhile, now that “Astronaut” is finally in full orbit, McAbee is hard at work on the storyboard for what he hopes will be his next big-screen venture, “Werewolf Hunters of the Midwest.” Let’s hope that one happensand soon.
In the meantime, to find out more about “The American Astronaut,” check out www.americanastronaut.com.