Now in our ninth calendar year!
PCR #457 (Vol. 9, No. 52) This edition is for the week of December 22--31, 2008.
The Flaming Lips: Christmas On Mars
What is Christmas on Mars? For those who don't know it is a film made by the Indie Rock band The Flaming Lips. It was seven years in the making. Meaning that they worked on it when they could. A labor of love. A weekend backyard home movie if you will. Wayne Coyne front man of the Lips and the director/writer of the film got the idea from his childhood memory of a movie his mother supposedly fell asleep to involving abandoned workers who are fated to die until visited by a supreme being of some sort. Coyne after searching for years never found such a film and became convinced his mother fell asleep during one movie or maybe two and dreamed the rest. Coyne around 1997 decided that since the movie didn't exist he would make it. It stars the entire band with guitarist Steve Drodz as Major Syrtis, the main character of the film, and front man Wayne Coyne as the alien super being. Other guest stars included Steve Burns ( yes the Steve Burns from Blues Clues), Adam Goldberg, Coyne's wife and the rest of his family and friends. This is literally a backyard movie of the most DIY punk rock kind.
The story concerns a space station on Mars whose equipment is failing (both the gravity control and the oxygen generator are busted or failing) and crew is going insane due to isolation and a doomed fate all amidst the eve of the first baby to be born on Mars. The baby's mother has sacrificed herself to complete isolation in a bubble to have the child which involves mixing her blood with a egg yolk (yes it's a weird movie like that), and plugging weird tubes into her stomach. The crew's annual meaningless Christmas celebration is run by Major Syrtis. This year's Santa crew member Ed Thirteen (played by Coyne's bro) though has been plagued by the same maddening nightmare as the rest. They all seem to dream something bad is going to happen to the baby and they hinge their own very existence on the omen of the baby's survival. Ed Thirteen's nightmares as explained by the ship's psychologist (played drolly by Adam Goldberg) are the worst. Ed dreams of an evil marching band, "Hitler's marching band", doing a death march with the baby in their path whose head they squash. Ed decides it's all too much and enters the atmosphere with no space suit. "Ed's dead", as the gung ho captain puts it. During all this an alien ( played by Coyne himself), who doesn't speak, arrives in his glowing sphere of a spaceship (which he shrinks down and swallows). To put a long weird story short it all ends up being a very human drama among the zaniness. The alien is made the new official Santa by the melancholy Major Syrtis and turns out to be more of a Santa than they bargained as he fixes the station's faulty oxygen generator all at the same time as the head scientist finally gets the gravity control pod fixed and the baby is born successfully. We leave the crew being resigned to the isolated loneliness of Mars but accepting and making the best of it as the alien pukes up his ship and flies off into space once more.
The look and style of the film, which is shot in black and white, is of amateurs striving to make 2001: a space odyssey and Solaris (it even sports Russian subtitles that supposedly when translated aren't really what's being said on screen). The sets are all shot in abandoned factories and warehouses with rooms made up of bits and pieces of zany things kinda like in one of the classic 50's space films. I'm thinking Rocketship X-M in particular.The actors being mostly band members are bad but totally enjoyable in a natural improvisational type way. It reminds one of the weird and stilted but realistically bizarre nature of real life dialogue instead of the on the point phoniness of movie talk. Think Eraserhead.
No this isn't a musical or a rock film. The Flaming Lips act in it but perform no musical numbers. The soundtrack is a harsh and sweet mixture of keyboards and synths which blare unreasonably loud from being presented in what the band calls Zeta Bootis Surround. So for fans of the band this long delayed film is a gem and a holiday treat. For those students of the cinema weird this will be at least an amusement but not serious art. For the casual viewer, it might be a bit much and too hard to look past the bad acting, but with an open mind even they might get a film that, through all its surrealism, captures the spirit of the season quite miraculously.
Christmas On Mars Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5_AJ8WTDAY
The Flaming Lips "The W.A.N.D." music video:
"The Audio Philes" is ©2008 by Terence Nuzum. All graphics (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2008 by Nolan B. Canova.