The American Astronaut Review

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)


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.

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