One of the crack-slippers

Once in a great while (fortunately a rare occurance), an article I've worked on is deemed untimely, too obscure of a subject or simply chopped for space. While I've mostly kept these back from being published elsewhere, I'm giving you this one for free.

A Space Oddity
Christmas on Mars is not your typical band film.

by Jeremiah Robert Wierenga

No one can accuse the Flaming Lips of doing things halfway. While your average rock frontman might crowd-surf, lead singer Wayne Coyne typically traverses atop concert-goers in a giant plastic bubble. Many groups have released a double album; In 1997 the Lips spun out Zaireeka, a four-disc epic designed to be played simultaneously on four stereos. So it's little wonder that Coyne and company, when deciding to foray into filmmaking, didn't just show up on set for a pre-written picture show. Christmas on Mars, the group's 2008 sci-fi yuletime psych-fable, is written, scored, directed and acted by members of the band, with longtime collaborators Bradley Beesley and George Salisbury assisting with cinematography and editing.

Mars has been recently colonized, but a series of mechanical breakdowns and the prenatal tensions surrounding the first homesteader pregnancy - an out-of-utero event scientifically timed to terminate with a Christ-like Christmas morning birth - has created a dismal and hopeless atmosphere amongst the settlers. With untreated injuries and low oxygen-induced hallucinations, the station's workers encounter visions of vulva-headed marching bands and decomposing babies. Major Syrtis (Steven Drozd - guitar, keys) is tasked with organizing the outpost's first Christmas pageant in order to improve morale. After his original Santa commits a space-lock suicide, Syrtis encounters a silent, green-skinned spaceman (Wayne Coyne - vocals, guitar) who passively steps into the role as Syrtis struggles to remain in control of his own sanity.

Imagine the psychedelic imagery of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) mixed with production values recalling Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and you're still only partway to envisaging this film. Unlike typical band movies, Christmas on Mars doesn't feature any songs - excepting an a capella duet of Silent Night sung by Drozd and SNL's Fred Armisen. Instead, the Lips score the film to coincide with onscreen light flashes and color sequences. Shot primarily on 16mm film on sets built in and around Coyne's Oklahoma City house, the film has a DIY charm as l.e.d. light fans and re-purposed police tape accentuate the stark, industrial sets.

Christmas on Mars is sort of fascinatingly boring, with a plodding, bleak storyline and an abundance of done-before visual vaginal references, but the languorous pace and hypnotic musical synchronization lead to a sort of stupefied satisfaction at the film's simple resolution. It's not entertaining, it's not easy, but viewed as a space themed film study or visual tone piece, it's pretty freakin' fantastic. Coyne's re-imagining of Santa as a mute Martian returns to the original alien conception of Saint Nick as a mysterious, unseen elf. The addition of clever cameos - including Adam Goldberg's amazing showing as the colony's fatalist psychologist - and feather light religious references make Christmas on Mars an eccentric addition to the band film genre. While Flaming Lips devotees already habituated the the band's offbeat outputs will be the bulk of this film's audience, Christmas on Mars will be found an engaging and exotic yuletime treat by any lover of idiosyncratic filmmaking.

One of the crack-slippersSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

1 responses:

Sarah said...

Oh my goodness this looks and sounds grotesquely awesome!