THE AMERICAN ASTRONAUT
The American Astronaut was promoted in a way where it was clear that its distributor hoped it would catch on as a cult film. Cory McAbee calls it his autobiographical/musical/space Western, saying that it was based on a period of his life when he was moving around a good deal something that cannot help but make you wonder just what parts of the USA McAbee did manage to travel to. It is a film that it is hard to find any comparisons to reach for. One is reminded of Coke Sams hilarious sf musical Existo (1999) in spirit at least. Maybe Existo crosshatched with Space Truckers (1996).
While many audiences will be celebrating The American Astronauts bizarreness, I must admit I did not get this film at all. Cory McAbee has constructed it as a kitsch bad film. He deliberately uses cheesy genre cliches planets of all men and women, mad scientists and such like. It is also parody that has been filtered through both McAbees rocknroll tastes and a deadpan sense of surrealist humour. The film frequently bursts out into musical numbers, which are only occasionally connected to what is happening at the time but mostly seem surreal like two miners who burst into the bathroom to photography the hero cowering in a cubicle and then conduct an ungainly dance number in work boots outside the cubicle, before equally abruptly departing. The characters are of the variety of banally whacked-out people uttering non-sequitirs that usually inhabit the films of David Lynch Tom Aldredge tells a long joke about the Hertz Donut in front of a bar audience but tapers off when it comes to the punchline; villain Rocco Sisto travels through the film ranting about it being his birthday and conducts a radio exchange with the hero Do you want me to kiss you? No, I dont think I want you to kiss me, I didnt ask you to kiss me, while Cory McAbees hero monologues about Rocco Sisto needing to forgive him before he can kill him. Maybe I am doing The American Astronaut an injustice, but I must confess I dont have a clue what Cory McAbee was trying to achieve. This only results in a murky exercise in genre bending. Surrealism should not necessarily have to signal what it is doing to an audience its defiance of convention, expectation and narrative should speak for it. Alas, The American Astronaut feels like a game that is being conducted in a darkened room whose moves are entirely opaque to its audience.
Certainly, the films black-and-white photography is excellent and the production design does a fine job of creating a retro-futurist look while clearly on a B-budget. Cory McAbee has also managed to rope in a cast of professionals rather than amateurs. The entire film was one of a handful selected for workshopping at the 1999 Sundance Screenwriters Lab.
Cory McAbee next went onto direct and star in another musical space Western with Stingray Sam (2009), followed by the surreal childrens film Crazy and Thief (2012).