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American Astronaut, The

Director: Cory McAbee

U.S.A.| 2001. Black and white. Dolby digital stereo. 91 mins


A genuinely original and very strange American independent movie that’s achieved cult status on the festival circuit, The American Astronaut has elicited some predictably daft comments from fans of weird movies. ‘Rooted firmly in the tradition of such major film eccentrics as Guy Maddin, Aki Kaurismaki and Darren Aronofsky of Pi, director Cory McAbee’s The American Astronaut crosses Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville with Star Wars and Twin Peaks,’ wrote John Anderson in Newsday. Such claims are ludicrous, of course, since no such ‘tradition’ exists and one cannot imagine what kind of movie might be cloned from the very diverse titles that are cited. Other reviewers have built up similarly fanciful notions from the fact that The American Astronaut was filmed in black and white on a small budget. It’s all reminiscent of the kind of vague claims made for no-budget movies of yesteryear, as exemplified by Myron Meisel’s essay on Edgar G. Ulmer in King of the Bs.
The American Astronaut is a very different movie to anything Ulmer produced on Poverty Row, even if its plot could have done service during the heyday of B-movies. Writer-star-director Cory McAbee is the front man for the folk-rock band the Billy Nayer Show, a hip group hailing from San Francisco. His film is a tongue-in-cheek sci-fi musical with a Western motif. It’s a genuinely loony and unhinged exercise that’s an anachronism in today’s commercially savvy American independent film sector. McAbee himself plays a nearly broke intergalactic trader who transports a 16-year-old boy to a nearly all-female colony on Venus while being chased by the murderous Professor Hess. The movie is so laconic and deadpan that it disarms criticism. As one defeated scribe put it, ‘The American Astronaut achieves sweetness via its straight-faced take on utter gobbledegook.’

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