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[whitespace] 'The American Astronaut'
Space Oddity: Rocketman Cory McAbee plumbs the depths of space in 'The American Astronaut.'

Kicking Asteroids

'The American Astronaut': the most important space epic of all time

By Richard von Busack

ON CERES, one of the larger rocks in the asteroid belt, a grubby and very remote bar is about to host a dance contest. First place is a trophy much vied for by the drunkards and derelicts, flotsam and jetsam that work the interplanetary secondhand/stolen-merchandise trade. Our hero, rocket jockey Samuel Curtis (Cory McAbee), a cleft-jawed fellow with Neil Young sideburns, has arrived on Ceres to deliver a gray housecat named Monkeypuss. While there, he learns of a possible job from his drinking buddy (and soon to be dance partner), the Blueberry Pirate (Joshua Taylor).

The Pirate tips Curtis off to a series of advantageous trades. Curtis can deliver Jupiter's greatest celebrity, the Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman's Breast (Gregory Russell Cook), to the man-hungry all-female planet Venus. There, he can swap the teenager for the body of Johnny R., Venus' previous official stud. This very happy dead body can be sold back to the corpse's bereaved family on Earth.

However, this seemingly uncomplicated job is impeded by that thorn in Curtis' side, the solar-systemopathic Professor Heiss (Rocco Sisto). Hess, dressed in the uniform of a depressed, alcoholic, homosexual assistant English-department chair of 1958 (battered corduroy suit, cardigan vest, bow tie), tracks spaceman Curtis like some inhuman bill collector. All and sundry feel the wrath of his disintegrator pistol. The unbalanced prof makes pleading and annoying interspace crank calls to Curtis. Ultimately, a showdown fails to happen.

The American Astronaut is a musical comedy by the Billy Nayer Show. This versatile San Francisco acoustic/rock band has stylistic links to Devo, the Thinking Fellers Union and the Residents (there is no man named Billy Nayer in it). The group's black-and-white feature film is obviously the most important space epic of all time and will send George Lucas right back to the drawing board.

Admittedly, the special effects are pre-Méliès, usually consisting of a series of still photographs showing Curtis' spaceship rocketing through the blackness of space. But the film's interiors are handsomely alight with the flying dust motes of Lynch's Eraserhead. The dialogue rings with odd, playful non sequiturs, as in Jim Jarmusch's films, the Firesign Theater's albums and Flaming Carrot comics. Director McAbee's big ideas--the conception of the Venusians as a cluster of parasol-clutching Southern belles--makes up for major pacing problems. To the properly medicated audience, The American Astronaut will seem a thing of weird beauty and preposterous laughter.

The American Astronaut (Unrated; 91 min.), directed and written by Cory McAbee, photographed by W. Mott Hupfel and starring Rocco Sisto, Joshua Taylor and McAbee, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose. (See www.asi.org for info on Ceres weather, mining rights and proposed town names.)

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From the November 1-7, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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