Thursday, September 17, 2009

Singing Intergalactic Cowboys And The Future Of Film Distribution

In 2001, as a wide eyed and not yet beaten down by realty freshman film student, a couple friends and I went to see a very small and strange little movie called "The American Astronaut." I don't remember which theater we saw it at or which part of town we were in (I was new to LA at the time and still hadn't figured this strange and vast city out... as if I have figured it out by now, eight years on.) But I remember that screening, and vividly. There were only four other people in the theater on that warm night... and one of them was Andy Dick. The surreal, hilarious, tuneful, mesmerizing, and completely original Sci-Fi Western Musical blew all seven of us in the theater away... as troubled B-List celebrities and 19 year old film students who were deluded enough to think they knew anything about anything were united by an amazingly original piece of cinema. A few years later, I had the opportunity to see "The American Astronaut" on the big screen again, at a nearly sold out screening at the Arclight... with an introduction by none other than Andy Dick.

That's the strange power of the movie... it's so funny, involving, strange, so not like anything else in the world, that anyone whose seen it is inherently drawn back to seeing it again, and to use terms like "genius" to describe the film's creator, writer/ director/ actor/ musician/ animator/ all around nice guy, Cory McAbee.

I could go on gushing about how much I love "The American Astronaut," but that's not the point of this post. I'd let you, dear reader, borrow my copy of the DVD, but I loaned it to a friend a few years ago and haven't seen it since. Now I fear it's lost for good, and as much as I'd love to get another copy, "American Astronaut" DVDs are apparently selling on E-Bay for around $100 while the movie is currently unavailable on Netflix (good news though... Cory said more DVDs will be available in October.) Though it's a bit of a tease since the movie is so tough to track down at the moment, check out the trailer below for a brief taste of the movie's unique brand of geniusosity:

Cory has been absent from the film world in the eight years since "Astronaut" came out. He's been developing a movie called "Werewolf Hunters Of The Midwest," (which I'd kill to see,) but funding has been difficult. Sundance commissioned Cory to make a strange little short intended for mobile phones called "Reno," which you can see here.

But now, finally, after eight long years, McAbee is back with a new, major work. "Stingray Sam" is an almost feature length film that is now available for download in six serialized chapters that run about ten minutes each. It's very similar in a lot of ways to "The American Astronaut," in that its another micro-budgeted, black and white space Western with bizarre gender politics and impromptu musical numbers (with songs by McAbee's pretty excellent band, The Billy Nayer Show.) Though its similar to McAbee's previous feature, "Stingray Sam" is also a work like no other, wholly original and strange in different ways than "Astronaut." It's also laugh out loud funny, with amazingly out there photo collages full of densely packed and wildly imagined information, all perfectly narrated by "Frasier" alum David Hyde Pierce.

To try and explain the plot of "Stingray Sam" quickly would do it a disservice, but I'll simply say it's the story of a lounge singer on the formerly popular gambling planet of Mars who is roped into a mysterious rescue mission by his former partner in crime which takes them to the bizarre planet of pregnant men. Also, there are tiny robots that characters can zap themselves into.

Like I said, like nothing you've ever seen.

I saw all six parts of "Stingray Sam" last night at the ultracool new Dowtown Independent screening venue (which is in downtown LA, as the name implies,) to a sizable audience that really appreciated the movie's bizarre yet hilarious comedic sensibility and totally unique rhythms. The screening was also like nothing I've ever been to. The film was broadcast live on the internet for anyone who tuned in to StingRaySam.Com during the screening to see (McAbee described it as an "approved bootleg,") followed by a Q and A that was also broadcast live on the web. McAbee took questions from fans in a chat room live and even took a few calls from webcasters (though there were NASA-like three second delays, since the technology isn't perfect yet.) The premiere event was not held to celebrate the film's theatrical release... instead it was a celebration of the its release on the internet. You can download the movie right now at StingRaySam.Com.
If you need further convincing, watch the first episode and trailer in the player below:

Pretty awesome, huh?

McAbee is a true independent with an unbelievably personal and unique vision. And that vision extends to his distribution model. What's really cool about the whole "Stingray Sam" project is that McAbee is fully embracing the internet, as evidenced by the extremely high-tech screening event. The DVD for the film doesn't come out until October, but you can download the whole thing today for just $8. If you pre-order the DVD, you also get to download the movie, in fullscreen HD and formatted for your iPod, iPhone, or Zune (if you're a person who owns a fucking Zune... ) Or if you're a super fan, you can get the super deluxe edition with all of the above, a photobook signed by Cory, and a "Stingray Sam" T-Shirt. The movie will also continue to screen in theaters all across the country, fulfilling the poster's promise that the movie is "coming soon to screens of all sizes." This is a filmmaker finding ways to distribute his work that are as creative and original as the work itself.

I've lamented about the sorry state of indie cinema in previous posts, but Cory McAbee is exactly the kind of fresh, original, and exciting voice that indies desperately need... and he's not waiting for Hollywood to come running with money (though I hope someone finally ponies up the cash for him to get "Werewolf Hunters of the Midwest" going.) He's finding ways to get his work seen, with the unbending determination of a true cowboy. A singing cowboy, but a cowboy none the less.