A Gooden Worsted Double Feature
What to do while watching: For either film, just watch. After the rigmarole you've doubtlessly gone through to get it from the universe into your VCR, you deserve to let only your ears and eyes do the work now.
What to eat while watching: A Clif Bar (for men) or a Luna Bar (for women). While gender bending may be good fun in many situations, for God's sake, stick to your own protein bar!
Now we're going to talk about two of my absolute favorite films of all time. But you may feel like Tantalus in Hades once I'm through--ever hungry for the magnificent fruit that hangs just out of your reach. These films make for great viewing, but they are decidedly hard to come by. Exhaustive Web searches and wheedling by phone for damaged bootlegs are probably your best bet, which is why I've lumped these two together, so as not to tantalize you twice. I have managed to garner a copy of only Velasquez's, so I am willing to screen it for locals. And if anyone can help me locate a video of The American Astronaut, I would be deeply indebted.
I had been seeking Velasquez's Little Museum since I saw it in a tiny theater in San Francisco in 1995. This theater was tiny! It was made to hold maybe twenty-five people comfortably, but the night I was there, it held four, and the emptiness within the intimate setting was decidedly awkward. It was the kind of microtheater that was springing up at the time and that now has become virtually extinct.
VLM is a dance movie. A strange recurring dream in a museum sets the stage for the choreography of Édouard Lock and his Canadian troupe, Lalala Human Steps, led, in this film, by the striking dread-locked blond, Louise Lecavalier. The first dancer we see is a male, I believe Lock himself, standing on a dark street. He introduces a few motions that we see repeated again and again: one is a sort of squatting-on-tiptoes posture, and the other is a vigorousness motion of the extremities that looks like a graceful seizure. Believe me, friends, this is hard to capture in words. Conveying the grace and startling suddenness of these motions can only be done visually.
At any rate, the viewer is soon placed inside the museum where Lecavalier shows up in a business-suit and begins her wild dance. The look is reminiscent of the 80's, the dance is vaguely punk rock, but the overall effect is like nothing I've seen before or since. High-energy dance ensues that doesn't let up for a moment. Barrel rolls--basically mid-air turns where the dancer's torso is parallel to the floor--are the letters in this choreographic alphabet. Dancers barrel roll over each other, under each other, into each other, away from each other. Dancers kick high and tug one another across the space. The dancers clearly have ballet training, but the speed of this dance is like no Swan Lake there's ever been.
There's also a nude dance with two women standing in a shallow pool of water that leaves me agog. Rowdy, wild, alluring, and strange, this is my favorite movie of one of my favorite genres. Except that it doesn't really fall neatly into the genre of "dance film," because of its (semi-successful) art-house plot device.
Attempting to switch genres to rock operas does even less justice to the quirky, loveable, and totally unique American Astronaut. I saw this in another small (but not as small) theater, the picturesque Red Vic in San Francisco, and I have yet to locate it on video, but the soundtrack album, by The Billy Nayer Show, is easily available, and quite good in a non-mainstream, weirdo sort of way.
Cory McAbee is the creative force behind both the band and the film. Shot in black and white, the opening scene shows a silhouetted cowboy singing about how great it is to be The American Astronaut. The next scene is inside the astronaut's spaceship. It looks like a 19th century drawing room inside. The exterior of the spaceship is trainlike. The first action, set to music is the astronaut shaving in a porcelain basin. The slow pacing, soulful music, and weird disjointedness of subject, plot, setting and character somehow drew me in with an untarnished fascination. Had I been able to peg this film as anything I'd seen before, my jadedness around, say, science fiction or rock opera might have kicked in and distanced me from this strange, unreal film.
The astronaut lands on Jupiter, near a single ramshackle structure filled with despicable-looking men. He is delivering a cat to the proprietor of this space pub in exchange for a girl. The girl turns out to be a softly glowing light inside a suitcase. While in the pub, the astronaut participates in and wins a dance contest. He also attracts the attention of the evil Professor Hess who co-narrates the movie.
Hess kills people, but he can only kill you if he has no reason to do so. He has to feel that he is at peace with people. If he has a problem with you, he can't kill you until he works out his issues with you first. Fortunately, he has issues with the astronaut. Unfortunately, he has no issues with the other characters that come and go in this picaresque, and he kills many of them, turning them into small piles of damp sand.
The astronaut has to take the "girl" to the king of Jupiter where she will serve as the royal mascot, taking the place of The Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman's Breast, now acting mascot of Jupiter. The Boy is to be brought to Venus, the planet of women, to be the only man on that planet. (The previous holder of the position has passed away.) Basically, the movie's plot is the astronaut shuffling things and people from one place to another, while being pursued by Hess. The twist comes when the astronaut encounters an orbiting barn. Some silver miners from earth discovered an alien mineral that made them super-intelligent and allowed them to launch their barn into space. They have a son named Body Suit who goes with the astronaut and the Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman's Breast, to Venus.
If the plot strikes you as silly, the film itself is only stranger, but really interesting somehow. The music is great, too with the rocking cowboy love-ballad "Hey, Boy," the spoken word "Silver Miner's Tale" and the comic but sincere "The Girl with the Vagina Made of Glass." The music is reminiscent of rock and roll, but it goes other places lyrically. The many film festival laurels given to the Astronaut reflect its originality. It won in such categories as independent vision, new directions in cinema, and viewer's choice. The movie's Web site below still doesn't sell tapes, but there are other things including the trailers. Look for it at a wiggy little art house near you.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.