Outer space is cramming yourself into a dirty restroom stall in a stinking asteroid bar while two strange men practice their musical number for the night’s space-roughneck dance contest. Outer Space is having those men take a polaroid of you doing your business through the cracks in the stall door.
The American Astronaut is a musical, an outer space western, a bizarre exploration of frontier times where the sexes have become almost completely divorced.
On Venus, women live on their own, reproducing parthenogenetically—only they need to take on an adolescent boy once in a while, to diversify their genetic pool.
Jupiter, meanwhile, is mined by men and only men—men who worship the Boy Who Has Actually Seen A Woman’s Breast. Heterosexual contact is something dreamt of, whispered about, it exists only in story and song.
And in a dive bar on a shitty asteroid we find our hero, the smuggler named Sam Curtis. He’s given a mission and offered money: retrieve the mortal remains of the last “King of Venus” in exchange for the Boy, after exchanging the Boy for a cloned Real Live Girl. The old aim to devour the young, children raised only for eerily utilitarian reasons, but the old never get what they want. They’re always thwarted.
All the while, Sam and the Boy are hunted by Sam’s archenemy, the malevolent Professor Hess—a man who lives to kill for no reason, a man who comes on like Sam’s jilted, manic ex. Outer space is also the threat of disintegration by a man in a bow-tie, nothing left of you but clumps of loose earth that can be caressed in a fit of musical number ecstasy.
The film is uncanny and ugly and beautiful. Cory McAbee wrote, directed and starred in it, with the music produced by his band, the Billy Nayer Show. It drags me back to Guy Maddin’s films, the low-budget black and white expressionism, the sexual madness of living in isolation.
It doesn’t let you get comfortable, forces you to breathe recycled air in a universe without meaning, the ultimate extension of the very first Star Wars—Empire gone, solar system reduced to bodies in tin-cans, getting drunk and competing in dance contests, men holding each other close without talking about it, dreaming about women without really knowing what they look like. People subsist with only a dim memory of Earth, atrophying in the dark.
(The American Astronaut was originally released in 2001 and distributed by Artistic License Films.)