Last night at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre in Hollywood*, Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips premiered his debut feature film, Christmas on Mars, a trippy excursion to the red planet that's as inspired as it is odd. But that stands to reason; the Flaming Lips have, for the past 25 years, traded in trippy, odd and inspired. And the fans, freakazoids that they are, lapped it up.
The film, seven years in the making (“That's nearly as a bad as Chinese Democracy,” cracked Coyne during a post-screening Q&A), was shot in the band's native Oklahoma City (along with Austin, Texas), and you can tell. All the sets are gloriously hand-made, all the costumes seem sewn and paper-mached within an inch of their lives, and the sound and light effects are retro-cheesy like a good Saturday afternoon B-movie. And like the B-movies that inspired the film, Christmas on Mars is even better for the cut-rate efforts. You never care that, for example, one of the high-tech spaceship devices is actually an oven door plastered with little spinning hand-fans and spare kitchen parts; or that a one chamber's walls are festooned with painted Miracle Whip containers. That's part of the craft and charm of deciding to make a movie and then doing it. (Coyne and the Lips financed it themselves, with a li'l help from Warner Bros. Records.)
We'll let you figure out the plot, which is pretty simple but told with typically psychedelic accents. It involves a bunch of men, one woman and a baby living in a janky old space-pod on Mars — and Christmas. There are defeatists on board who wonder what the point of living this bleak existence is; and there are the hopeful few (including a great cameo from Fred Armisen) who rejoice at life and the holiday despite their grim future. A “wise” philosopher on board is played by Adam Goldberg in typically funny fashion.
After the screening, Coyne took questions from the sold-out crowd, many of whom had arrived in costume as per the invite's request. This part of the night was pretty excruciating, mainly because people usually say dumb things when they've got a mere moment to ask questions of their idol. It wasn't Coyne's fault; he handled the Q&A with grace and enthusiasm. When one questioner in the balcony asked about a burning rash on his leg, Coyne was a little confused until he realized it was actually Goldberg; the two had been on Love Line together the night before, and relived a moment. Coyne admonished Goldberg for being a prima donna, and Goldberg responded by jokingly waving to the crowd as though he were royalty. It was a funny moment. Questioners wondered about all the Russian writing on the spaceship, and what it meant; about the thematic and script elements (this is Hollywood, after all), and the notion of hope in a doomed world.
Nike Sportswear presented the film (and in an odd bit of alignment, a disgusting Johnny on the Spot in the film featured the graffiti, “just do it,” on the poop-stained wall) along with the fantastic Cinema Tuesdays series. The film has just been released on DVD.
(*The Ricardo Montalbán Theatre has been renamed “Nike Sportswear at The Montalbán” for the duration of Nike's stay at the theatre.)