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Stingray Sam is not a hero

February 28, 2012

The benefit of a personal blog is that I can make self indulgent posts and not feel bad.

For example: the above scene from Cory McAbee’s The American Astronaut is my absolute favorite scene in any movie ever, and its sequel, Stingray Sam, is perhaps my favorite movie.

Let’s start at the chocolatey beginning.

The year is 2005. I’m a first year at Hampshire College*, and I’m going to the college’s massive nerd orgy science fiction film club, Excalibur, to make friends. At the time the club’s screenings were being run by a good friend of mine, Chris Sommer (who is now my housemate), and he showed some of the weirdest fucking movies. I mean, Scanners, while a good film, is hardly standard science fiction film canon. There was definitely a strong David Lynch fetish my first semester.

So it’s Fall Break, early mid October, and Chris doesn’t have a movie to show. (This is an apocryphal retelling. I have no idea if this is how it went down, but it’s how I recall him saying it happened.) So he goes to the sadly now closed Pleasant Street Theater and rents a little movie called The American Astronaut.

It’s at this point that I recommend you go to your torrent site du jour to pirate this fucking movie. And watch it. It’s not on Netflix, and you’re not going to buy it yet. So just pirate it. Here: if you don’t want to do this, and are sold on my favorite movie ever already, then skip the next couple paragraphs. I’ll say “PINEAPPLE” when I’m done with the spoilers. If you want more convincing, read on for my summary of the first ten minutes.

The American Astronaut begins with a three minute spacewalk to kind of mediocre sounding garage rock. No words, just a man in a big spacesuit skipping across Ceres, the moon of Mars (“It is a lonely town,” the crawl says, unless I’m mixing it up with a different movie). He enters a bar located in the middle of nowhere. He makes a business deal. Some menacing looks are exchanged. It’s black and white. It’s boring, awkward, and we’re all thinking, “Let’s just get out of this film right now.”

Then the scene happens. The top scene. If you’ve not clicked on the youtube video yet, fucking do it. What happens is the main character goes into a bathroom stall (for poopin’), and two men come in and sing him a fabulous song.

It’s at this point we realized A.) this movie is a musical and B.) this movie is the zaniest thing in the world.

PINEAPPLE

I fell in love with this movie. We all fell in love with it. It was, to put it plainly, the best thing we’d ever seen. It was ridiculous, but it was a wonderful combination of old thymey science fiction and off the wall comedy. It’s barely even a comedy. It takes itself too seriously for that; really, you only know it’s a comedy once you find the song “Girl with a Vagina Made of Glass” towards the end of the flick.

The thing was, The American Astronaut was destined to be one of those blips on the radar. One of those movies that you love and then goes away, because its creators never would make anything else. The Billy Nayer Show, the band primarily responsible for the film’s creation, hadn’t made another full length (we’ll get to this) and in 2005 we didn’t even know if they still existed. This was a one of a kind treasure.

So we got ourselves illegal copies from the internet (because it was so fucking out of print) and we sat on it.

Then it got to be 2009. Chris was graduated for two years. I’d just graduated, but the two of us (and three of our closest friends) had just moved across the street from the college (where we still reside). One of my better friends at the time was Zach, who had just taken the reins as headman of Excalibur. He asked, at the beginning of the year (we still went, of course. Free food is free food), what movies people wanted to see.

So I suggested The American Astronaut. My reasoning was airtight: this was a movie two people in the audience had seen. We both swore up and down that it was an incredible film. One of us had been a signer for Excalibur, and the other (me) hated most movies.

Zach hemmed and hawed over the film. He didn’t want to show it, because, quite frankly, a no name film didn’t drawn the crowds. Fortunately, that year Excalibur got a massive influx of attendees, same as it had the year before, and the lecture hall was packed nearly ever night. Finally, Zach relented, over October break four years after it had first shown.

Now, by this point I had utterly forgotten the movie. That was the best part: Chris and I both swore by it, but god knows we didn’t remember it. So we got the same novel experience twice. The same lull, the same incredible kick to the face. And everyone else loved it. It was one of those moments of awesome critical vindication, right up there with when I convinced my girlfriend to play Mother 3 and she loved it. People were singing the songs, remembering all the best parts, it was great.

It’s around this time that I heard about Stingray Sam, the mythical sequel to The American Astronaut. Just recently released, too! This I bought, day and date.

Both these movies are relatively similar in terms of basic plot: they’re both musings on the nature of friendship, on our connections as human beings. The difference is this: while The American Astronaut has a lot more serious art film in it, Stingray Sam is pretty much a zany comedy from moment one. While AA begins with the serious space walk, Stingray Sam begins with a lounge singer, with girls in garish bikinis dancing in the background.

To be honest, Stingray Sam is more fun but less good. The American Astronaut is perfect: I couldn’t change a single second. I wouldn’t. Stingray Sam, meanwhile, is about it’s incredibly over the top songs, its memorable exchanges, part noir terseness and part utter ridiculousness. It’s not the most efficient film, even though it only runs 60 minutes. Well, it’s pretty efficient. I’d change maybe 5 of those minutes, and I’d probably add ten. But that’s not the point! The point is, both of these movies: comedy gold.

In fact, I would say you, yes, you, owe it to yourself to go watch The American Astronaut and Stingray Sam right now.

Final aside: I forgot to mention two other short films, Man on the Moon and The Ketchup and Mustard Man. The aforementioned Zach got them for me for Christmas one year, and it is the second best gift anyone’s ever given me. The Man on the Moon is a pre-internet web series about a lonely heart banished to the moon, while the Ketchup and Mustard Man is basically a thirty minute long Primus music video. It’s incredible.

*we’re called first years, not out of a Harry Potter sense of whimsey but because roughly half the students take more than four years.

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