Posted by keelsetter on September 27, 2009
Last weekend my film series was privileged to host the Colorado premiere of Stingray Sam – the latest creation by talented director/musician/writer/artist/actor Cory McAbee. Although it’s tempting to draw parallels between this film and Cory’s other sci-fi/western/musical, The American Astronaut (2001), they are two very different creatures. For one thing; Stingray Sam was designed “for screens of all sizes” and was meant to be distributed as six downloadable webisodes, with each episode being about ten minutes in length. Also; each episode has a song and cliffhanger. And although both feature planet-hopping around from a seedy interstellar space saloon to other planets with serious gender issues and onward, Stingray Sam has a different cast of characters, a different rhythm, a different style, and zips along at a nice clip with more material condensed into shorter bits.
If The American Astronaut can be described as “Eraserhead meets Chitty- Chitty Bang Bang,” (Movie Magazine International) then let’s think of Stingray Sam as some other amalgam tapping into the magic of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Willy Wonka, the original Flash Gordon serials, and maybe just a smidgen of the Wild Wild West. But these comparisons don’t do McAbee justice and are meant more as familiar signposts to assure new viewers that a good time is here to be had by all. Stingray Sam is ultimately a completely original creation by McAbee helped along by friends, fans, and family.
Stingray Sam is narrated by David Hyde Pierce (aka: “Dr. Niles Crane” on the television series Frasier). Pierce was a fan of The American Astronaut and agreed to bypass his usual fees to provide his pitch-perfect services for the cost of a bar-tab. Playing opposite of McAbee (who takes the titular role) is Crugie as the Quasar Kid. The scene-stealing six-year-old “Carpenter’s Daughter” with a voice somewhere between Julue Cruise and Betty Boop is played by Cory’s real daughter, Willa Vy McAbee. Other familiar cohorts are from McAbee’s band, The Billy Nayer Show, and include bassist Frank Swart (as the bartender) and drummer Robert Lurie (as the prisoner Cubby). A variety of other characters fill out the bill and include a Smarmy Scientist, party-guys, artists, and the ultimate product of male inbreeding: Fredward.
The six episodes are:
One of the wonderful things about McAbee’s creations is that they infuse biographical elements alongside real-world issues in a manner that never feels preachy or ideological. As a young artist McAbee was a bouncer at strip joints, and he’s certainly done his share of touring seedy clubs as a musician. But he’s also aware of the world around him and concerned about issues like work outsourcing, the privatization of prisons, or cultures obsessed with raising male children. His unique sensibility, full of pure Americana, has been embraced by the international community as a reminder to them of why they love America. After all, what’s not to love about singing space cowboys? (This last week alone saw him in Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark on the festival circuit with Stingray Sam.)
The story starts on a seedy bar in Mars where a lounge singer on the lam (Stingray Sam) is alerted to the arrival of an unsavory gentlemen with a weakness for olives, and it turns out to be an old partner in crime: The Quasar Kid. The Kid’s got an idea as to how they can gain their freedom, and it involves rescuing a little girl. (Feature song: Mars.) After a brief stop at an Inter-Galactic Hall of Records and Trivia, they get enough to travel to a wealthy planet. (Feature song: Fredward.) There on planet Fredward they are able to put together the next part of the puzzle. (Feature song: Stingray.) The next bit involves mass/matter compression that turns Stingray into a robot so as to rescue the little girl. (Song: Get it Started.) Escaping from Fredward, it’s time for a little decompression in the space ship. (Song: Lullaby Song.) After travelling for many days, (here the song is Peg-Legged Father) a gun wielding Fredward catches up to Stingray and the girl – will the heroic deed find completion? You can find out yourself by going to website below, clicking on the store link, and from there choosing any of several options – you can also browse the trailers and download a free song:
This is the other crucial part of McAbee’s new experiment and forges new ground on the distribution front. Whereas The American Astronaut was self-released by Billy Nayer Show Productions (several 35mm prints were made), Stingray Sam is embracing every possible exhibition platform, with 35mm prints for the big screen, high-definition downloads for high-end home players, and basic digital for those who want it on smaller devices. By taking away the middle-men, customers can now be patrons to the arts and support the filmmaker directly, and this is sure to help McAbee with his next endeavor: Werewolf Hunters of the Midwest.
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