The first feature-length film from the fabulous, fearless freaks; The Flaming Lips! Filmed on a minimal budget, in black and white (except for occasional bursts of psychedelic colours for emphasis) & in the backyard of fearless front-man Wayne Coyne, Christmas on Mars is a unique & dazzling contribution to the world of cinema.
Let’s take it back a step for a moment. In the band’s documentary, The Fearless Freaks, we are taken far, far back before the band’s success. They called themselves the “Fearless Freaks” for their ruthless games of backyard football – the team spirit certainly has stuck with them throughout all their years together. In our current culture of endless blogs, instant gratification & online self-publication, to imagine a band struggling in relative obscurity for seven years before being signed to a major label seems lucrative.
Coyne and company’s incredible determination allowed them the good fortune of being given the freedom by the Warner Brothers label to produce two highly experimental albums. These are the folks who created ‘Zaireeka’ in 1997; a 4 CD boxset with each disc meant to be played simultaneously on 4 separate hi-fi systems. This consistent desire to experiment in all they experienced soon led to the debut of their first film; Christmas on Mars.
It is a kitschy psychedelic masterpiece of homespun 1960′s science fiction tributes; a mosaic of mysterious brightness & bleakness that hearkens back to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The majority of the work was done in Wayne’s backyard on a very small budget; the film is actually unscripted, which adds a component of organic unfolding to the process. With moments like Fred Armisen (most recently of Portlandia fame) singing “Silent Night”, you end up truly appreciating the art of creative innovation – to respond as if everything is as it should be, when what you heard/witnessed was just downright odd!
Christmas on Mars is a film that essentially encompasses everything front-man Wayne Coyne has sung about in his work — outer space, the future (of man-kind & of society), heroism, scientists, insanity, the inevitability of death, hope in the face of disaster, mankind’s tiny place in the universe at large, the perseverance of the human spirit, and, of course, Christmas.
Steven Drozd plays a melancholy astronaut attempted to salvage the Christmas celebrations after his original Santa Claus commits suicide. All the while he deals with stressed-out scientists, frightening hallucinations, feverish hope for the first baby on Mars to survive, and a silent green martian (played by none other than Wayne Coyne himself) who appears from nowhere to fulfill some of the first dialogue in the film.
If we backtrack again to the documentary Fearless Freaks, it is made clear that at one point in his life with band, Steven Drozd was in the grips of a frightening addiction to heroin (in fact, there is a scene in the film where he is candidly discussing his addiction while preparing to inject himself). Fortunate enough to have band-mates who cared enough for him to steadfastly refuse to abandon him, Drozd continued on until he received two smart blows to the head by Wayne. The physical shock and suddenness of that brief assault caused Drozd to really re-evaluate his life; to see how his actions were affected the band, and he soon quit heroin for good.
In interviews, when Wayne Coyne was asked what his band’s biggest asset was, his answer was simple: “Steven”. Without the ethereal vocals & wizardry with multiple instruments of Steven Drozd, the band simply would not be what it is today. Furthermore, because Fearless Freaks preceded Christmas on Mars, we can see that if Drozd had NOT overcome his battle with addiction, Christmas on Mars simply would not have existed – at least not as it does currently. Their album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots was also released after the opiate fog had lifted – which adds interesting & heartrending new implications to the songs.
The Flaming Lips are a testament to perseverance, hope, honesty, love, life & raw creativity – they are an organic musical entity; consistently growing and blossoming into new forms. The orgiastic sights, sounds & colours experienced at their live performances is something that will transport you, temporarily, to a different world; a different state of being. The Lips bring light to the perspective that anything is possible – if you are willing to work passionately for it and survive anything that life throws at you, you have the capability to bring it into being.
“People have given me the freedom and believe in me enough to say if I want to do these things that I will find a way to make it work. I don’t know if they think I’m crazy, drug damaged or just an old weirdo.” - Wayne Coyne