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Lollapalooza ’08: The Flaming Lips Become Celluloid Heroes

Lyndsey Parker
Maximum Performance

There were several very valid reasons why I chose to take two valuable hours out of my time-crunched Saturday Lollapalooza schedule to watch the on-site screening of the Flaming Lips' sci-fi cult movie, Christmas On Mars, rather than watch an actual Lolla band during the crucial 8-10pm slot:

1) I'd already seen about 10 bands in the last 10 hours (see Saturday review here)

2) I seriously could've cared less about main stage headliner Rage Against The Machine (see my sure-to-be-unpopular anti-Rage rant here, and let the hatemail outpuring begin anew!)

3) I'd already seen Jeff Tweedy, from Saturday's second-stage headliners Wilco, in the best context possible: playing a G-rated, acoustic version of "Heavy Metal Drummer" for an audience of 4-year-olds (see my Kidzapalooza review here)

4) I'd be waiting seven looooong years for the Lips' fabled, presumed-nonexistent film to be released, and after all that, I was not going to wait several more months for the DVD release (see trailer blog here)

5) After two Lolla days of hiking from stage to stage to stage, I needed an excuse to just SIT. Because after selecting my footwear based solely on how well my shoes would transition, fashion-wise, to any hot afterparties I might get invited to (as opposed to, say, whether they' be COMFORTABLE during 10-plus hours of walking and standing and dancing), my feet looked like THIS:

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So I lined up at the screening tent at 7pm, picked up my sure-to-be-collectible movie ticket, returned an hour later to get some theater popcorn in an equally collectible "Eat Your Own Spaceship" box, and got ready for the show of shows. Inside the tent, the film was preceded by a typically longwinded intro by Flaming Lips mastermind/movie director Wayne Coyne (this dude can TALK; see this interview for an example). He rambled on fascinatingly (that's not me being facetious; he was fascinating) about how Christmas On Mars was inspired by a nonexistent movie his mother told him about when he was a child; about how this long-delayed movie has often been compared to Guns N' Roses' still-uncompleted album Chinese Democracy; and how the flick was supposedly influenced by David Lynch's Eraserhead, the filmography of Stanley Kubrick, and The Wizard Of Oz.

Wayne's colorful babbling could have been drowned out by the competing amped-up boogie beats of DJ AM in the neighboring dance tent, but this surround-sound screening was blasted at such an eardrum-shredding decibel level, Wayne came through loud and clear. He even warned, in his pre-filmed intro, that this screening would be REALLY, REALLY LOUD. And he wasn't kidding. I think this was the first time I'd worn earplugs to see a movie.

And so, finally the film began. Bold, all-capped letters came on the screen encouraging viewers to CHEER, APPLAUD, BE HAPPY, BE SAD, SMOKE POT, HAVE SEX, BE ALIVE MOTHERF**KERS! during the movie. Not sure if the people in the tent did all of these things, as it was quite dark and loud, but I can tell you that--judging from the, um, aroma inside the tent--at least one of these onscreen commands was well-heeded.

So Christmas On Mars, which from what I could tell took place on Christmas Eve in the year 2055, opened with Wayne's lovely wife Michelle wearing tighty-whiteys, sleeping in some sort of all-white, high-tech baby lab with a rubber umbilical cord attached to her tummy. Then she woke up and whipped a neon-yellow egg in a psychedelic blender, which brought to mind her iconic bathtub scene in the Lips' "She Don't Use Jelly" video.

It also brought to mind those old eggtastic anti-drug PSAs from the '80s/'90s: This is your brain. This is your brain on the Flaming Lips. Any questions?

Um, yeah. I have lots of questions, actually. Most of them involve the plot--please don't ask me to explain, in any sort of linear fashion, what happened after Michelle's aforementioned opening scene. Because after seven long years of off-and-on filming, I don't even know if the band knows what this movie is all about. Something to do with vagina-obsessed astronauts going insane in outer space. Or something. Seriously.

Some of my burning questions are...

--How did the band members not laugh when shooting these scenes? They were impressively stone-faced throughout.

--Has the Lips' Stephen Drozd ever done any "real" acting? He was surprisingly good in this movie, as he carried most of the picture in the leading role of Major Syrtis.

--How come Wayne, playing The Martian, had no lines? For someone who usually talks so much, it was odd that he was entirely mute onscreen.

--Was Ed Wood also an inspiration here? Yes, I did see a bit of Kubrick influence, but it was definitely Kubrick on an Ed Wood budget.

--How did they get pros like SNL's Fred Armisen and Entourage's Adam Goldberg to participate? Those guys stole the show.

--Where was Elijah Wood? I'd read in the blogosphere that he was going to be in it.

--What was with all the vaginal and fetal imagery? The marching band of vagina-headed majorettes (NOT kidding) squishing the grapefruit-like head of an immaculately conceived infant with their marching-band boots...well, that was a little weird. (I guess coming from a band with a name like the Flaming Lips, I shouldn't be surprised by the prevalence of onscreen vaginas, but it was still...WEIRD. No other word to describe it.)

And my final question:

--How do these guys get away with a career like this, after two-plus decades? They roll around in habitrail bubbles while paying homage to the Who (see blog here), they dress up like skeletons and overtake the Oklahoma city streets on Halloween (see this blog), they make bottom-barrel-budget cult movies about vagina-obsessed astronauts going insane in outer space...and they get away with it.

You've gotta admire such a career.

Okay, so Christmas On Mars isn't exactly It's A Wonderful Life. Santa Claus commits suicide in it, for instance, so it ain't the feelgood holiday flick of the year. But if, every time bassist Michael Ivins fingers some raw organ meat or Stephen Drozd hallucinates about bloody babies or lightbeams shoot out of Wayne Coyne's green-painted Martian mouth, an angel gets his wings...well, then, there are a whole lot of rock 'n' roll Christmas angels flying pretty high right now.


Be sure to catch the live Lollapalooza 2008 webcast in the AT&T blue room. For more info on Lollapalooza, click here.

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