As we gear up for a bumper festive season on film, time to take a trip to Mars for possibly the only time Christmas was ever celebrated on the Red Planet!
We make the journey thanks to The Flaming Lips, who had earlier imagined a festive season spent freeing animals from the zoo on 1995's Clouds Taste Metallic. As reviewed by the Guardian thusly,
"...a life-affirming collision of chiming bells, frazzled psych guitar and festive animal liberation."Right on!
Ten years later filming had wrapped on frontman Wayne Coyne's vision of Yuletide for the first colonial settlers of the titular planet, their leader Major Syrtis played by drummer Steven Drozd. Syrtis is trying to organise a pageant to mark the momentous birth of the first baby born within the colony, a Martian portrayed by Coyne becoming an unlikely ally! He himself said of his unnamed character that he's...
"...a Martian that lands, but the Martian isn't really perceived as a Martian. People just sort of think he's another crazy guy who's flipped and turned himself green. They can't find a quick replacement for Santa so they just use this Martian guy. So the Martian guy becomes the Martian and Santa Claus at the same time."When you look back into The Flaming Lips past you might start to wonder if Wayne had something of a fascination with that sort of thing - the track Take Me ta Mars had earlier appeared on In A Priest Driven Ambulance.
Christmas On Mars the film finally saw release in November 2008 alongside a soundtrack record.
Yeah, 'cause when I drive in my car
We put heads in jars
So take me please, take me to Mars
I wanna go where they are
I wanna go
Yeah, and if I'm lost, well I don't care
'cause I walk on endless stairs
You say it's me, I think it's you
Who can blame us for thinkin' the way we do
'cause we don't care what we are
Take me please, take me to Mars
Take me to Mars
Cinematography was handled by Bradley Beesley, who also directed a documentary on the Lips titled The Fearless Freaks, telling their story & including unflinching portraits of the effect of drugs on the group. A Quietus review argued that their move into the visual arts had much in common with their music!
"This is exactly what you would imagine a Flaming Lips feature film to be like. It is preposterous, beautiful, funny, as profound as it is dumb and quite, quite disorientating. It requires massive suspension of disbelief and is held together with gaffa tape."Nevertheless a labour of love for Coyne.
"There was a method to the madness and this is a great metaphor for the band themselves. Musically they construct an epic Technicolor psychedelia out of the detritus of post punk. And this indie DIY/can-do spirit has been applied to the process of making Christmas On Mars."A long way from the zoo, mind.
There wasn't any snow on Christmas Eve and I knew what I should do, I thought I'd free the animals all locked up at the zooThe project was not without its troubles either, Coyne seen at one point in The Fearless Freaks literally...
I opened up the fence where the peacocks were, the llamas were unleashed the snakes and seals could all get out, but they refused to leave
All of the animals agreed they're not happy at the zoos
But they preferred to save themselves, they seemed to think they could
The elephants, orangutans, all the birds and kangaroos all said thanks but no thanks man, but to be concerned is good
It started to snow on Christmas Eve in the middle of the night
Walking through the state park zoo and everything is white
"...gamely building sets from junk in the driveway of his home in a "ghetto-esque" district of Oklahoma City, while his terrifying neighbours looked menacingly on.One US screening also included a listening party for the 1997 sound experiment Zaireeka, made available on CD across four discs. Designed to be played separately on four soundsystems, each listen brings something entirely different depending on your customised arrangement of its contents! It had its origins in Coyne's Parking Lot Experiments, during which he distributed 40 cassettes containing different fragments of music & instructed for them to be placed in the tape players of cars & played at his direction.
Here he was again, discussing the problems of continuity in filming a leading man (Drozd) whose appearance kept changing as a result of heroin addiction. You couldn't doubt Coyne's enthusiasm and commitment to his directorial début, but you weren't filled with confidence for the end product."
This in turn led to a more experimental approach on the following album, The Soft Bulletin following on from similar boom box experiments in conventional music venues, Coyne conducting attendees in operation of stereos. A move towards more prog rock indebted arrangements, it has gone on to inform much of their subsequent work.
The festive season wouldn't hear the last of it either! Fast forward to 2011 & they'd be performing Atlas Eets Christmas with Yoko Ono & the Plastic Ono Band for the holidays.
Yoko, of course, no stranger to a good festive singalong either, having appeared alongside late husband John Lennon on his Happy Xmas (War Is Over).
A cover of Black Sabbath's War Pigs - no blankets - performed two years hence on Later With Jools Holland saw the Lips turning their fire on their country's government & its involvement in Iraq/Afghanistan, as indeed many voters across the pond had by that time. Arguably it also marked the beginning of an interest in reinterpreting the work of their formative influences. Hence their Sgt Pepper tribute With A Little Help From My Fwends for starters.
They'd take similar stabs at Dark Side Of The Moon & the first Stone Roses record before announcing a 2017 return to their own territory with a new album, Oczy Mlody.
Take me ta Mars indeed!