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The Next Reel • Season 13 • Series: 2002 Film Independent Spirit Awards Best Cinematography Nominees • The American Astronaut

The American Astronaut

“I’ve never understood this joke, but then I’ve never been to Earth.”

Shooting for the Stars on a Shoestring Budget

In 1996, writer/director Cory McAbee set out to make a wholly unique film that blended elements of science fiction, Western, comedy and musical genres. With a background in music and short films, McAbee threw everything he had into crafting the world of The American Astronaut. Shot on stark black and white 35mm film, this low-budget labor of love caught the attention of the Film Independent Spirit Awards, earning a Best Cinematography nomination. Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we kick off the 2002 Film Independent Spirit Awards Best Cinematography Nominees series with a conversation about McAbee’s 2001 film The American Astronaut.

Traversing the Quirky Universe of The American Astronaut

Our discussion launches into the film’s fascinating blend of genre tropes and cinematic influences. The lo-fi special effects, particularly in depicting space travel, somehow work perfectly in the established universe. We marvel at the creative framing and cinematography that elevate the low-budget production design. The memorable musical numbers get us singing along. At the heart of the story, we explore how this space Western playfully taps into themes of masculinity and loneliness across the cosmos.

Further Points of Discussion

  • Appreciating the authentic, understated performances
  • Noting the film’s multitude of cinematic influences
  • Struggling with the underdeveloped antagonist storyline
  • Reveling in the earworm-inducing soundtrack
  • Comparing The American Astronaut to other quirky genre-benders

A Flawed but Ambitious Debut

The American Astronaut is a testament to the power of a singular creative vision. While the ending stumbles a bit in its execution, the totality of Cory McAbee’s debut feature is an undeniably striking and inventive piece of independent filmmaking. The cinematography rightfully earns its place among the Film Independent Spirit Awards nominees. Despite the budgetary limitations, this is a film that sticks with you long after the credits roll. We have a great time talking about it, so check it out then tune in. The Next Reel – when the movie ends, our conversation begins!

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