Christmas On Mars

Sadly, the rumors aren’t true: The Flaming Lips are not spiking the green popcorn they’re serving at screenings of their new film, Christmas on Mars, with LSD. “We’d need an awful lot of acid-like a lab right there, on-site,” says Wayne Coyne, the band’s singer and principal songwriter. But given the psychedelic nature of the movie—the Oklahoma City threesome’s first foray into trippy, quasi-narrative filmmaking—it’s an understandable conclusion to draw. Christmas on Mars is an experimental work that incorporates many of the Flaming Lips’ long-standing preoccupations: aliens, astronauts, and, during one hallucination sequence, a marching band whose members all have female genitals for heads. Produced by the Lips and directed by Coyne, Christmas on Mars cost only about $300,000 to make but took seven years to complete, with the group casting their friends and family in key roles and shooting the film guerilla-style in their hometown. “I found some interesting locations that I could transform, like this abandoned cement factory I snuck into,” Coyne says. “It was a total disaster. There was a flooded basement I planned to use for one of the hallucinations, where a guy in a space suit carrying a dead infant was going to emerge from this oily, sludgy shit-water. The day I went down there [to film], the owner was pumping the water out. I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’m getting ready to sell this place, so I’m pumping this shitty water out.’ I was like, ‘I was going to shoot in there!’ And he said, ‘Oh, I thought you already did that.’ ” Luckily, the narrative of Christmas on Mars was elastic enough to roll with the punches. Coyne describes the film as “a Christmas story in the same way Easy Rider is a story about motorcycles.” It very loosely follows the adventures of Major Syrtis (played by Flaming Lips bassist Steven Drozd) and a group of Mars colonists who are suffering from mania after their oxygen generator and gravity controls go on the fritz. The colonists despair over their impending doom until a benevolent alien (Coyne) shows up to fix the devices. Christmas on Mars also features Coyne’s wife, two of his nephews, assorted Flaming Lips crew members, and cameos from, among others, former Blue’s Clues host Steve Burns, Saturday Night Live‘s Fred Armisen, and actor Adam Goldberg, who plays an insane psychiatrist. (“I’m boasting here,” says Coyne of Goldberg’s performance, “but his bit in my movie is the best thing he’s ever done.”)

The narrative of Christmas on Mars was elastic enough to roll with the punches. Coyne describes the film as ‘a christmas story in the same way easy rider is a story about motorcycles.Wayne Coyne

Rather than distribute the film as an art-house release, the Flaming Lips screened it as a midnight movie at music festivals this past summer, where the group occasionally served the aforementioned green concession treat. “I thought, If I were 17, how would I want to see it?” Coyne says. “I remember going to midnight movies as a kid with my brothers and smoking pot in the theater. I saw A Clockwork Orange and Let It Be that way. It added to the epic-ness of the experience. We’d leave the theater feeling like we were in on a secret, like, Fuck, man, now we know shit we wouldn’t have known before!”

For those who missed the screening at Lollapalooza (or who’d rather watch the movie from the comfort of a couch), Christmas on Mars will be released on DVD later this month. In the meantime, the Flaming Lips are working on their next album. (“Maybe in March,” Coyne says of the record’s release date. “We’re going in a more experimental direction, real Miles Davis Bitches Brew sort of stuff with awesome computers in the background.”) They’ve also begun work on a different sort of project: their Broadway debut. Jersey Boys director Des McAnuff and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin are in the preliminary stages of transforming the band’s 2002 album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, into a show for the Great White Way. No need to start looking for tickets yet, though. “I know me and the way I do things,” Coyne says. “That’s at least a couple of years off.”