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Flaming Lips Unspool Avant-Garde Xmas Flick

It took the Flaming Lips seven years to finish their film “Christmas on Mars,” so it’d stand to reason that frontman Wayne Coyne is a perfectionist. But all he really wants to do is give his fans something cool to watch.

That’s why, in advance of a DVD release before year’s end via Warner Bros., he and the Lips are rolling “Christmas on Mars” out at the U.S. rock festivals they’ve been booked to play this spring and summer.

“We play it kind of like a midnight movie at these festivals, mostly because we don’t want to play it while a bunch of bands are playing,” Coyne said. “We’ve played it well into the night maybe six times now. That group of people that comes in from two or three in the morning, they’re usually the most insane. They’ve taken their acid or their mushrooms, drank three or four Red Bulls, and they’re really in it for the long haul.”

But because a large percentage of the audience has no idea what they’re in for, Coyne began making introductions to help set the scene.
“At first I didn’t know if they felt they needed to be more respectful, like it’s an art movie,” he says. “So I’ve been doing these introductions, like, ‘cheer, laugh and smoke pot!’ I don’t think people have any idea what the film is. Is this funny? Is this serious? Is this weird? Once people understand it’s all that, I think it’s a great relief.”

“Christmas on Mars,” which stars Coyne and his Lips bandmates Steven Drozd and Michael Ivins, was shot on the cheap in and around the band’s native Oklahoma City. It revolves around the first holiday season on the freshly colonized Red Planet; Drozd is Major Sytris, who aims to marshall Christmas cheer with a big pageant, but a series of events threaten the survival of the colonists, much less their holiday plans. Coyne plays a friendly Martian who offers his assistance.

“If you were to watch a David Lynch movie with someone, you’d experience these moments where music, story and abstract bullshit came together,” Coyne says by way of comparison. “You’d understand it, but you couldn’t explain it to somebody else. It’s like an unspeakable language.”

The Lips also created an original score for the film, which will be included on the DVD but may or may not be released on its own. “Elements of it sound very much like Bernard Herrmann in a room with Igor Stravinsky, and they hashed out, you take this scene, I’ll take this scene,” Coyne says.

“Christmas on Mars” officially premiered in May at the Sasquatch festival in Washington state, and festival founder Adam Zacks saw firsthand how Coyne’s connection with the audience enhanced the viewing experience.

“Originally it was going to be shown on an outdoor inflatable screen, but then we started getting bits of information like, ‘Wayne just bought a circus tent to show the movie,’ ‘Wayne is making custom popcorn containers’ and ‘Wayne will be showing up a day early to supervise the set-up of the movie and hand out custom tickets to the crowd,'” he says. “It just kept getting better and better. Instead of asking, ‘Why?,’ which is where most people would stop, Wayne asks ‘Why not?!'”