Category Archives: Online Movies

Online Movies: Stingray Sam

Stingray Sam

I discovered The American Astronaut (2001) while channel-hopping late at night, and the broken space, skewed songs and weird world-building suited the dark. For months I’d floundered for descriptions, eventually settling on ‘It’s Blade Runner meets Rocky Horror via Clerks‘. But in the strictest sense I hadn’t actually been channel-hopping. I started coming across 10-minute fragments of the film on that online grindhouse YouTube, alongside the usual slew of dogs on skateboards and music videos: the universal guilty pleasures of the internet.

American Astronaut‘s writer-director Cory McAbee seems to appreciate that. Approached by the Sundance Institute to create a film that could be viewed on mobile phones as easily as in cinemas, McAbee put together a six-part singing and dancing space-Western: Stingray Sam (2008). According to the theme song (oh yes, it has a theme song), Stingray Sam is not a hero: he (played by McAbee) is, in fact, a lounge singer on Mars, which now resembles a washed-up Vegas-in-space. One night, old friend The Quasar Kid (Crugie) arrives at his saloon, looking for Sam’s help to rescue a little girl. And so their adventures begin!

To find out more, go to the Stingray Sam website, where you can watch all six episodes.

(The exclamation mark is important. Stingray Sam is narrated like a classic serial, each chapter closing with a stirring request to ‘Tune in to the next episode!’, an instant call-back to the matinée era. David Hyde Pierce provides that voice, authoritative while entirely gentle, helping to colour the universe around our monochrome heroes.)

(Parentheses are important too: so much of Stingray Sam‘s texture comes from the comic diversions and interludes that pepper each episode. When you reach the end of each 15-minute chapter you realise you’ve watched very little plot; instead you’ve seen a stream of ideas pour from the screen, each suggesting the possibility of another tangential story that would be just as entertaining, just as strange. It’s YouTube again, or wikipedia, where education and misinformation bleed together on the whims of the hyperlink.)

Stingray Sam screened at Sci-Fi London 8. Sci-Fi London 9 runs from 28 April to 3 May at the Apollo Cinema in London.

Despite the fragmented narrative, the heart of the film is a flushed whole, a story about fatherhood amid chaos that’s truly warming. In episode five, as the girl (played by the charming Willa Vy McAbee) drifts off to sleep, Sam and The Kid sing her ‘a lullaby song’ that skitters along the same path of patchwork verses and awkward rhymes that, I hope, everyone will recognise. It isn’t a stretch to see the McAbee family assuming such roles, with Cory building his crazy world of B-movies and dance routines while struggling to find the space to be the father he wants to be.

SCI-FI-LONDON has announced its 48 Hour Film Challenge, which is open to everyone in the UK: the Challenge takes place on the weekend of 10-12 April. Participating teams register online at Sci-Fi London and then attend a briefing at one of 4 cinemas in the UK or receive information by text message. The rules are very simple: Sci-Fi London give you the TITLE, some DIALOGUE and a PROP list on the morning of Saturday 10 April and you have 2 days to make a complete 5-minute science fiction film. More details on the Sci-Fi London website.

I watched chapters on a mobile, a laptop and a television, and it would be disingenuous to suggest there isn’t a difference: the depth of field really suits a large screen while the soundtrack never sounds better than when it bounces around headphones. But the infectious narrative and cast of misfits suit every platform, and for the first time in a long time I find myself idly clicking through videos and blogs, knowing I could be in danger of stumbling over art somewhere in the jumble.

Matthew Sheret

Watch episode 1:

Online Movies: Activist Cinema

In Prison My Whole Life

At the London Film Festival last year, actor Colin Firth launched a new site, Brightwide, which bills itself as a ‘YouTube for Social and Political Cinema’ and whose stated mission is to ‘watch, think, link, act’. On the Brightwide website, writer and poet Fatima Bhutto quotes Milan Kundera: ‘The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’ The internet, perhaps the greatest public archive ever created, must surely count as one of the most powerful weapons in the fight for social justice and seems a natural home for activist cinema.

Although it started as a US military-backed scientific research project, the internet became a hotbed of counter-cultural activity almost as soon as it went public. As a child in the 80s, I remember my older brother’s Magic Modem which could connect us to a whole hyperlinked world of anarchic bulletin boards and cracked software. Years later, Indymedia, launched in 1999 to report on the Seattle WTO protests, became not just one of the first major wiki-style projects on the internet, but was among the first major online news sources, framing the internet as a space of possibility for marginal and oppositional voices against the dominance of corporate interests in older forms of media.

If networks for distributing news and photographs of political actions had existed since, at the very least, the underground press boom of the 60s and 70s, the internet provided the possibility for something more - film and video of and about all manner of political events and issues available to stream online or download in an instant. The sense of immediate live presence afforded by globally networked digital technologies became a major catalyst in the spread of the anti-corporate globalisation protests of the late 90s and early 21st century, and continues to play a part today in, for instance, the backlash following the death of Ian Tomlinson at the hands of riot police during last year’s G20 protests in the City of London.

In America, Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films assumed signal importance in the run-up to the presidential election of 2008 with speedily produced documentaries about the inconsistencies in John McCain’s policies and biases in Fox News reporting, which became top-rated videos on YouTube and made a lasting impression on voters. Elsewhere, Michael Moore’s website provides a steady stream of supplements and footnotes to his theatrically released documentaries along with shorter films showcasing alternative viewpoints on major news stories and events.

While critics have condemned the spread of web-based activism as ‘cyberbalkanisation’, and the tortured history of Google in China has proved that the net is far from immune to censorship and government control, technology journalist Evgeny Morozov has argued that it is at least as useful to repressive states as it is to their dissidents. Issues arise when, as in the denouement to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s MICMACs, tactics of resistance remain parasitical on corporately owned portals such as YouTube, and behind the cosily presumed consensualism of iPod liberals there is always the danger of serious issues being reduced to the level of the latest Facebook fad.

In this light, Brightwide may provide a welcome alternative. Less a politicised YouTube than a new outlet for the exhibition of high-quality political documentaries, it features work by high-profile directors like Michael Winterbottom. With each film linked (both figuratively and literally) to ‘real world’ campaigns, Brightwide clearly has ambitions to make an impact beyond the list of Twitter trending topics, even if it lacks some of the anarchic freewheeling spirit that first made the net attractive to marginal voices.

Robert Barry

To find out more, go to the Brightwide website, where among other films you can watch In Prison My Whole Life, an investigation into the case of Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was sentenced to death in 1981 for the murder of a policeman in Philadelphia.

Online Movies:


Perhaps it will come as little surprise to anyone who attended David Lynch’s 2007 exhibition, The Air Is on Fire, at the Cartier Centre in Paris, which saw him engaging with a diverse array of materials from digital video and large-scale installation to post-it notes, matchboxes and biros, but Lynch seems to have taken to that most zeitgeisty of artistic media, the world-wide web, with, at the very least, a game enthusiasm. From his daily Twitter-synched So-Cal weather report to his sprawling trans-American ‘Interview Project’, Lynch has to no small degree made the internet his own, and the centrepiece of his online world is the subscription-based member site at

Navigating through a maze of cryptograms and circuit diagrams accompanied by Alan Splet-inspired sounds of heavy industry and heavy metal, one finds oneself at a portal, an opening to a gateway, which leads into a kind of secret garden, a world both strange and unsettling, but curiously familiar. Lynch’s films have always seemed to spill over the edges of their beginnings and ends, his recurring motifs and circular, unresolvable narratives suggesting less a discrete story than a brief peek into an alien landscape. The website only serves to enhance this feeling, with its implied invitation into the lift from Eraserhead, its short films referencing and fleshing out the fractured narrative of Inland Empire.

One of the most popular features of is the crudely drawn animated series Dumbland. With its entry-level drawing skills and fondness for ultra-violence and fart gags, it initially appears close to South Park. But the director’s signature is present throughout Dumbland - less in the white picket fences and eccentric characters that have become associated with the epithet ‘Lynchian’ in the culture of the last two decades; more in its occasional eerie stillness, and its excoriating industrial sound design. In a sense, what characterises all of Lynch’s work is the horror of the noise of industry invading the domestic space. In all its simplicity and apparent stupidity, Dumbland may be his most overtly political statement. The title implies that these characters are not rare, isolated freaks, more the symptoms of a malaise that is at least national.

At present, a great deal of the material on is due to come off the site, possibly so that Lynch can concentrate on promoting transcendental meditation through the David Lynch Foundation. There are worrying rumours that his next film is to be a biopic of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru to the Beatles. But in the meantime, ‘The Interview Project’, which consists of a small camera crew taking a big road trip across the United States, asking the ordinary small town folk they pass about their hopes and dreams, provides a welcome reminder of another Lynch - the humanist director who made The Straight Story and The Elephant Man and talks in interviews of his love for Fellini’s I Vitelloni and La Strada. Lynch’s path is strange and unusual; he is a complex artist with three distinct sides: there is Lynch the spiritualist, Lynch the humanist and Lynch the surrealist, and his website reveals their closeness and complementarity.

For more details, go to Watch the latest episode of the Interview Project.

Robert Barry