Tonight, the popular Defunctland YouTube channel debuted a feature-length documentary -- seen above -- filmmaker Matthew Serrano's Live From the Space Stage: A Halyx Story. Borrowing the naming conventions from some of the recent Star Wars films is no mistake: the documentary centers on Halyx, a band that performed for a single summer in Disneyland, representing one of the park's first raucous and rebellious rock acts ("I was the first guy to play at Disneyland with long hair," the guitarist boasts at one point in the film). Inspired by the success of Star Wars, Halyx was the answer to a question nobody asked, but that is incredibly hard not to want to answer once it's out there: what would happen if you bred Star Wars with KISS?
What happens, as it turns out, is a stage show that took place in Tomorrowland, built up a small cult following that persists (and, thanks to YouTube, sometimes grows) to this day, and seems like a huge missed opportunity for Disney to turn something odd into something potentially great. The documentary catches up with the band, nearly 30 years after that fateful summer, to document what they remember and follow up with where they got to.
Halyx was comprised of a talented female singer, a huge, bass-playing, furry guy referred to internally as "The Wookiee," a keyboard player who performed while dressed in a Stormtrooper-like suit of plastic armor and seated on a moving cart that had several keyboards mounted to it, and a fairly normal (if sci-fi-dressed) rest of the band.
You can get a good look at the poster that Disney hung up around the park to promote the band here:
Everything about Halyx is strange, from its path to the Space Stage to its look, to the effects, to the music (they played, as the songwriter notes with bewilderment, a song called "Jail Bait" in Disneyland in the '80s) -- but it's an endearing and fascinating kind of strange that Serrano perfectly captures in a series of thoughtful and quirky interviews with subjects who are likable and interesting. Even the gruff producer, who snarks at the filmmakers that he never realized in the '80s that there would be a bunch of "geeky kids" showing up to ask about Halyx, seems like he'd be a cool guy to get a steak and a beer with.
The documentary's structure is also incredibly effective. As someone who did not know the Halyx story before going in, I knew it was safe to assume they weren't going to take the world by storm -- but the ins and outs of their post-Disney music career and some of the bittersweet revelations about their more recent lives choked me up. It feels like a sign of a great interviewer, a great interview subject, and great editing if one can get choked up by the stories of people you've barely heard of.
Live From the Space Stage was funded by IndieGoGo donations from fans, and given that Defunctland's mission statement is bringing the stories of now-defunct amusement park attractions to its audience, it's difficult to imagine there's anybody who tossed in a few bucks and will feel anything less than delighed with the result. The story of Halyx -- complete with a montage of more modern fans wistfully talking about their affection for a band that was almost certainly gone before they were born -- is clearly one that was crying out to be told, and in Live From the Space Stage, it's told remarkably well.
Pop culture documentaries often have an uphill battle, since more often than not they can come off like really long DVD bonus features. When they succeed, as with Syfy's recent Like Hell I Won't documentary about Todd McFarlane or Defunctland's Live From the Space Stage, they are thus even more remarkable and they feel all the more worth watching. Before this, Defunctland had presented a multi-part, multi-hour documentary series on the life and legacy of Jim Henson, which is easily one of the five best things you'll find on YouTube. Like the Henson biography, Live From the Space Stage feels like something that will age remarkably well, will continue to engage and enchant audiences on YouTube for a long time, and frankly deserves the DVD release it can probably never get, given that it relies heavily on footage that a physical release would likely mean they had to license. Tht's a shame, as it would be fascinating to see some more of Serrano's uncut interviews. It's clear the film was surgically crafted, with just under 90 minutes of content that leaves you wanting more, and a dozen or more interviews that likely could have filled a (less compelling but more complete) two- to three-hour film instead.0comments
It's easy to say, given its subject matter and the nature of the Defunctland channel, that theme park geeks need to sit up and take notice of this film. That being self-evident, I would argue that it's also a movie that anyone with a passing interest in the music industry, or Star Wars, or just a well-made documentary packed with strange and endearing characters would be remiss to pass up.