Strange Frame is by far the most original queer film that’s touched my DVD player in years. I’ll go one further: the self-described “first animated sci-fi lesbian rock musical” starring a cast of sci-fi star voice talent is probably the trippiest lesbian film ever made. You’ll know from that description whether you’ll love this 90-minute fever dream or shrug it off as a bizarro head-scratcher, but fans of seriously offbeat entertainment are in for a treat.
The story is set far in the far future, after a poisoned earth has been abandoned. Humanity is divided by class and by mutation – most of the working class (known as “debt slaves,” but you could probably just call them the future’s answer to the 99%) has been genetically modified to better suit them for their particular band of labor. Those in the middle and upper classes have been enhanced for a variety of other reasons, chiefly aesthetic.
A venerable menagerie of humanity – cyberpunks straight out of a Gibson novel, flying, fur-clad cat and bat-people, cyborgs, androids, and folks with skin of every imaginable hue populate the streets. Class warfare is on and Naia (Tara Strong) is a wildly talented singer (with an extra-powerful set of pipes thanks to her slave status as a miner) who just wants to be free. She meets protagonist Parker (Claudia Black of Farscape, Stargate SG-1 and the Uncharted series on PS3), a sexy street musician, in the middle of a violent riot. When Naia saves Parker’s life – and vice versa – they immediately hit it off and fall madly in love.
Naturally, they start a band and become megastars, attracting the attention of a completely evil record executive, Mig (Tim Curry!). That’s just the first few minutes. The story combines cyberpunk adventure, romance and yep, rock melodrama straight out of an old Behind the Music special. At its heart, it’s a big, soppy romance and ode to the power of love and music and freedom – a hippie sentiment closer to the heart of the ’60s than anything the 2700s could possibly bring us.
The film is presented in hyper-stylized cutout animation. Some scenes are clearly 3D, while others – mainly those featuring just the characters themselves, more closely resemble a 2D puppet show on acid. The color scheme is wild throughout – blue and green and fuchsia and drop-dead gorgeous from the first frame. If ever you wondered what a truly unhinged mash-up of the dominant production styles of Heavy Metal, Barbarella and Blade Runner would look like, here’s your chance.
The music is just as trippy (and delicious) as the visuals, and the cast is just about perfect. Claudia Black in particular steals the show as the lovely, wild-haired Parker, a spunky lady with an old fashioned saxophone. Tim Curry is also fantastic (of course) as the demonic Mig, and Cree Summer steals every scene as Reesa, a phone sex operator by trade and the crusty, hilarious first mate on a ship that proves helpful to Parker. Michael Dorn (Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine) has the best cameo by far as a guard frazzled by Reesa’s… skills.
Strange Frame won best feature film at Dragon Con this year, and it’s easy (for me, at least) to see why. Here is something truly unique among the queer film canon, with an unapologetically weird and wild vision and a real honest-to-god earnestness that can only come from a labor of love.
Strange Frame will be available on DVD on March 19.