Of the thousands of YouTube channels in the video essay/documentary scene Defunctland is one of the best around. Created by Kevin Perjurer and focusing on defunct theme park attractions and pop culture as well as a side series focusing on the runs of culturally important children’s TV shows. The creative team behind the channel take their first step into the feature length field with this Indiegogo funded project telling the story of how in the summer of 1981 Disney tried to manufacture a sci-fi inspired space rock band as an attraction within Tomorrowland. This is not only a fascinating case but very on brand with the kind of narratives told in regular episodes of the channel’s main series. Ditching the regular episodes conventional style narration from Perjurer over a collage of various mixed media for a more traditional documentary style with talking heads and a selection of archive footage. How does the channel get on with that first step into the world of feature documentaries?
For all the faults Live from The Space Stage may have. It’s a strong reformation and introduction for those unfamiliar with the core strengths of the channels content. Effectively showcasing bizarre pop culture artefacts in a massively engaging and compelling manner whilst putting the stories behind these cultural events in effective context. All of this remains true when adopting the talking head style for a feature length running time. This is a fantastically weird and very engrossing story that is a prime showcase of the post Star Wars mania that swept the world.
The documentary interviews all the surviving players and showcases how the band came to be. It offers a fairly thorough explanation of their life cycle within its relatively brief (for feature length)80 minute runtime (not including credits.) This brings about the films major issue. The narrative has a lot of moving parts/players and the audience does not get to know a great deal about the individual participants beyond their specific role. The film feels like the cliff notes version of what was clearly a very expensive well researched project (as viewers and fans would expect from the channel.) It may not be a totally 1-1 comparison from a stylistic perspective (although the individual creators do occupy similar spaces in the content creation ecosystem but when compared to the feature length episodes of Down The Rabbit Hole or something like Lindsay Ellis “Why Is Cats?” which do feel like expensive documentary deep dives on their topics keeping a sense of focus without feeling like a bullet point version of themselves. This film comes up short in comparison. the film doesn’t call hold a candle to some of the very best content on its creators own channel (particularly The Greatest Party Walt Disney ever Threw episode which is an absolutely incredible piece of work . it may not be the best idea to recommend a series best episode as a starting point but if anyone not familiar with the channels content who may be interested in checking out a singular episode it is one of the ones worth recommending .
Live from The Space Stage is an effective showcase for the main strengths of the core Defunctland YouTube series. Engaging, professionally researched and with a good eye for implementing effective historical context as well as showcasing weird pop culture artefact effectively. The channels first foray into feature length may possess a slightly more traditional documentary aesthetic then a standard video essay but is a strong introduction for anyone new to the series and a solid new instalment for existing fans. That said there is even better available in the free YouTube documentary sphere that is well worth checking after giving this film the chance it deserves.
Watch the documentary in full.
Other videos and series referenced (all well worth your time.)