Cult Classics: The History of Future Folk

MG_1117People with passion tend to come across as a little, well, odd to the normies of the world. You know what I mean: the devout Star Trek fan or dedicated KISS fan that attends every convention and concert and happening tangentially related to their fervent focus may come across to most people as strange or even desperate. To those people I say: fooey.

I love people that have passion for things, especially cultural artifacts. After all, I’m one of them: I am not only a devout Star Trek and ST:TNG fan, but my love for Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been detailed in-depth (and a touch too academic) on this very site. I self-identify as an old-school nerd, before it became a trendy cultural pose, as the article Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension has detailed. I had dial-up internet circa 1993, watched The X-Files while wearing an MST3K shirt, was active on internet message boards circa 1995, according to Yahoo!, at one point had the 3rd most popular Foo Fighters fan page on the internet circa 1996. I read sci-fi paperbacks, watched ST:TNG on Sunday nights, and in short was the biggest nerdlinger one could imagine–long before many considered nerd culture “cool.”

This is all to front-load this article by saying that I heavily identify with the passion that certain things in life can stir in a person. And after all, isn’t it the excitement of finding something you love–truly and personally–that draws passion to the surface.  And everyone loves music–and how could anybody not love music? The ability to represent the polyphony of emotions of the human experience and distill it into an aural format that’s immediately recognizable is one of the most beautiful inventions that human beings have ever created.

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Don’t believe me? Just watch this clip from The History of Future Folk and see. Here, we have Kevin, an assassin sent from the planet Hondo to take out Bill Hunt/General Trius, who was sent to Earth to wipe out the population to make way for the citizens of Hondo after they find out their planet is going to be destroyed by a comet. But Bill/Trius found out about music—something that doesn’t exist on Hondo—and instead settled down with a wife and kid and plays gigs as a bluegrass player. As you can see from the clip, Kevin hears music for the first time and goes berserk. But isn’t that how all music lovers felt when they first figured out how amazing music is?

Simply put, The History of Future Folk is a brilliant indie film that captures how passion is first sparked and how important it is to those that realize just how important their passion will become to their lives. It’s a cult classic that still hasn’t found the audience it deserves.

Cult Classics – The History of Future Folk

Although not necessary to enjoy the film, it’s helpful to understand that Future Folk is a bluegrass duo (comprised of the film’s stars, Nils d’Aulaire and Jay Klaitz) that first hit the New York City alt-music scene in 2004. Playing up the conceit that they are two citizens of the planet Hondo, who had never heard music before coming to Earth—which they are planning to take over—their songs are highly catchy bluegrass-pop duets that detail their lives on Hondo and their ultimate mission. It made a splash on off-off Broadway, and Future Folk made their next move by developing a feature film adaptation of the concept, which was released in 2012 as The History of Future Folk.

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Streamlining the comedic duo’s origin story, The History of Future Folk details how General Grius (who has adapted the nom de plume Bill Hunt) has settled into life on Earth as a husband and father and gigs on his off-time by playing music as an alien invader from a planet called Hondo that plays bluegrass music that details his life in space. He also lies to his wife by saying he’s an engineer while secretly working as a janitor in a far-away governmental astronomy institution so he can monitor the comet’s path towards Hondo. On the whole, Bill’s life seems relatively good—until he’s suddenly accosted by an assassin from his home planet named Kevin, who is sent to find out why General Grius hasn’t released a flesh-eating virus to wipe out the human race so the Hondonians can move to Earth.

Bill/Grius easily dispatches of Kevin, since he’s much smarter and better equipped to handle such matters than his potential assassin, and then ties him up and forces him to listen to the reason why he turned his back on Hondo. More specifically, he introduces Kevin to music, as is shown in the previously linked clip.

After hearing music for the first time, Kevin breaks his bonds in a frenzy and runs out of his captivity. The next night, Bill is playing yet another gig when suddenly Kevin shows up—with a guitar. As Bill gives an awkward explanation to the audience as to what’s happening (which, of course, the audience just takes as part of the “act”), Kevin rips into a spirited original song (after learning how to expertly play guitar in 12 hours) about being raised on a farm for space worms on Hondo, to which Bill quickly picks up on and accompanies him. They are a major hit after this, with a quick following building up around this unusual conceptual duo (a clever reference to the duo’s actual cult following in real-life). And yes, they play the shows complete in official Hondo-issued space suits.

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The rest of the movie is a delightful farce, as well. Since Kevin decides to join up with Bill to somehow find a way to avert war between Hondo (HONDO!) and Earth, they also start playing music together. While Bill offers his wife increasingly flimsy excuses about both his true nature and who Kevin is, Kevin goes on a tear as an “Earthling,” constantly misunderstanding the customs and very nature of what being human is on Earth. It turns very silly often, but it’s a silliness that’s easily excused because the movie has a delightful buoyancy that lets the audience dismiss inherent logical inconsistencies, especially when Hondo’s military prowess is often referenced but apparently nobody except for these two have been deployed to take over a whole planet.

The movie also tends to fall apart as it gets further into the actual “story,” but who cares? This indie comedy is so likeable that even when it suddenly lurches toward action movie in the third act, even its modest special effects—like much of the movie—has an endearing, hand-made quality to it. The History of Future Folk is a movie that takes a big concept like an alien invasion and makes it about the transformative power of music and passion itself. For those that know what powerful emotions music can stir, and for comedy fans that like silliness mixed with excellent bluegrass songs about space worms, The History of Future Folk is a small cult classic with humor, heart, and made with a lot of passion.

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