Saturday, January 28, 2023

Slamdance ’23: Space Happy

Phil Thomas Katt might be the perfect the ultimate Florida musician (outside Miami’s Cuban traditions). He loves space, NASA, big hair, and the 1980s—just like a lot of us. Katt started out on the Pensacola music scene right when music videos were taking off and he is still plugging away. Director Louis Crisitello introduces viewers outside the Panhandle to Katt and the friends he works with in his documentary Space Happy: Phil Thomas Katt and the Uncharted Zone, which screens online as part of the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival.

Katt started out playing roller rinks as just plain “Phil,” like Cher or Charo, where he received highly encouraging receptions from teenaged girls. So, logically, he just kept doing it. As he got older, he branched out into radio DJing and video production, becoming the godfather and den mother to the local music scene. Through his radio and public access show, “The Uncharted Zone,” he created a showcase for their videos he helped create.

They are admittedly a bit cheesy, but that is how they all music videos looked in the early 1980s—and now that is all part of their charm. Hipsters might be inclined to laugh at the videos and some of their songs, but if you heard a lot of them in Pensacola bars, you would probably enjoy it. (It should also be noted Ken Manning’s hand-drawn cartoon-like storyboards for his “Gulf Breeze UFO” video are really cool—so much so, they should be made into an animated short one day.) Regardless, Katt’s circle works steadily as musicians, which is even saying something here in New York. For Pensacola, it is pretty impressive.

In fact, Katt even scored a viral hit through his work with Mark Gormley, who is admittedly a bit of an acquired, novelty taste. To his credit, Katt is not bound by genre, working extensively with country artists and even a jazz harmonica player too. Everyone has good things to say about him, including his wife and longtime radio and creative partner Tommy Robinetti.

In a weird way, Katt and his Uncharted comrades share kinship with the vibe and spirit of Doug and the Slugs, even though they have never approached the Canadian band’s level of fame. Perhaps it is just as well. This is the first musician profile in years that did not end on a downer note.

Crisitello definitely leans into the campiness of Katt’s videos, but he still made a very upbeat film. It is a fun slice of contemporary Americana. Highly recommended,
Space Happy: Phil Thomas Katt and the Uncharted Zone screens online through tomorrow (1/29), as part of this year’s Slamdance.