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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – The Astrologer (1976)

My notes on The Astrologer (1976)

For decades, this obscure hash of a film was in hiding.  James Glickenhaus’s debut feature of the same name and vintage, an oddity also released as The Suicide Cult, eclipsed it, and still the online reviews get mixed up, with one represented by stills from the other or IMDb external review links that go to the wrong Astrologer.  Barely shown and apparently lost – perhaps because of unauthorised use of Moody Blues songs – it was recently rediscovered, but is unlikely to have a legit release unless the MBs (and other aggrieved rights-holders) relent but it pops up occasionally on youtube or other internet archives before being taken down again.

A semi-autobiographical work by director-star Craig Denney, who presumably either was or had mystic power over credited screenwriter Dorothy June Pidgeon, it was made for the briefly-revived Republic Pictures in 1976.  It might also be a cut-down of an eight-hour miniseries, which explains the globe-trotting, picaresque plot and also the way every scene is strangely curtailed or clipped (sometimes to hilarious effect – an apparently major character departs via a cutaway shot of her hand disappearing in quicksand).

Voice-over narration hurries the characters from one unlikeliness to the next only for musical montages or Tommy Wiseau-style dialogue scenes to trudge on for long, pointless minutes.  Much of it is apparently based on the bizarre Denney’s life, even down to some of the crimes ascribed to his onscreen avatar, which range from diamond-smuggling to murder.

Born in a carnival, young Craig Alexander (Denney) graduates from pickpocket to mystic – his big cause is advocating for ‘sidereal astrology’ as opposed to ‘the tropical zodiac’, which I’m too exhausted by the film to even bother googling but I suppose is an actual thing.  Then, he bounces around the world as a convicted diamond smuggler in Kenya, an adventurer in Tahiti, an astrological adviser to the US Navy paid big money for charts, an entertainment tycoon who has a big hit movie and several TV shows built around his astrological adventures but then loses it all, a husband who tracks down the wife (Darrien Earle) who left him to become a hooker and turns her into a movie star (by firing movie star Florence Marly – of Queen of Blood – to give her a lead role), and a desperate foul-up who commits murder and loses his fortune.  A Kenyan cop (Joe Kaye) pursues Alexander halfway round the world to get some rubies back, but is gunned down by a Tahiti bargirl (Diane DiSiblo).  Arthyr Chadbourne, a real-life astrologer even shadier than Denney, plays a character with his own name but as the equivalent of the Buck Henry business manager role in The Man Who Fell to Earth.

It has strange, clumsy attempts at grungy artiness – a hook-up between a couple of low characters in a bar is symbolised by two cigarette butts rolling together in a urinal, and there’s a hilarious pan around the wife’s flophouse showing rats, lube, peeling wallpaper and milk of magnesia.  And secondary characters often get lengthy speeches to camera, though they’re also prone to disappear suddenly.  Throughout, Denney’s voice-over is augmented by multi-lingual montages of above-the-fold headlines suggesting the world’s press is fascinated by Alexander’s adventures – his ultimate downfall is rendered with banner headlines … U.S. Navy Dumps Famous Astrologer … IRS Slaps Alexander $2 Million Back Taxes … Alexander Predicts Mother’s Recovery … Alexander’s Mother Dead at 62!  Followed by a quote from King Lear that’s less pithy but covers the same ground as ‘the fault, Dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves’ from Julius Caesar.

The thing only runs 77 minutes, so it doesn’t have time to be an ordeal, but it’s one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen – if it even is technically a movie.  NB: shot in ‘Astravision’ — maybe that’s what the often-superimposed wavering skull imagery is … or perhaps the mirror that affords views of the far-off and far-out cosmos … or the garden full of propped-up paintings.

It’d make an interesting double bill with Ken Russell’s often-overlooked biopic of Uri Geller, Mindbender (1996).

 

NB: a footnote for some future historian compiling a werewolf filmography … in one scene, a clip from a Wolf Man/Red Riding Hood mash-up plays on television and, though not averse to using music tracks without credit, Denney evidently shot this specially for the film, featuring a gypsy reciting the Curt Siodmak rhyme from The Wolf Man (1941) and an approximation of the Jack Pierce/Lon Chaney Jr makeup job.

Herewith …

Discussion

One thought on “Film review – The Astrologer (1976)

  1. Thing is, Kim, you make it all sound so fascinating! Immediately hitting Internet Archive in search of the above. I’m now on a caffeine-fuelled irrational-exuberant optimist kick that this is the hidden Citizen Kane of the late 20th c., (which, come to thing of it, Man Who Fell To Earth sort of is in some wise), with the added essential element of the delusional, unreliable narrator/protagonist. ‘We had more than all we needed. But abundance brought it’s own creeping anxieties, which permeated even our modular habitation units like termites, and we guiltily longed for the certainties only the ignorance of a Dark Age could bring’. The Werewolf documentation is very much appreciated also. Does anyone else absolutely treasure the incredible detail Don Glut compiled in his volumes on Dracula, and Frankenstein, in much the same spirit as the hypothetical werewolf book you describe?

    Posted by wmsagittarius | February 22, 2022, 6:37 pm

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