Sunday, February 04, 2018

The Astrologer (1976)

One-and-done director and star Craig Denney made this indescribable ego trip that never found full-blown national distribution, partially because he stuffed it with 1960s rock songs without bothering to license them. THE ASTROLOGER lurches from scene to scene without establishing shots, proper character introductions, or even storytelling purpose. One moment the title character is lined up with fellow inmates by a sweatbox in a Kenyan prison, being read the riot act by their jailer, and one cut later, he’s somewhere else entirely, rendering the guard’s threats of snakes and shooting on sight totally moot. A dinner scene is shown in slow motion with no dialogue. A fish-eye lens provides a tour of a bar restroom, complete with a close-up of the urinal. Story information is delivered via newspaper headlines...written in languages other than English.

Synopsizing the plot is both impossible and useless in describing how bonkers THE ASTROLOGER is. I could tell you that Denney plays Craig Marcus Alexander, a fake carnival mystic with big ambitions who marries Darrien (Darrien Earle, who has a Barbara Parkins thing going on), travels to Kenya to retrieve precious gems from ruins guarded by cobras, uses his new wealth to bankroll a new multimedia career in television and movies, makes front-page headlines everywhere as the world’s most famous astrologer, hires old friend Arthyr (Arthyr Chadbourne, a real-life astrologer, sadly swathed in fake gray hair and mustache makeup) to be his financial wizard, undertakes secret astrological missions for the U.S. Navy (!), tracks down Darrien, now a drunken whore in a rat-infested closet apartment, and brings her to his mansion before making her an international film star in Craig Alexander productions… I could tell you all that, but it would be a woefully incomplete account and wouldn’t move the needle one iota toward describing how truly crazy and incompetent THE ASTROLOGER is.

Denney is so far up his own rear end that he shows us scenes from Alexander’s film, also called THE ASTROLOGER (we learn it grossed $145 million!) and starring Alexander, while Alexander sits in a screening room with a smug yeah-I-got-this look on his face, the same look you know Denney had while screening his film. Florence Marly, the space vampire from QUEEN OF BLOOD, shows up in one scene playing an unlikely Oscar-nominated movie star as an ersatz lost Gabor sister. Remarkably, there appears to be some talent, as well as some money, involved. There are helicopter shots, crane shots, underwater shots, quite a few locations. The photography by Alan Gornick is quite good, really.

Up top, I described THE ASTROLOGER as indescribable, and please don’t make the mistake of thinking I have adequately described its pleasures. Though more technically accomplished than Ed Wood and more closely anchored to reality than Tommy Wiseau, Denney shares with those auteurs a unique eccentricity that manifests in their art. Despite the unlicensed songs by the Moody Blues, Procol Harum, Tommy Edwards, and Conway Twitty, THE ASTROLOGER did screen on a few double bills in the late 1970s (it bears a Republic Pictures logo) and even received a home video release in Australia. It now lies with the American Genre Film Archive, which can only screen it theatrically because of music rights issues. Do not miss it. Oh, god, I forgot the cosmic mirror. Where the hell is Craig Denney today?

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