Fantastic Fest 2014 Repertory Screenings: THE ASTROLOGER And DEATH WISH 3 Rock With Old-School Insanity
As I mentioned in our Fantastic Fest preview article, my heart belongs to the repertory screenings, the forgotten flicks that deserve a fresh look, presented by extremely knowledgeable and passionate curators.
That was certainly the case this year. I only got to see two repertory screenings, but each was more than worth its weight in gold, and reminded me that people often work for months, years, and sometimes decades to bring their creative visions to the big screen.
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The Astrologer (1975)
Before the screening, I had the mistaken impression that James Glickenhaus, the future director of the Jackie Chan vehicle The Protector -- the movie that Chan thought was so bad, he secured the Asian rights to it and completely re-edited it before its theatrical release in Asia, thereby rescuing an otherwise woebegone movie -- had directed the movie we were about to see. That's what I told everyone I saw!
But no, this is the other movie titled The Astrologer, also released in 1975, and it was directed by Craig Denney, who also stars. It was the only movie that "Craig Denney" -- if that's his real name -- ever made, either as director or actor, and, bless his heart, it's an amazingly ambitious adventure that demonstrates a smidgen of native talent and a whole lot of testicular fortitude.
Alexander (Mr. Denney) begins with a dead-voiced narration, setting himself up in a circus tent as a psychic, awkwardly and outlandishly introduced by his partner. The plot explodes in small bursts, following the exploits of Alexander on multiple continents. Unfolding in a completely nonsensical fashion, the movie almost feels like an attempted variation on the Theater of the Bizarre, except that Alexander is so darn sober-minded and apparently sincere that I couldn't turn my head away.
Within the illogical development of the story -- basically a rags to riches tale, showing how Alexander achieves great reknown beyond anyone's wildest imagination -- isolated scenes are freakishly funny, non sequiturs on a grand scale that I've never seen before. Those moments are so freaking brilliant that it's impossible to dismiss The Astrologer as merely the product of an Orson Welles without the talent. No, Mr. Denney had some great ideas -- I give you a long, long dinner scene between Alexander and his lady love over dinner, shown entirely in slow motion as a pop song plays, stretched out to absurd yet absolutely perfect length -- as but one example.
The screening was introduced by Tim League and Nicolas Winding Refn on behalf of the American Genre Film Archive, which rescued the film and showed a digital print that, all things considered, was in very good shape. It followed Liv Corfixen's My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn, which provided an intimate look at the director's home life while on location; this movie confirmed his taste for the bizarre and outlandish. (We already knew about Mr. League's delightful appetite for the unusual!)