2016 is already a great year for fans of grindhouse cinema mainstay Matt Cimber thanks to Arrow’s staggeringly great edition of The Witch Who Came In From the Sea (included in their American Horror Project vol 1 box set) and here with Vinegar Syndrome’s DVD of the relatively unavailable until now Sex & Astrology. Cimber is likely more known for his genre cinema contributions than his sex films, but Sex & Astrology is a bit of both and borderline unclassifiable as either serving as some sort of bizarre hybrid of early 70s avant-garde and drive-in era pop art. Whatever it is, it’s finally available and you’ve likely never seen anything like it before.
On its surface, Sex & Astrology is a sort of send up of “white coater” films which were all the rage when it was difficult to get hardcore sex on American cinema screens. So, filmmakers made them “educational.” Cimber worked in this mold himself with films like He & She and Man & Wife: An Educational Film For Married Adults. But with Sex & Astrology he breaks the mold as much as he adheres to it. Firstly, it’s clearly not a work of documentary despite working under the guise of being about the zodiac. The typical huckster cum scholar narration track is intact yet serves as a source of humor rather than education here almost becoming a sports commentator on the action on screen at times. And the action itself is something to behold.
I’m almost hard pressed to consider Sex & Astrology an adult film. Sure, it has plentiful nudity and there’s some unsimulated sex stuff that goes beyond anything that would garner an R rating, but it’s far from titillating and definitely not the focus of Cimber’s film. But what is? This is bizzaro stuff and for coming out in a year like 1971 – same year as tentpole boundary pushers like Straw Dogs, A Clockwork Orange and Sweet Sweetback’s Badassss Song – that’s saying something. It’s also decidedly avant-garde in its approach and aesthetic, calling to mind the work of Kenneth Anger or James Broughton and something tells me that the production design could have been aped for Forbidden Zone. Sex & Astrology is definitely not for everyone, or even most people. But Cimber fans are going to eat this up as will anyone interested in the more esoteric American cinema of the early 70s.
Vinegar Syndrome have brought Sex & Astrology to DVD for the first time via a new 2K scan of 16mm vault elements. Whatever these elements are, they appear to have been kept in good shape as this is a very clean presentation. Colors are bright and plentiful, with the palette here resembling something akin to Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. There’s a nice, think layer of film grain here – perhaps more noticeable than usual due to its 16mm origins – and everything looks organic. Soundtrack is mono and is comprised of narration and music, both of which come through clear and void of issues. Great presentation as usual. The only supplement included is a theatrical trailer.
Sex & Astrology is a strange piece of work from a filmmaker that was hard to pigeonhole. Practically inaccessible until now, this release is a cause for celebration for fans of Cimber and 70s cinema alike. It may not be what you’re ultimately looking for, but you likely won’t forget it. Recommended.