In the spirit of starting with a compliment, it’s novel that Sign of Aquarius examines the counterculture as it manifested in the Midwest rather than coastal cities, which received most of the attention in flicks about hippies. Made in Cleveland, Sign of Aquarius explores the dynamics in a commune whose participants distribute pamphlets and join political demonstrations. Had director Robert J. Emery and his collaborators stuck to the verité approach that distinguishes scenes of hippies interacting with everyday citizens in downtown Cleveland, the picture would have made for a better time capsule. Alas, the filmmakers tried to integrate clashes with police, race relations, and romantic melodrama, none of which is handled particularly well, and the combination of mediocre acting and stilted writing gets tiresome. Plus, by 1970, moviegoers had already encountered plenty of flicks with dialogue like this: “It’s not the ultimate way of life, but it’s a good one if it’s what you want.” (Similarly, the opening-titles song features a singer warbling about kids who “don’t dig being classified by society’s game.”) The meandering plot revolves around debauched commune leader Sonny (Paul Elliot), while most of the political stuff is carried by Mousie (Jim Coursar), an activist African-American. (He frets about the Man quite a bit.) Some elements are pointlessly lurid, such as a blood-ritual sequence that was added when the film was reissued, bogusly, as a blaxploitation joint with the moniker Ghetto Freaks. Other elements are pointlessly heavy-handed, notably the over-the-top climax. About the only stuff that resonates is procedural material showing how the commune survives, such as the vignette of kids passing the same bus passes back and forth so they can steal rides on public transportation. More of that sort of thing would have gone a long way.
Sign of Aquarius: LAME