Ghetto Freaks in Toledo 9-22-78 – aka Sign of Aquarius. Still “Hair”-y Eight Years After, but With Grit – Part One

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Ghetto Freaks today is a favorite of Hippie Exploitation in the minds of some 60’s-70’s film fanatics like myself thanks to it’s appearance on a great disc released through Something Weird Video, but what’s very interesting about the movie is how it played through The 70’s that was filled with everything you could want in a history of a film of this kind that led up to a moment like this in 1978. This is including the perfect timing that charted it’s journey down the road from the Freak Flick downer of 1970 to the “WTF are we watching?!!!” program of 1978 that went perfect with the Downfall of the Counter Culture (and, of course there was also Manson, Altmont, and Kent State to think about at this time among other things, too) to the pre-revival memory that it was by The Late 70’s. As for Exploitation history, this would also go the same way from the Indie a Go-Go of the Early 70’s to the Third Run Sin-Ema that it mainly turned into by the Pre-VHS rental mania.

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In the final days of the classic era of Exploitation, there were a lot of older films getting one last run as third-run and lower level companies were still filling screens ran by those who were penny-pinching and ready to throw anything into their theaters with seriously amusing results. By 1978, a year of Disco, and the continued Star Wars Mania that made a 1970 film like this look like it was from another planet, Ghetto Freaks was moving on towards 8 years of two re-titles and maybe someone saying that they saw it before once in a while…they possibly did. Back in 1970, it played Toledo as the Hippie Exploitation classic Sign of Aquarius. Yes, as in “Hair”…

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Robert J. Emery’s 1970 Filmed-in-Cleveland flick which actually has a lot of local flavor which captured what it was like being a Hippie in the Midwest – in other words, not too Dramatic without Peter Fonda adding glamour and usually a Bummer (now where did I hear that title before…Ha! Ha!) complete with protests that were busted up by cops, finding sneaky ways to love on the dole (The bus pass scene), selling Indie newspapers that are not the most popular read, having half-baked explanations explained while being baked (Drum Shot!), dealing with the straights, runaways, straight parents wanting to bust the Hippies, and even having a local music scene that tried to whip up the sounds of the day that sometimes got it and other times not to hilarious results – check out the Tom Jones wanna-be singing “My Name is Mousy” in tribute to the jailed Black member of the Hippie group…another cliche used in this film, too. The only difference here which actually added to the Drama was a group leader who was trying to get away from selling drugs from a couple of people who were trying to bring him back into their fold, and at the time Hard Drugs were a major problem in the scene that was really creeping through the Midwest (The Goose Lake Festival that happened between the filming and release of Sign of Aquarius was a major example), and it did provide a fitting downer of an ending before the “It’s only a movie” ending credits tried to relieve the viewer.

Filmed around Feb. 1970 as a quick shot Hippie Flick using true Cleveland talent including Bob Wells as a father, it actually had some care put into it through songs by Thomas Baker, which were a low-budget, Wanna-Be, but occasionally heartfelt approximation of what was going on at the time channeled through the Rock Musical Hair – kind of like the top level of the Local Wanna-Be set of music that wanted to express through the Mainstream of the day (you can slightly hear the Blood, Sweat, and Tears influence big time). Distributed by Cinar Releasing, a company I think based in Florida, it had played in Cleveland and was released with a Soundtrack through a very, very small label based in Novi, MI, it crept into Toledo soon after and for some odd reason played with the one and only Blood Feast…

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7-8-70, slightly before Goose Lake, and the time when the Dec. ’69 Altmont debacle was a growing concern in the Hippie world…keep that in mind as you read.

TOLEDOGHETTOFREAKSSIGNOPENING7870For information on the Soundtrack, check this out!

http://www.discogs.com/Various-Sign-Of-Aquarius-Original-Movie-Soundtrack/release/4348218

In a way, I’d like to throw in some Midwest music memories that also go great with this as it all kind of blends in together. It all started when one hears a Tom Jones look a like shouting out “Kick Out the Jams, Brothers and Sisters!” that sparked some thoughts that led to to this 70’s Punk era showing.

When it appeared under it’s original name in Mid-1970, the Late 60’s Hippie scene was dying down for numerous reasons. To use a comparison fitting for this film due to being made in The Midwest where everything was with more grit (and this actually has quite a bit – No Fondas around this time), I’m going to go into some mind-twisting thoughts. At the time of this film’s original release as Sign of Aquarius in Mid 1970, Detroit’s legendary counterculture rockers MC5 were starting to find it hard to survive after a storming start as in the minds of the general public the rebel-rousing shout of “Kick Out the Jams” turned into just a simple phrase as it was used in this film in it’s radio version while the band’s follow-up album Back in the USA under-performed in Early 1970 (Although their appearance in the UK at Phun City that year sowed the seeds of their first strong cult following that kept the name and influence alive through the years along with those who still believed everywhere else…OK, my mind is wandering too much). Through most of the decade, this film was STILL finding it’s way to screens and by this date, it was an era where Disco decadence ruled and the Rock championed by stations like WABX in it’s early days turned into FM AOR Rock that set aside a lot of rebellion…although of course the Punk scene would keep the spirit of The 5 alive and later champion the Cult Film world that this is a part of (and even out of boredom would possibly have been going to Drive Ins and low-price theaters, too!).

Clumsy, I know, but I’m trying to throw in something more than just a review, especially as Sign of Aquarius was made just when a scene was passing away from the mainstream light as it took the Top 40 version into it’s life and dumped whatever edge it had and still has when one looks deeper, although of course Exploitation is still Exploitation no matter how accidentally one captures some raw flavor even at it’s most naive which this film in any of it’s edits actually does

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~ by screen13 on September 22, 2015.

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