Cinemascopes: Aquarius

January 20 – February 19

CINEMASCOPES (cinema + horoscopes) approaches film through an astrological lens, and vice versa. Published in seasonal instalments, the series explores how astrology can be made intelligible through film, and considers how the energy of each astrological season might be applied to how we watch and make films.

My first reaction to The Love Witch (2016) was to describe it as “an extremely Aquarian film”. From lead-witch Elaine’s (Samantha Robinson) obsession with love, to her use of potions, to her scary indifference when her lovers die, to the film’s general offbeat energy and strange comedy, and especially to its deeply retro swinging ‘60s aesthetic, everything about the film screams water-bearer. At the time, I didn’t know that its director, Anna Biller, was an Aquarius.

Air sign Aquarius is often associated with 1960s, hippie-era stuff — hope for the future, dreams of change, the Age of Aquarius, drugs. So let’s explore this season’s Cinemascope using Timothy Leary’s classic ‘60s countercultural slogan: “Turn on, tune in, drop out”.

Psychedelia

“Turn on” meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers engaging them. Drugs were one way to accomplish this end.

Where Pisces is psychic, Aquarius is psychedelic. They are the LSD sign, the human hallucinogens. They are the alien emoji and the colour purple and statements that don’t make total sense semantically but speak to you on some subliminal dream-world level. 

Aquarians are the weirdest sign, but it’s not in a corny, performative, 2012-random-culture way — they are sincerely weird in their bones without trying to be. When Aquarius Hannibal Buress says “Morpheus drinking a 40 in a death basket”, or Aquarius Tim Heidecker says “I got a microbrew chillin’ in my wet-bar”, these are pure expressions of the water-bearer mind.

Another good example is Eleven (Aquarius Millie Bobby Brown) in Stranger Things. Watching Eleven being socialised into ‘normal life’ is like watching the Aquarian experience — they’re all from a slightly different planet, fascinated by our earthly ways, using strange syntax and performing casual telekinesis in front of their friends. (Brown is on the cusp of Pisces, so Eleven’s a little psychic, but more on that next season.)

Speaking of Millie Bobby Brown, Aquarians love a conspiracy theory — because they probably came from UFOs themselves. Aquarius Vince Gilligan produced and wrote a heck of a lot of X-Files episodes — “the truth is out there” and “I want to believe” are classic Aquarian slogans.

The gentle strangeness of Aquarius leads to their association with drugs — everyone wants what they’re on (they’re probably sober). But hey, Bob Marley was an Aquarius, so sometimes the shoe fits. See also: The Place Beyond The Pines’ (2012) “loner stoner” Jason, played by Aquarius Dane DeHaan (the film also stars Aquarius Mahershala Ali, and was directed by Aquarius Derek Cianfrance). 

Other work by Aquarian directors worth exploring: Kenneth Anger’s entire hallucinatory oeuvre; Tobe Hooper’s hippy film debut Eggshells (1969); Miloš Forman’s eccentric Czech New Wave style, and his adaptation of Hair (1979) — which literally features a song called ‘Aquarius’; quirky early-days Jim Jarmusch; the dreamlike creations of Federico Fellini; the French New Wave strangeness of Francois Truffaut.

AQUARIUS INSPIRATION

Weird individualist Harry Styles.

KEY QUOTE

[on the process of recording Fine Line — from a Rolling Stone profile]

“We’d do mushrooms, lie down on the grass, and listen to Paul McCartney’s Ram in the sunshine. … This is where I was standing when we were doing mushrooms and I bit off the tip of my tongue. So I was trying to sing with all this blood gushing out of my mouth. So many fond memories, this place.”

 Detachment

“Drop out” suggested an active, selective, graceful process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments. [It] meant self-reliance, a discovery of one’s singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change.

Boy, are Aquarians good at detachment. I mean, they’re air signs — all air signs are good at being detached! — but Aquarians’ identity as weirdo-outcasts makes it especially easy for them to alienate themselves from the rest of the world. (You know who else in Stranger Things is an Aquarius? Charlie Heaton, a.k.a. weird loner photographer boy.) Aquarius James Dean was something of an outsider in the industry, a persona reinforced by his misunderstood loner characters in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and East of Eden (1955). He had a strong relationship with Aquarius Paul Newman, who perhaps understood how he felt. 

Another example: when Aquarius Joe Pesci left the film industry, he left hard, turning his focus to making jazz music under the pseudonym Joe Doggs (!). Even Martin Scorsese struggled to bring him back for The Irishman (2019), saying it required “a lot of persuasion” — according to GQ, Pesci turned down the role “some 50 times”. Aquarians are stubborn fixed signs, and when they’ve burned a bridge, it’s hard to get them back. 

This trait isn’t always good. Sometimes Aquarians cut themselves off too much; often to protect themselves. See: Aquarius Christopher Abbott emotionally detaching himself from like 99% of his life because he can’t handle it in James White (2015) (enabled by Aquarius Scott Mescudi); Aquarius Stockard Channing’s Rizzo in Grease (1978) pretending she’s not distressed by her pregnancy; Aquarius Matt Dillon as Dallas Winston in The Outsiders (1983), where the title says it all; “heartless” Aquarius Abel Tesfaye (a.k.a. The Weeknd) insisting in, like, all of his songs that he doesn’t give a fuck and isn’t hurt by anything — doth he protest too much?

How can we avoid this? How can we make this process active, selective and graceful, rather than random and haphazard? How and when should we consciously detach? Some ideas: work independently, outside of the system. Know what bridges you’re okay with burning, rather than just throwing the flames everywhere. And let your detachment come from “a commitment to mobility, choice and change” — let it lead somewhere new, like Pesci letting go of the acting world to step into a new and jazzy stage of his life.

AQUARIUS INSPIRATION

Matthew Lillard, who imbues all of his roles with the weirdness, verve, and unselfconscious eccentricity of a true Aquarius. Examples: Stu in Scream (1996), where he and Aquarius Skeet Ulrich alienate themselves from their peers to the point of cold and remorseless murder. Shaggy in the Scooby-Doo series (2002-04), with his hippie-stoner energy. Wacky-clothed anarchist Stevo in SLC Punk! (1998), sharing a “fuck school, fuck the system, waste your educated mind” attitude with his offbeat punk friend Heroin Bob (Aquarius Michael A. Goorjian). William Hastings in Twin Peaks: The Return (2017), obsessed with alternate dimensions and paranormal phenomena. All of these characters have a deeply Aquarian outsider energy — people who have well and truly dropped out of the confines of ‘normal’ society.

KEY QUOTE

I’m still a weird entity in the world.

Revolution

“Tune in” meant interact harmoniously with the world around you — externalise, materialise, express your new internal perspectives.

Now that you’ve decided to detach from all the bullshit in your life, what are you going to do? Sit around and sulk at how much bullshit there is? Not in Aquarius season. Hippie energy is also protest energy, revolution energy, change energy. 

We can read “interact harmoniously with the world around you” as “be present and (ugh) mindful”, and “externalise, materialise, express your new internal perspectives” as “turn thought into action”. In other words: notice what’s going on and do something. In other words: revolt. 

Read it this way: Aquarius is all about movements — they are tuned in to the movements of their time. Aquarians care about resistance, collectivity, independence, and change. From the pacifist hippie movement to the punk movement to the queer liberation movement, Aquarian spirit is there. 

Aquarius John Hughes was very tuned in to the zeitgeist of 1980s teenhood, and it was this awareness of the spirit of the time that made works like The Breakfast Club (1985) and Pretty in Pink (1986) (both starring Aquarius Molly Ringwald) resonate with young people in their unique, powerful, and lasting way.

AQUARIUS INSPIRATION

Filmmaker, Aquarius and queer activist Derek Jarman.

KEY QUOTE

[on his experience with HIV/AIDS]

As I sweat it out in the early hours, a ‘guilty victim’ of the scourge, I want to bear witness to how happy I am, and will be till the day I die, that I was part of the hated sexual revolution; and that I don’t regret a single step or encounter I made in that time; and if I write in future with regret, it will be a reflection of a temporary indisposition.

In closing — Aquarius and film

Aquarius is a beautiful sign, endearing in its unflagging hopefulness and belief in the possibility of change in the future. It’s also a fun sign, one down to party and try new things — but if they don’t like the vibe, they will disappear in a flash and be hard to bring back. We are still living in the Age of Aquarius (and will be until around the year 4000), so let this sign’s one-of-a-kind independent spirit shine within you this season. Don’t be afraid to forge your own path as an artist, even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. You’re not of this planet anyway.

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Ivana Brehas is a writer and filmmaker living in Naarm (Melbourne). She has written for Dazed, Much Ado About Cinema, The Big Issue, 4:3 and more. She also makes lil videos. Contact her at www.ivanabrehas.com.

Ivana Brehas

Ivana Brehas (a.k.a. Joaquin Shenix) is a writer and filmmaker living in Naarm (Melbourne). She has written for Dazed, Much Ado About Cinema, The Big Issue, 4:3 and more. She is a graduate and a dropout. Contact her at www.ivanabrehas.com.