Published Jun 01, 2000I'm a bug. All alone in the big burgundy velour bowl of a cinema, this huge cavern. I'm wondering if I shouldn't have had anything stronger than this coffee, but I'm feeling surreal enough anyway. The lights dim. The tone is set immediately by the opening credits: glowing in neon, fading in and out, graphics floating from the left and from the right, and then the narration by Mr. High Times himself Woody Harrelson. What the hell's Woody doing here? What Woody brings to the film, is a guiding voice through the history of marijuana in 20th century America. It is a collection of footage strung together to tell you, historically, what happened to that beloved weed so many years before any of us were even a twinkle in anyone's eye.
The story begins in 1914, when, in an effort to control Mexican labourers, the long arm of Texan law enacted the El Paso Ordinance, which first made possession of marijuana illegal. From here it's a dizzying journey of ignorance and arrogance, of politically hungry lawmakers using fear and propaganda to scare the public into believing in the need for strict law and order. From the Reefer Madness films of the 30s to government footage of the communist-hating 50s (when in Missouri, a second possession could get you life in prison), concert footage from the 70s and clips of President Bush during the 80s War on Drugs, and his death penalty for trafficking. Ron Mann manages to weave these pieces of celluloid into a story, as Woody reads copy.
Of course all this could be a bit boring or at least tiresome for over 90 minutes, but what Mann does is to break up the film into chapters that end with a poignant bit of fact, and then a great blast of graphics and/or animation for eye-candy sake. This barrage of occasional colour, long patches of b&w stock footage, and the chronological history lesson work well together. Of course any good stoner movie (for stoners or any contentious citizen with a bent for histo/political documentaries) needs good music, and this is taken care by Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh with his usual flair for the slightly esoteric, yet homey. Ironically, most of you wouldn't have been able to see this film. Banned by the Ontario Film Review board! Those little i-dotters and t-crossers who save us from ourselves in their infinite wisdom. A bit of animal cruelty on screen and they pull the plug. Shield our virgin eyes. No matter that the footage was shot by the American government way back in the 70s. Irrelevant they say. A few hours later they overturned their decision, claiming "this happens all the time." Now who's smoking what? Take a trip to the candy counter, and hunker down for some entertainment, and some learning. Then you might not remember it later anyway.