HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html In The Garden Of Weedom
Pubdate: Fri, 16 Jun 2000
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2000, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Liam Lacey: Film Critic


A fun tribute to grass even if you don't inhale.

Written and directed by Ron Mann
Starring Harry J. Anslinger
and Richard M. Nixon
Narrated by Woody Harrelson
Classification: AA
Rating: *

What was I saying?

Oh right. Grass. The movie.

The moo-moo movie.

You know if cows ate Grass, instead of just grass, we'd get high every
time we drank a latte. Can you imagine Mike Harris high eating his
Raisin Bran with skim milk in the morning and . . . I'm sorry. I'm
getting the horrors. . . . Gear down to neutral. Maintain.

Now as I was saying, or at least as I was thinking, Grass is a movie
by Ron Mann, the Canadian archivist of the alternative culture of the
past 40 years in such films as Imagine the Sound, Poetry in Motion,
Comic Book Confidential and The Twist, and now he has made this new
movie about Grass and I'm not talking blue fescue. I speak, my friend,
of the demon weed, the herb, Miss Mary Jane Wanna. Reefer Badness. A
little doob 'll do ya. But I promise you (and I don't say this often),
you can watch this movie straight and still enjoy it.

Oh, yeah. The movie. It's about marijuana in Amerika, from the turn of
the century, when anti-marijuana laws were passed to control the
Mexicans in Texas. And about the first Federal Bureau of Narcotics
chief Harry J. Anslinger, an evangelist and J. Edgar Hoover wannabe,
who created the war on drugs as his power base. The movie uses
separate chapters to show how the government kept inventing new
potential dangers from smoking pot: that it causes insanity and sexual
depravity, that it leads to heroin or communism, that it takes away
motivation. Like these are all bad things.

After Harry Anslinger moved on, his legacy was picked up by Richard M.
Nixon, who always smiled as if he had a mouthful of something nasty.
Nixon commissioned a study on pot as well and when it came back with
the wrong results, he threw them out and stepped up the war, to go
along with all those other wars he had stepped up. There's even a clip
of him deputizing the pill-addled Elvis in his war on drugs.

Then came Reagan and Bush. And Bill "I didn't inhale" Clinton, and
collectively, they've spent more than $200-billion fighting pot, and
don't seem to have won yet. Now Ron, my main Mann, makes it clear, you
know, that this anti-weed need is a great historical injustice,
because the drug is relatively harmless and the war on grass is
"misguided and completely ineffective."

Woody Harrelson (remember the dumb-as-toast bartender from Cheers who
rose to play Larry Flint in that movie about Hustler?) does the
talking too. Woody's a "hemp activist," which means he believes in the
ecological benefits of hemp pretzels and hemp rope and hemp paper and
(I'm just guessing here) he probably also likes to get stoned as a
martyr. There's also lots of reefer music over the years on the
soundtrack, from Cab Calloway to Bob Dylan to Brewer and Shipley's One
toke over the line.

Ron Mann's film moves like a spinning kaleidoscope and he doesn't use
any of those talking heads. He lets the historical film clips do the
talking instead, punched up with graphics from Paul Mavrides. Much of
it is funny, but some of the movie is plain painful. A clip from the
sixties shows a bewildered Vietnam vet, sent up for 25 years for
possession as his poor sad parents trying to figure out why the state
is coming down on their boy so hard.

Some critics have felt that Mann is a touch "naive" in his style. I
think the right word is "ironic." Why jump on a pulpit, like some
pro-pot mirror image of of Henry Anslinger, when you can stand off to
the side and score as many points with humour?

As The Monkees put it so well so long ago in that song by Neil Diamond: 
"I'm a believer. There's
not a trace of doubt in my mind." When I get myself together, man, I'm 
going to take to the streets
over this one and "You come too," as Robert Frost put it so well. But 
first, check out Grass at
your local multiplex, at least for the contact high. And if it leaves you 
feeling a little paranoid about
the Man, try to hold on to that thought.
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