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by Filmnet

"It's not about lawn-mowers."
4 stars

Canadian film-maker Ron Mann (Comic Book Confidential, Twist) combines them all in his latest feature-length doco 'Grass' (and we're not talking couch or buffalo here - we're talking weed, pot, tea, jive, the herb, cannabis sativa, doobie-doo, the French la corde-de-pendu, and the hippie's mary jane).

'Grass' is a history of recreational marijuana use in the USA, with heavy emphasis on the government's attempts to stamp it out. The dreaded weed first turned up in the US via Mexican workers, who carried it North of the border in the 1920s. Since then, political and moral crusaders (often with a glass of booze in one hand and a cigarette in the other) have been trying to stamp it out.

Mann angles his doco to satarize their sometimes hysterical, sometimes hilarious scare campaigns. The main players in this history, though not all well known here, are big-ticket names. Presidents, politicians and public servants big and small all worked against the weed, along with show-business stars like Elvis Presley, and a host of film-makers who churned out some of the corniest ads (with themes like 'Marijuana makes you insane!', and 'Marijuana leads to Communism!') and overboiled anti-Grass movies like the 1936 feature 'Reefer Madness'.

Mann uses snippets from all these, and another 400 hours of similar archival footage to make his point that current laws against recreational use of marijuana are more than a little corny themselves. He also makes effective use of music, including Cab Calloway's swing hit 'Reefer Man', small fancy's 'Itchicoo Park', j.j.cale's 'Cocaine', cats & the fiddle's hit 'Killing Jive', Dylan's 'Rainy Day Women' and the hippie lament 'One Toke Over The Line'. In addition, he's grabbed some clips from Cheech & Chong's 'Up In Smoke' and Chevy Chase's crafty satire from Saturday Night Live.

Mann's choice of well-known hemp activist/actor Woody Harrelson as narrator is also crafty, though Woody wasn't his first choice. Mann originally wanted to use Robert Mitchum, who spent 59 days in an L.A. jail for using pot in 1948. Unfortunately Mitchum died in 1997, and Mann's second choice, Bob Denver, (also busted for possession) died not long after. Third choice Woody does a good job sticking the sound bites together, with a bit of help from underground cartoonist Paul Mavrides.

Made in Canada last year, 'Grass' suffered from lack of funding which delayed its release by about two years. It finally had its world-premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and has since been banned in Ontario because of a brief scene where chimps smoke pot. If you do too, you'll probably enjoy this poke (pun intended) at the law.

If you're a serious doco fan, you'll notice the cut-and-paste construction, and social reformers may feel it preaches to the converted. But for the average audience and the beginner doco-maker it's a nice fat roll-your-own.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=4562&reviewer=169
originally posted: 10/19/00 23:41:55
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  16-Jun-2000 (R)


  02-Nov-2000 (M)

Directed by
  Ron Mann

Written by
  Solomon Vesta

  Woody Harrelson
  Richard Nixon
  Harry S. Robins
  Douglass Smith

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