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GRASS

SYNOPSIS:
Ron Mann's Grass takes us through a history of marijuana laws and beliefs in 20th century America. Beginning with the initial laws at the turn of the century, designed to provoke prejudice against the Mexicans, the film takes us through various administrations and law enforcement bodies as the cost of beating the 'scourge' becomes astronomical. Historical footage shows anti-drug campaigners such as Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover, and even Elvis Presley. One man dominates, Harry J. Anslinger, as the war against the weed becomes both his power base and source of income. Moderates such as Jimmy Carter and New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia have little impact.

"Lazily made and preaching to the converted (that may be most of us, according to Woody H's information), Grass is an okay-while-you're-watching-it novelty item but hardly tells us anything we didn't already know. It's always fun watching clips from hysterical anti-drug movies like Reefer Madness and those ludicrous educational films aimed at scaring the addle-brained youth of bygone eras but that's where it starts and stops. Director Ron Mann has done a fine job finding these prime cuts which, if they'd been edited tightly, would make a zippy television hour. Here the clips are allowed to run far too long, making the 80-odd minutes drag noticeably at times. It's interesting enough to be informed of the strong arm tactics employed by Federal marijuana enforcer Harry J Anslinger in the war on the so-called demon weed and you might even feel nostalgic when Jimmy Carter pops up with cautious support for the drug's decriminalisation. Without any contemporary analysis (apart from Harrelson's enthusiastic pro-grass commentary) it doesn't add up to much more than an amusing clip reel. This is a lightweight, escapist documentary which pot heads will enthusiastically endorse and while it may lack substance it's a lot more entertaining than being straight while you're with people who've been smoking the stuff."
Richard Kuipers

"In some Islamic states women are stoned when they commit adultery; unlike the West, where women commit adultery when they get stoned. Or so the old chestnut goes. Here we take a satirical peep at USA officials who, over the past century, have sought to Weed out stone-heads and incidental inhalers with fanatical zeal; their fervour fuelled by nothing but Wowserism. If you’re looking for a balanced, scientific, up-to-date examination of the harmlessness or otherwise of marijuana, forget it. This doco is as slanted in its pro-pot propaganda, as the campaigns it satirises have been in their promulgation of pot-paranoia. But there is a ring of truth to its exposure of the narrow-minded attitudes that have cost American tax-payers billions in a fight that is as futile as Prohibition. Dividing the last century into chronological segments, a plethora of archival footage is unveiled of hypocritical hysteria promoters, who, as they descant upon the evils of the wacky weed, are, themselves, inevitably chain-smoking or under the obvious influence of something considerably stronger than chamomile tea. From Harry J. Aslinger, first director of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics, to US presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, the irony of the footage is the most entertaining aspect to this sometimes meandering, occasionally hilarious dope doco. Alas no dope on whether Bill C. actually inhaled, but Reagan explaining how marijuana militates against memory is a doozy, while Aslinger constantly comes across as a genuine Crack-Pot. Intersecting each chronological segment are the psychedelic graphics of Paul Madrives, which set the prevailing mood. Woody ‘Pro-hemp’ Harrelson narrates with appropriate languidness, and there’s a vibrant soundtrack of Reefer-related rhythms. Unlike users of the eponymous herb, Grass never reaches any great heights, but it is consistently amusing, if not particularly informative, docutainment."
Brad Green

"What a hotch potch of a documentary Grass is. The historical footage sourced and chosen by director Ron Mann (Comic Book Confidential, Poetry in Motion) is both impressive and negligent. The footage itself is great but so often it is not ordered, not dated, and, most frustratingly of all, not followed up. We see horror stories of good people sent to jail throughout the century. How difficult would it have been to find these people and get their version of the consequences to their lives? This leads to the root of the problem with the film. It simply does not engage. Lots of statistics. Fine. Lots of whacky graphics. OK. Plenty of funny footage from terror campaigns and films such as Reefer Madness. Yeah, but is it anything we haven't seen before? Woody Harrelson's narration provides a bit of a smirk as he is known widely as a hemp campaigner. Sure. But it all seems so outdated. Perhaps it lacks relevance to an Australian audience of the 21st century where marijuana really doesn't seem to be all that big a deal. As an historical document it's possible to be impressed by the mega dollars racked up in the fight against the drug. But if this is the intention, then it needs to be a much more rigourous piece of work. We must know who is talking, when, and why. Too many questions are left unanswered and we are left feeling that this is as much a piece of propaganda as anything that Grass criticises. And that's from a pro-marijuana viewpoint."
Lee Gough

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 2

TRAILER

GRASS (M15+)
(US)

NARRATOR: Woody Harrelson

PRODUCER: Ron Mann

DIRECTOR: Ron Mann

SCRIPT: Solomon Vesta

EDITOR: Robert Kennedy

ART DIRECTION: Paul Mavrides

MUSIC: Guido Luciani

GRAPHICS CO-ORDINATOR: Maury Whyte

RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Niche Pictures

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 2, 2000







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