Review by Michael Jacobson
Director: Ron Mann
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Home Vision Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 80 Minutes
Release Date: April 23, 2002
man, I’m hungry.”
order some Chinese.”
some Chinese to do what?”
be put off by the title of Ron Mann’s film Grass, or its subject
matter, regardless of your feelings toward marijuana.
This is a stylish, entertaining, and informative film that isn’t so
much a commercial for legalization of the popular plant as it is a humorous and
mind-boggling look at America’s legal and cultural perception of pot over the
decades. I’ll at least wager
that, even if you’re very opposed to the drug, you’re likely to feel more
angry at the government for the ridiculous amounts of money spent fighting in
than the people who use it!
by Woody Harrelson, himself occasionally on the receiving end of marijuana laws
over the years. He delivers his
lines with wry humor, and the imagery does the rest.
Ron Mann’s extensive archival research brings you the history of the
plant, how it first came into America through Mexico in the early 20th
century despite being used for thousands of years in other parts of the world,
how the first laws were aimed more at controlling Mexican immigrants than pot
itself…and that’s just the beginning.
in the historical footage are clips from Reefer Madness, the government
sponsored “educational” film that became a cultural joke for its portrayal
of marijuana smokers as sex crazed, violent, and criminally insane.
What’s not so funny, though, is that our country’s first “drug
czar” Harry Anslinger, built his career playing on America’s fears by
perpetuating those very myths.
first triumph for Anslinger was the Marijuana Tax Act in the 1930s, which made
it illegal to possess pot without a tax certificate for it issued by the
Treasury Department. Then, no
certificates were issued, thus making marijuana possession completely illegal.
war on pot is presented via a fascinating array of facts and figures…for
example, how only 9 states supported the criminalization of the drug originally,
but how Anslinger’s propaganda machine eventually scared the other 39 states
(at the time) into following suit. How
the torch was passed from one administration to the other, until under President
Bill “I Didn’t Inhale” Clinton, more arrests were made for marijuana
possession than under any other administration.
And ultimately, the staggering cost from one generation to the next spent
on fighting pot.
for me personally, I have no strong opinions on decriminalization one way or the
other. I’ve never used marijuana
myself, nor will I ever, but then again, I don’t see the use in arresting a
person for either possessing or using a small amount of pot in their own homes.
As one speaker in the film points out, laws governing individual, private
moral behavior are almost always unenforceable and impractical.
Of course, changing the law is a tricky proposition…as Prohibition
proved, once you’ve made something legal, it’s practically impossible to
being said, I don’t know if Grass is the kind of film that will change
your opinion of marijuana, whatever that might be. It will, however, open your mind a little bit to the
absurdity of government actions against it, cultural perceptions of it, and the
impossible cost of keeping society safe from a few recreational users of it year
in and year out.
the wide array of footage incorporated into Grass, this is an impressive
visual offering overall. Yes, some
of the footage from the 20s and 30s looks its age, but frankly, the segments
from Reefer Madness look better than any version of that film I’ve seen
to date. Paul Mavrides’ colorful
animation is a plus, and opens up the palate for both tone and texture. A commendable effort overall.
may find this hard to believe, being a documentary, but Grass offers a
phenomenal 5.1 soundtrack. Ron
Mann’s stylings include playfully enhanced sound effects, which he channels
from one speaker to another with smoothness and potency. Woody Harrelson’s voice resonates with depth and openness,
and the music is superbly presented…in fact, I’ve never heard “Itchycoo
Park” mixed for 5.1 before, and found it a terrific listen! The dynamic range is surprisingly strong…you may actually
have to click your volume down a notch or two for comfort. All in all, this audio track is as lively if not more so than
many action features, and is a reference quality offering all the way.
is a 9 minute interview segment with Ron Mann, which is decent, but doesn’t
really tell you anything you can’t figure out from watching the movie.
There is a deleted scene intended to be the original opening, which
centers around a skillful long tracking shot.
There is a gallery of High Times magazine covers from over the
years…featured celebrities include Woody Harrelson himself and Kevin Smith,
among others, an original trailer, and a reference guide to state-by-state