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Case Number 02089

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Grass (1999)

Home Vision Entertainment // 1999 // 80 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // August 1st, 2002

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All Rise...

The Charge

No hippies were harmed in the making of this movie.

Opening Statement

"The Official Truth"

There are two things that just about everyone knows about Woody Harrelson: (1) he played a dim-witted bartender on Cheers, and (2) he has a strong affection for weed, pot, ganja, Mary Jane, happy tubes, cannabis, marijuana. Unfortunately, this disc has nothing to do with that great television show and has everything to do with grass.

Facts of the Case

"The New Official Truth"

Keeping the latter of the two above in mind, Woody (Cheers, The People vs. Larry Flint, Money Train, Natural Born Killers) has lent his vocal talents to narrate this film by Ron Mann (Twist, Comic Book Confidential) that sets out to detail their history of how and why marijuana become an illegal narcotic substance in the U.S. Going back to the early 1900s, they utilize preserved film clips, reenactments, and old U.S. government films to highlight how the war was waged against marijuana.

According to this film…

Marijuana has been used around the world for hundreds of years, but it wasn't until the twentieth century when it made its first wide foray into America. Mexican workers in the Southwest used to like to smoke a little weed at the end of a long, hard day in the fields. It helped them to relax and unwind; however, stodgy, prejudiced Americans didn't like what they were seeing and influenced their local governments to ban the substance. It took time for people outside the Southwest to notice marijuana, for there were bigger drugs plaguing the country: namely heroin and opium.

Yet things changed over time and the use of cannabis continued to increase even though there were many local laws outlawing its use. It wasn't until 1930 when the Bureau of Narcotics was created and its first Commissioner, Harry J. Anslinger, came to power when the full war on pot was realized.

Anslinger was a religious zealot who used his spiritual beliefs in a tireless crusade to ban the substance across the nation. His road to prohibition was long and varied but ultimately successful. It's his strong beliefs that have influenced this country's opinion on ganja even to this very day. He was able to weave a layer of hate and distrust for weed so pervasive that the people of the U.S. do not know the hidden truth about this misunderstood plant.

Through the tenure of five Presidents, Anslinger forced his hatred of pot and drugs on all of the country. Even as the American public's sentiment of weed eased over the years, Anslinger never gave up his campaign to outlaw and punish anyone who dared use such a harmful and evil substance. During the twentieth century, it is estimated that because of Anslinger's tireless campaign and pervading influence on the government, that the U.S. spent nearly $200 billion in a futile, senseless, and misguided attempt to ban a mostly harmless plant.

The Evidence

"The Official Replacement Truth"

To paraphrase myself from my review of Rare Birds, call me a prude, but I really don't understand or care for the exhibition of drug use. There's my bias: I do not approve of drugs. I don't do them, I'm not entirely comfortable with those that do, and I'm not sure why people like to waste their time and money using them. With that out of the way, I did watch this movie with an open mind, and I was impressed by its logical, cohesive, and intelligent arguments. Yet, in the end, they did not sway me.

While they tout this as a history of marijuana in the United States, it comes across more like a documentary on the hidden conspiracy of the U.S. Government against the plant. One of the main sources of information used in the film comes from the propaganda films the U.S. created from the '30s through the '60s. A strong and valid point is made in that these films are extremely biased and often contain a wealth of inaccurate and misleading information. Granting the bias of the propaganda films, does Robert Mann realize the polar opposite bias of his film? It is to be expected that this film would be exceptionally biased, as its stance is strongly "pro-decriminalization" of marijuana, I can accept and understand that bias. Yet, it comes across uncannily unprofessional and uninformed when they do not realize that a strong layer of their argument is as predisposed as the U.S. films they attempt to tear down and deconstruct. They needed to accept and admit their bias early on. The viewer understands it, but do the creators understand it? As to be discovered on the bonus material, no they don't. They believe they have created a balanced historical film, but it really is a political tirade against a position they do not believe in.

Overall, the film is an amusing, somewhat informative, and highly clever one-sided documentary. It's something that I'll never watch again, but appreciate the work that went into the production. It is a well-done presentation.

As I previously mentioned, a lot of this film is used to replay old propaganda films. Noting that, you have to expect those long forgotten films would be in mostly poor shape; and that's a given. However, even that material looks good on this disc. Given a very nice anamorphic transfer, I was very pleased and impressed with the picture. The video is sharp, clean, and clear (except for the old stock footage) with accurate colors and no edge enhancement or artifacting. On the audio side, the 5.1 mix is very impressive. In fact, it's one of the better mixes I've heard. Every channel is well-used: dialogue is crisp and clear from the center, the subwoofer is used for good effect almost from the get-go, and the surrounds are used for ambience better than in most movies. Some great and subtle effort was used to create great atmosphere. A perfect example of that is during one of the many old films they are showing when they placed a "running projector" sound effect coming from the rear speakers. You're watching this old footage, you slowly recognize the sound of the projector and, just as it mentally clicks in, they jokingly "unravel" the film using appropriate sounds effects from all sides. Well done! I'm quite impressed with all of the transfers in this "little film."

The extras are rather tame and boring when compared to the main film. First, there is a ten-minute interview with the director, "Ron Mann on Grass," that is a dull piece of fluff that adds little to the experience. (It seems that this interview served double duty as one can infer that his bonus interview for Comic Book Confidential was also obviously recorded at the same time.) Then there is a deleted scene, which is an alternative opening sequence—that I'm glad they cut as well. Also, you get the trailer, a gallery of "High Times" magazine covers, and "Busted!," a state-by-state listing of marijuana-related legislation.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

"The Official Truth for a New Generation"

Scientific evidence clearly shows that there are no detrimental effects to humans from any use, short or prolonged, of marijuana. The current slate of legislation is an affront to the citizens of our country, as it is simply an abomination to intelligence. Laws have been enacted and enforced based on outdated and puerile morals. Why is this country legislating morality? Why is it wasting our tax dollars in this crusade? Who is being hurt by using marijuana? Show me statistically accurate, scientifically valid data on the detriments of marijuana. That is not possible! Marijuana benefits are being secreted because of the moralistic dogma surrounding it. How can a substance that was used for centuries by almost every country in the world suddenly today become so harmful that we need to regulate it? Was everyone else dumb and naïve from the birth of time?

Closing Statement

"The Official Truth for Your Own Good"

As passionate as their argument is, I am not swayed by it. Many times they presented intriguing evidence but never expanded upon it. They needed to elaborate more on the scientific results and the results of Nixon's committee to sway me into wanting to believe their cause. It's a great, commendable effort; and I certainly do not fault them for this endeavor. Even though I did learn a few things, I cannot recommend the film. The movie is a biased, one-sided, imbalanced look at marijuana. They really needed a better balance for this film to succeed in its cause. I appreciate their efforts and the fine job they did in the transfers.

The Verdict

"The Fundamental Official Truth"

As no pot was smoked in public, all charges are summarily dismissed without prejudice. Case dismissed.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 91
Audio: 94
Extras: 20
Acting: 85
Story: 80
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: Home Vision Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Genre:
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Ron Mann on Grass
• Deleted Scene
• Trailer
• Busted! A State-by-State Guide to Marijuana Laws
• High Times Gallery








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