Insert your own pot joke here. Make sure you mention Judge Bill Gibron.
One, or maybe two tokes over the line…
From its natural, holistic roots to its red state/blue state hot button boundaries, the recreational use of marijuana has stirred more debates and debacles than any other entity in the war on drugs/"just say no" canon. For every advocate who defends its use with parallels to alcohol and cigarettes, there's another who damns the demon weed to a seat at the right hand of Satan, foaming at the mouth over the misery brought about by Mary Jane and her ganja-grabbing sisters. Trapped somewhere in the middle is the traditional "head" shop, an emporium that indirectly claims to cater to smokers of a certain wacky tobaccy. While they will argue that any and all of their products are produced and used for "entertainment purposes only," the truth is that for a long time, the local incense and blacklight poster superstore was also selling pipes, rolling papers, roach clips, and various ancillary accessories for the discriminating doper.
Thanks to our current half-crazed ideal toward recreational pharmaceuticals, an entire faction of freelance artists have found themselves in a terrible legal quandary. Many of them, highly skilled at their chosen field of endeavor, are now the target of a completely reactionary society. True, these tradesmen and women are making colorful, creative pipes, works of art that also function as receptacles for partaking of that potent pariah, pot. Naturally, there has been a lot of heat, both from within the community and from governmental authorities, linking their passion and pastime to a far more corrupt conceit. But that doesn't detract from the skill and the imagination involved with some of these creations. Yet, as a result, the glass pipe movement has gone underground, taking on an outlaw aura that really does a disservice to the mostly brilliant work of these fascinating fabricators.
Leave it to their proponents to bring the hand bent bong out of the closet and into the media mainstream where it kind of belongs. The DIY camcorder subculture strikes again in Operation: Pipeworks, an amazing, mind-bending documentary on this pseudo-secret world of glass pipe craftsmanship. While there is some pro-pot positioning here (after all, people aren't really smoking tobacco out of these elaborate entities, are they?), the majority of this movie focuses on a burgeoning group of artisans who've made it their goal to take the skill and dexterity of glass blowing and transfer it over into head shop country. Honestly, the amount of talent and patience shown by these amazingly eccentric individuals is startling. They spend inordinate amounts of time staring at molten materials, manipulating and molding it with the use of outrageously hot temperatures, only to run the risk of having their efforts confiscated by the DEA (as part of an anti-paraphernalia policy) and themselves arrested for questionable crimes of equally elusive intent. Though it is a minor issue in Operation: Pipeworks, there is a sarcastic swipe at an administration that would declare an intricate work of art, which also happens to pass for a pipe, as something capable of corrupting the citizenry. While the final use may be questionable, the ability and imagination are not.
Thankfully, Operation: Pipeworks has a more hindering, and hilarious, enemy to battle. More or less resigned that glass is the only way to smoke, our filmmakers take their hemp firing frustrations out on the antichrist of artisans—the acrylics industry. "Dr. Glass," a sort of spokesman for the pro-crystal consumer, spends half his time walking us through the basics of glass blowing, and the other half venting out his intense rage on the synthetic sect. Indeed, one of the funnier aspects of Operation: Pipeworks is to watch our deranged doctor do away with all manner of baneful bongs. Though this obvious, over-the-top tactic barely fits within the straightforward presentation of glassblowing, it's still a funny and kind of frightening diversion. And Dr. Glass is a tad touched. Let's put it this way—if these proto-plastic items where teenage college kids or student nurses, our irritated expert would be categorized as a psychotic serial killer.
At least director David Tweed understands how inherently fascinating his subject matter is and keeps the focus on the individual artists we meet at the opening glass convention/exhibition. These people are passionate about their craft and very hands-on in their explanations and demonstrations. While you won't learn all the ins and outs of making glass pipes, you do get some very detailed descriptions on such subjects as how to create intricate designs, different levels of color, or forming a classic Sherlock. About the only area where this otherwise stellar presentation misses its mark is in the personalities involved in this "grass"-roots enterprise. Aside from a discussion with Jimmy Siegal (who owns a famous head shop) about San Francisco, Haight-Asbury, and his hippie past, all the other individuals featured (with such smoke-damaged names as "Gasp" and "Marbleslinger") are mere façades. We never get below the surface to see who they really are. So unless you long for such interpersonal insights, or are distracted by the hopelessly dated use of some tired rap and hip-hop style slang as bad puns (the "dopest" documentary?), you will thoroughly enjoy Operation: Pipeworks. It presents its premise with professionalism, and just a little anarchic spirit, to put us right inside this insular, irreverent world.
Masters of Glass, an independent company, is releasing this DVD in a very nice, if rather persnickety package. The bonus menu—which is really nothing more than ads for sponsors and websites—is completely blank. There are large white spaces where one assumes the logos and important information is supposed to go, but the DVD was obviously mastered without its inclusion. There is another menu option to view the bands that supplied music for the film. All we get there is a series of weblinks that lead nowhere (a screen comes up claiming the sites are opening, but they never do). The 1.33:1 full screen transfer is very nice, offering a clean and defect free presentation. But some of the shots are hampered by the use of natural lights, and unless music is blaring in the back or foreground, the Dolby Digital Stereo has a few too many internal mic moments. While the camcorder concept of the film is obvious, Operation: Pipeworks doesn't suffer too greatly from its homemade mannerisms.
It's a shame that there's such a stigma attached to the work of these talented, dedicated artists. It just continues to prove that for every few inches forward we seem to take in our society, we are more than willing to move a couple hundred miles back if it makes good political sense. Whether you agree with the legalization of marijuana, or feel that it's nothing more than Satan's snuff, you have to admire the work of the glass blowers in Operation: Pipeworks. Their efforts may be in service of something shady, but their aptitude is genuine and worth respecting. Maybe one day glass pipes will lose their rotten reputation. Fortunately, and unfortunately, these amazing artisans will always possess their potent abilities.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Masters of Glass
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