Ganja and Hess (1973) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This is one of the more interesting chapters in cinema history. A Black Vampire movie with no biting, this art film is a long way from Blacula.

Ganja and Hess, in the 110 minute version available on the DVD, stayed in theaters less than a week, and only played in the New York City area.

This happened because of a combination of bad reviews, lack of audience support, and the financial woes of the distributors.

The distributors got the film chopped by a third, and re-released it as a second feature on the blaxploitation circuit, using a different name, a different score, cutting many scenes and adding in some others which were not used in the "Ganja" version. This was an attempt to salvage some of the investment, and it was largely unsuccessful.

Yet, the original film had been screened at the 1973 Cannes festival, received an ecstatic standing ovation, and was much praised by the critics and celebrities who viewed it there.

The only known print was kept at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, where it was dragged out for an occasional screening. It was retired some time ago because of the deterioration of the print, so virtually no one had seen this version before the DVD was made from a heretofore undiscovered 35mm print.

Here is a site with very detailed information on the entire story.

Is it a good movie? In many ways, yes. It is an extraordinary compilation of excellent visuals, supported by an unforgettable score with roots in both Africa and Black America. I thought the score was really interesting and added a great deal of power and authority to the film.

Having said that, let me add that the film is amateurish in many ways. The balance between talk and action is swung way over on the talk side. The editing is quite choppy. The performing is uneven, often poor. The store is densely symbolic, and the direction tends toward the arty, so that one is not really sure what's going on. In short, the entertainment value of the film is very limited, and the narrative form is not at all straightforward. It just isn't regular old storytelling. It's allegorical. Think of it as a poem in movie form. A lot of people simply don't like poetry, and if you are one of them, this sure won't be your cup of tea.

Think about the kinds of movies that are admired at Cannes. If those are your kind of filmmaking, this may be for you. If not, skip it.

But whether you see the movie or not, I really recommend reading some of the articles featured in that link above. The film may not be as interesting as people would contend, but the story behind it sure is! Bill Gunn, the auteur and one of the performers in the film, was a novelist, playwright, stage actor, and one of the first Black Americans ever to direct a studio film. (In his later years, he was one of Bill Cosby's recurring poker buddies on The Cosby Show)

IMDB summary: 6.2 out of 10.

DVD info from Amazon

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