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Ganja & Hess
Ganja Hess
Actors: Betty Barney, Marlene Clark, Enrico Fales, Tara Fields, Bill Gunn
Director: Bill Gunn
Genres: Drama, Horror
R     1998     1hr 50min

A landmark in the history of African American cinema and one of the most important films of the 1970s, Ganja & Hess suffered a tortured fate that nearly resulted in its extinction. Briefly released in New York City in 197...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Betty Barney, Marlene Clark, Enrico Fales, Tara Fields, Bill Gunn
Director: Bill Gunn
Genres: Drama, Horror
Sub-Genres: Drama, Horror
Studio: Image Entertainment
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic
DVD Release Date: 07/22/1998
Original Release Date: 01/01/1973
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1973
Release Year: 1998
Run Time: 1hr 50min
Screens: Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 8
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
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Movie Reviews

The Rescue Of A Forgotten Classic
(5 out of 5 stars)

"An amazing lost work of African-American cinema. Filled with surreal and sensuous imagery, and a haunting performance by the late Duane Jones (Night Of The Living Dead), this may not be a film for everyone, but for the adventurous it will reward your time and patience. By virtue of rescuing this film from the obscurity in which its lived for so long, this DVD would rate 5 stars. But on top of a superb restoration and transfer, you also get an informative and impassioned commentary track, a gallery of beautiful stills, and a well-written analysis/history of the film. Taken together, this is a triumph of no small magnitude."
Peculiar, intriguing, confusing
LGwriter | Astoria, N.Y. United States | 05/13/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Bill Gunn's Ganja and Hess, originally released in 1973, has had a checkered career, to say the least. It was chopped, slashed, re-edited, and re-released no less than FIVE times throughout the 70s and 80s with five additional titles--very likely a record. Its original length of 110 minutes was sliced down to 78 minutes by Fima Novick in the original chopped version (Blood Couple), but as Tim Lucas points out in his terrific essay included in this DVD release, Novick introduced a few elements missing from the original that were actually helpful in clarifying the action.This DVD release is the full director's cut and that is all to the good. Yet this version of the film is hard to follow unless you have some backstory. For example, without knowing that the main character, a black intellectual, Hess Green, somehow came across a Myrthian dagger and then accidentally (or is it on purpose?) was scratched or stabbed with it by his assistant, George Meda (played by the director himself)--AND that this dagger's touch can bring on vampirism--you would never know how Hess got to be the way he was. The scene in which this is supposedly revealed has such vague exposition that it leaves you scratching your head trying to figure out how things got from point A to point B.Yet the film also boasts some brilliant dream imagery, some of the best in any film from the 70s, if not since then as well. These dream scenes give the film tremendous power. But the dream scenes are juxtaposed with other scenes that seem somewhat too long for their purpose, or that don't really go anywhere. For example, in one scene, deleted from the chopped version, Hess talks to his son--who looks to be about 13 or 14--speaking in French to him, asking him about his studies at his private school. This is no doubt meant to bring out Hess' social and intellectual standing as a man of culture and refinement. But the son is never seen in the rest of the film and the scene seems completely isolated from the rest of the movie.In another scene, Hess visits a white woman from a trashy part of town. It's obvious what the purpose of the visit is, and this is no doubt to bring out Hess' conflicted character. This does work to some extent, in that later on, he goes to church, supposedly for absolution based on his deeds, but there is too much fragmentation of purpose working in this film to make it cohere.It's a fascinating failure. Ganja Meda, played by Marlene Clark, is another frustratingly developed character. She discovers her husband, George, is dead, but while suspicion definitely points to Hess as the perpetrator, she's walks around mad for a couple of minutes and then is lovey-dovey with him. There are threads here that do fit together and make sense and cohere and there are just as many that don't. This is not an easily followed film, nor one that lacks intelligence. With greater coherence, it could have been a brilliant film. As it is, it is an intriguing, seriously flawed work that comes this close to being an amazing, resonant film."
Literary, Smart, Divinely Executed
Q. JohnFranson | Seattle, WA USA | 12/12/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Ganja and Hess is one of those movies that, if you have heard about, you have heard it discussed in the terms used by all the reviewers thus far. Throw all of that away. What this is... is art. The story is masterful, the acting nuanced and subtle, the over-arching story intriguing and the "twist" unexpected enough to leave your jaw hanging open as you understand what you just watched.

Many people call this film "confusing" -- however, it isn't confusing at all. It demands that the viewer make the same leap of faith we make when we read a text and simply "ingest" the action, the characters, and the narrative which is not immediately transparent. You are gonna have to work for it. Wait for it. Keep your eyes and ears open and really pay attention.

This movie does display some of the motifs of this era so there is full frontal male nudity, there are boobies of all body types, there is some stark reality, but this is one of those movies I would have loved to have watched as a young kid... but it is, perhaps, not for the youngun's.

James S. Hinton passed not too long ago and so it is really a joy to watch his cinematography... because it is true, this is an ESPECIALLY beautiful movie.

If you have watched too much Hollywood pap and have lost all sense of imagination, creativity... you should probably pass this one by because it is not giving itself to you the way in which you are used (i.e. it is not spoon-feeding you as much as leading you along a path, beckoning you to enter). However, if you remember and like some story with your entertainment, some meat with your movie, treasure thinking about the ways things happen: Watch this movie. You'll never thank yourself enough.
Interesting "vampire" film.
Troy M. Ros | Northfield, MN | 11/17/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)

"This is an odd movie to say the least. Dr. Hess Green (Duane Jones) acquires the "addiction" from a ceremony while travelling in Africa and becomes, basically, a vampire. Not your standard fictional vampire mind you, but someone who has a hunger for blood and cannot die. After that, all similarities with your standard vampire end. He walks in the daylight, sleeps in a bed, goes to church and does not have fangs. He lives on a large estate and has a butler and chauffeur who take care of him. There is a bit of narration from the butler who knows about the doctor's affliction, but it is mostly to get us up to speed at the beginning of the film. A ways into the film Ganja (Marlene Clark) comes to stay with Dr. Hess. She finds evidence of strange goings on and tells Hess an interesting story from her childhood. Somehow this leads to their getting married and him performing the ceremony on her to give her the same affliction he has.There are parts of the film that have a lot of dialog and then other parts that have very little, if any. There are also some extended scenes from a gospel singing church that look more like a documentary than a fictional vampire movie. Flashback scenes are interspersed with dream sequences and at times it is difficult to tell if it is present reality or a dream. There are a few violent scenes where the doctor feeds including one at a whorehouse where he somewhat violently kills his victim and laps up the blood that has spilled. In another scene he robs a medical clinic, walking away with their supply of blood in his leather satchel.I can't say that this is a great movie, but it is somewhat entertaining, if not a little slow. When the film was first screened the producers were disappointed that it was not a traditional "blaxpoitation" film and cut it down from 110 minutes to 78 minutes. It bombed and was soon forgotten. All Day Entertainment released the fully restored dvd to much fanfare from fans of the movie back in 1998 and it is still in release. There is an essay from Tim Lucas and and a commentary from producer Chiz Schultz, actress Marlene Clark, cinematographer James Hinton and soundtrack composer Sam Waymon. The full retail price is [X] and I am certainly glad I rented it from Netflix instead of buying it, but some collectors might consider it for their collection, mostly those intereseted in really offbeat, independent vampire films, or collectors of interesting black cinema (blaxploitation it is not)."