GANJA & HESS (aka: BLOOD COUPLE) (director/writer: Bill Gunn; cinematographer: James E. Hinton; editor: Victor Kanefsky; music: Sam Waymon; cast: Duane Jones (Dr. Hess Green), Marlene Clark (Ganja), Bill Gunn (George Meda), Sam Waymon (Reverend Williams), Leonard Jackson (Archie), Mabel King (Queen Of Myrthia), Enrico Fales (Hess’s son); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Chiz Schultz; MGM Home Entertainment; 1973)
“A forgotten masterpiece.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A forgotten masterpiece written and directed by the talented neglected African American actor, playwright and non-commercial filmmaker Bill Gunn(“Stop”), that plays out as one of the better, stranger and more interesting intellectual weirdo indie black vampire flicks. It criss-crosses in an unusual artistic way through religious musings (especially Catholic dogma and Baptist gospel music), vivid sexual imagery, the difficulty of the black American to secure work in a racist society and hints of racial questions of identity challenging the black American–as the film’s hero is caught between being swayed by the ways of the supernatural Africa of yore, a reawakening of his cultural roots, or if he should get with his transplanted roots and as a vampire lover of black gospel-singing lock into white Christianity as his new source of inspiration.
Dr. Hess Green (Duane Johnson, starred in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead) is an erudite, respected, taciturn, wealthy archaeologist overseeing an excavation at the site of the ancient civilization of Myrthia, where he’s stabbed with an ancient dagger by his unstable new boorish, talkative live-in research assistant, George Meda (Bill Gunn), in a drunken rage, who then commits suicide. The sophisticated academic becomes addicted to blood and survives to live in comfortable circumstances due to secret raids on the local blood-bank and knocking off hookers.
The bitchy Ganja (Marlene Clark), Meda’s bossy wife, turns up at Hess’s location from Amsterdam looking for her estranged hubby who is missing for six months, because she’s broke and not because she cares about him. Hess lets her live in his mansion and they become romantically involved, and get married despite the fact she discovers Hess’s grizzly secret that her hubby is stored in his wine cellar. The selfish lady, who survived a bitter childhood, says everyone she knows is hiding a freak side about their nature and she has no trouble living with her new hubby’s dark secret. The couple’s love-making turns her also into a vampire, as hubby uses the trusty ancient dagger on her.
Gunn used his vampire subject matter as a metaphor for addiction, and steered the film as far away as possible from the vulgar popular trend of the time of blaxpoitation pics. The blacks in this pic not only speak a good English but can converse in French. The film was shot for a mere $350, 000 on location at the Apple Bee Farm (Croton-on-Hudson, New York) and the Brooklyn Museum. Despiteselected for the Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival that year and receiving a standing ovation from the appreciative audience, studio suits were taken aback by its poor box officeand the talented Gunn never directed another film. His first film was shelved by Warner Bros. because it had an X rating. The never released film was controversial because it was considered to be a decadent psychodrama involving both male and female homosexual relationships, there was drugtaking and it featured a bisexual Puerto Rican protagonist–making it not the sort of film expected of a black filmmaker at the time.
REVIEWED ON 5/24/2012 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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