February 18, 2007

When Danger's Near, Exploit Their Fears

On the surface, Reefer Madness: the Musical should have been another been-there-done-that ironic take, much like Little Shop of Horrors. Take a public domain movie (in this case, a 1930's film about the horrors of marijuana use), camp it up, throw in some catchy tunes, and you have an instant show!

However, this musical - now available as a movie originally shown on Showtime - is much, much different. Coming on the cusp of 9/11, this is a very sharp, slightly biting satire, focusing on our tendency to engage in crusades against things which would "corrupt our youth", but more importantly - our unwillingness to engage in critical thinking and our reluctance to challenge authority.

Luckily, the tone of the movie hits the right amount of self-awareness and camp, neither being too self-assured nor taking an extremely jaundiced view. (In fact, the only non-sympathetic character is the Lecturer, portrayed by Alan Cummings, whose dialogue parallels that of our first drug czar). Of course, there is a lot in this movie that will offend more sensitive folk, such as Jesus Christ in a Vegas-style review. However, there is a great sense of fun about this movie - if you're looking for a pro-marijuana film, this isn't it. In fact, its target is much broader, and much more effective. Just watch the last five minutes of this film, after "Tell 'Em the Truth". Some of the images suggest a darkness...it's almost Serling-esque in its simplicity, but will send chills down your spine.

(And for those on either side of the debate, let me suggest that you read Understanding Marijuana, which is a meta-review of every study done on marijuana. It's fair, balanced, and will seriously surprise you. Also check out the bonus features, including the original 1930's film, as well as a mini-documentary which briefly discusses the politics behind marijuana prohibition).

But mostly, the critical factor in this movie - the music. Songs include everything from big band stompers ("Old Five and Ten"), to corny love songs ("Romeo and Juliet"), to Vegas (click on the link above), and you'll find yourself humming them. (Personally, my favorite is "Little Mary Sunshine"...but if you watch the movie, you'll see why).

However, in our current time, when the national trend is to provide almost unquestioning support, this is a movie that encourages us to think for ourselves, and shows us that behind every crusade, there's someone who's in deep fear.

Don't be afraid. Watch this movie. You'll dig it. I promise.

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