Monday, March 6, 2017

Weed (1972)

          Pot was such an integral part of late-’60s/early-’70s youth culture that the prospect of a vintage documentary on the subject is tantalizing. The good news is that Weed comprises thorough reportage, with interviews and vignettes collected from various different countries, thereby illuminating global attitudes toward ganja. The bad news is that Weed seems like the product of blissed-out true believers who, one presumes, spent as much time rolling joints as they did rolling camera. Casual, flat, and meandering, Weed covers a number of topics and gives marijuana critics opportunities to speak, but in the end, the picture comes across as either a PSA for the benefits of smoking dope or a how-to manual for smuggling grass across international borders. Rather than reaching for a broader audience by engaging the subject with an open mind, director Alex de Renzy approaches the movie like he’s writing some groovy feature article for High Times. De Renzy, who made his living before and after this project as a hardcore pornographer, appears on camera throughout the film, his long blonde hair tied in a ponytail, so he looks a bit like a counterculture analogue to a 60 Minutes correspondent. The director brackets his movie with footage of hearings overseen by a national commission on marijuana use, essentially contextualizing the whole picture as a response to governmental warnings against grass.
          In some scenes, de Renzy speaks with police officers and scientists about the effects of weed and related lawlessness, though most of these interviews are skewed toward remarks that downplay the dangers of pot. In other scenes, de Renzy travels to Canada, Mexico, and Southeast Asia to investigate other countries’ perspectives on pot as compared to America’s. The Canada scene is particularly galling, because it tracks kids as they ferry dope across the border, then enjoy a celebratory toke. The Mexico sequences make the questionable argument that America should lighten up because pot is so important to the Mexican economy. Things get even loopier in Vietnam and Cambodia. De Renzy speaks with soldiers who describe easily accessible weed as a virtual staple of their existence in Vietnam, and then Weed becomes a sort of fetish film once De Renzy’s camera discovers Cambodian marketplaces where huge quantities of pot and hash are openly displayed for sale. What’s missing from Weed are interviews with pot users about how the drug figures into their lifestyles, as well as voices from the political sphere about reasons for legislation. One assumes that de Renzy wanted viewers to walk away from Weed feeling as cool about cannabis as he does, but it’s unlikely this movie has ever changed anyone’s mind.


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