|GANJA & HESS (aka: BLOOD COUPLE)
(director/writer: Bill Gunn; cinematographer: James E.
Hinton; editor: Victor Kanefsky; music: Sam Waymon;
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
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
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. Despite selected 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 office and 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 drug taking 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"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ