Ganja & Hess
|Ganja & Hess|
|Directed by||Bill Gunn|
|Produced by||Chiz Schultz|
|Written by||Bill Gunn|
|Music by||Sam Waymon|
|Cinematography||James E. Hinton|
|Edited by||Victor Kanefsky|
|Distributed by||Kelly-Jordan Enterprises|
78 minutes (cut version)
Ganja & Hess is a 1973 experimental horror film written and directed by Bill Gunn and starring Marlene Clark and Duane Jones. The film follows the exploits of anthropologist Dr. Hess Green (Jones), who becomes a vampire after his intelligent but unstable assistant (Gunn) stabs him with an ancient cursed dagger. Green falls in love with his assistant's widow, Ganja (Clark), who learns Green's dark secret.
It is one of only two films in which the lead role was played by Duane Jones, best known for starring in the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead (though he had bit parts in other movies). The film was screened at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. It was remade by Spike Lee in 2014 as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.
The film follows Dr. Hess Green (Duane Jones), a wealthy black anthropologist who is doing research on the Myrthians, an ancient African nation of blood drinkers. One night, while staying in Green's lavish mansion, richly decorated with African art, his unstable assistant George Meda (Bill Gunn) threatens suicide. Green successfully talks him down, but later that night Meda attacks and stabs Green with a Myrthian ceremonial dagger, and then kills himself. Green survives, but on discovering the body, drinks Meda's blood; he has become a vampire endowed with immortality and a need for fresh blood. He steals several bags of blood from a doctor's office, but finds that he needs fresh victims.
Soon, Meda's estranged wife, Ganja Meda (Marlene Clark), arrives at Green's house searching for her husband. Green and Meda quickly become lovers, and she moves into Green's mansion. When she unwittingly discovers her husband's corpse frozen in Green's wine cellar she is initially upset, but then agrees to marry her host, who turns her into a vampire as well. Ganja is initially horrified by her new existence, but Green teaches her how to survive. Soon he brings home a young man whom Ganja seduces and then kills. The two vampires dispose of the body in the water.
Eventually, Green becomes disillusioned with this life and resolves to return to the Christian church headed by his chauffeur (Sam Waymon). Returning home, he kills himself by standing in front of a cross. Ganja, though saddened by his death, lives on, presumably continuing her vampiric lifestyle. The film ends with the young man Ganja had earlier killed rising out of the water, naked but alive, and running toward her.
- Marlene Clark as Ganja Meda
- Duane Jones as Dr. Hess Green
- Bill Gunn as George Meda
- Sam Waymon as Rev. Luther Williams
- Leonard Jackson as Archie
- Candece Tarpley as Girl in Bar
- Richard Harrow as Dinner Guest
- John Hoffmeister as Jack Sargent
- Betty Barney as Singer in Church
- Mabel King as Queen of Myrthia
In 1972, independent production company Kelly-Jordan Enterprises approached William Gunn, a black artist known at the time as a playwright and stage director, with the idea of making a "black vampire film" with a budget of $350,000. Though Gunn later told a friend, "The last thing I want to do is make a black vampire film," he accepted the project with the intention of using vampirism as metaphor for addiction. The producers' relative inexperience at filmmaking afforded Gunn a high degree of creative control over the film. Filming occurred at Apple Bee Farms (Croton-on-Hudson, New York) and the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. The film had its premiere in 1973 and was selected for the Critics' Week at the Cannes Film Festival that year.
The movie received positive reviews. It won the critics' choice prize at Cannes, and James Murray of the Amsterdam News hailed it as "the most important Black produced film since Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song." Writing in 2014, critic Scott Foundas described the film as a "landmark 1973 indie that used vampirism as an ingenious metaphor for black assimilation, white cultural imperialism and the hypocrisies of organized religion."
The film's producers, Kelly and Jordan, were discouraged by the poor box office numbers and unhappy with the film's unusual structure and style. Kelly-Jordan took the film out of distribution and sold it to another company, Heritage Enterprises, which issued a rescored and drastically recut version under the title Blood Couple. This version (disowned by Gunn) was released on VHS under various titles. Despite Heritage Enterprises' compromised release, the original cut was donated to the Museum of Modern Art, whose screenings, according to writer Chris Fujiwara, "helped build [the film's] reputation as a neglected classic of independent African American cinema."
The film was remade by Spike Lee in 2014 as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. The script is credited to both Lee and Gunn. It has been described as "a remake — at times scene for scene and shot for shot — of Ganja and Hess."
- Harris, Brandon. "Bill Gunn Surfaces at BAM." Filmmaker Magazine. 31 Mar. 2010. Retrieved 18 February 2011. 
- Moore, Steven. Introduction to The Letters of William Gaddis. Ed. Steven Moore. Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 2013. 9.
- Fujiwara, Chris. "Ganja and Hess". www.tcm.com. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
- Jane, Ian (27 April 2012). "Ganja & Hess: Kino Classics Remastered Edition (Blu-ray)". DVD Talk.
- Christley, Jaime N. (8 May 2012). "Ganja & Hess". Slant Magazine.
- Rabin, Nathan (9 May 2012). "Ganja & Hess". The A.V. Club.
- Harris, Brandon (6 July 2014). "Spike Lee: "The black audience is not monolithic"". Salon.
- Obenson, Tambay A. (16 April 2012). "Kino Lorber Releasing Restored Version Of "Ganja & Hess" on DVD and Blu-ray 5/8 (Cover Art & Specs)".
- Diawara, Manthia; Klotman, Phyllis (1990). "Ganja and Hess: Vampires, Sex, and Addictions,". Jump Cut. 30: 30–36. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
- Foundas, Scott."Film Review: ‘Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.’" 23 June 2014. Variety.
- "Spike Lee's Da Sweet Blood of Jesus pseudo-remake of 1973's Ganja & Hess". 16 April 2012.