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Reefer Madness (1936)

Reefer Madness (1936)

The motion picture you are about to witness may startle you. It would not have been possible, otherwise, to sufficiently emphasize the frightful toll of the new drug menace which is destroying the youth of America in alarmingly increasing numbers. Marihuana is that drug - a violent narcotic - an unspeakable scourge - The Real Public Enemy Number One! Its first effect is sudden violent, uncontrollable laughter, then come dangerous hallucinations - space expands - time slows down, almost stands still... fixed ideas come next, conjuring up monstrous extravagances - followed by emotional disturbances, the total inability to direct thoughts, the loss of all power to resist physical emotions... leading finally to acts of shocking violence... ending often in incurable insanity. In picturing its soul- destroying effects no attempt was made to equivocate. The scenes and incidents, while fictionized for the purposes of this story, are based upon actual research into the results of Marihuana addiction. If their stark reality will make you think, will make you aware that something must be done to wipe out this ghastly menace, then the picture will not have failed in its purpose... Because the dread Marihuana may be reaching forth next for your son or daughter... or yours... or YOURS!

At its time, Reefer Madness was probably one of (if not the) most controversial movie ever to be released. The movie follows the events that unfold in one apartment, where a group of people gather together to smoke reefer, and how with time it all gets out of control... it's about marijuana, the menace to society, the public enemy #1, but fast forward to modern time and these threat levels will probably seem drastically exaggerated, and dopily portrayed, too.

It's an old movie yes, which is definitely reflected in the lack of motion between scenes, the strange way the people talked (get with the times right?), the tenser style of acting and cliche way to portray certain events, not to mention the take on the topic itself, but at the same time it does feature some pretty creative angles to capture darker scenes, and hallucinations, falls out windows, etc... it bugs me a bit that the characters portrayed all showcase an unjustified form of insanity as soon as they smoke just a little bit of that reefer, but I watched this more to have watched the classic it is, not so much to experience something authentic by modern standard, and as such I took the time to appreciate the filmography, and choreography, that made it what it was: an unconventional and for it's time highly creative film.

Keep in mind that this movie is eighty years old at this point! That's old. Filming capabilities were limited then, so if you do give this one a shot you'd better appreciate it for what it was: a work of art. Or for a laugh.

If you have a hard time doing either maybe best watch something a bit more modern, like the musical 2005 incarnation with the same name that seems to parody the elements of old rather than try to portray the threat in as serious a way as they do here. It doesn't work as well now, but I'm trying to imagine what it must've been like to watch this back when it was all new.

Maybe a documentary would've stood the test of time better, since the introductory scene where they show what types of devices drugs have been smuggled in was maybe the most interesting part. They show the drugs too. It's a small but interesting glimpse into how they handled the poisons of their time, though claiming this to be a bigger threat than all of the highly addictive synthetic variants of the time, like heroine... well, I'm glad this propaganda didn't work as well as it was meant to. I'm glad we've grown to new heights of cultural integrity and know-how since the thirties.

Yet maybe reefer was a whole different kind of drug back in the old days too. Stronger? More potent? Maybe people reacted to it differently then, than they do today? It'd be interesting to know if the research of old is entirely disapproved at this point, or if some change actually occurred somewhere along the line.

I watched both the colorized and the original version of this btw, and they're both interesting in their own way. I'd say go for color if you can, as they have an interesting way of coloring the smoke, and work on the hallucinations a bit more than the original. A different shade of a classic; a little bit closer to reality, I reckon. Curious how they do that in the next one.

Overall a good watch.

 rated 3/5: not bad


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