Friday, August 17, 2018

Of Harold and Maude, and Hal

Maude turns on Harold
It's probably no accident that Cameron Diaz's favorite movie as the title character in There's Something About Mary (1998) is Harold and Maude (1971).

In the later film, Mary and Ted (Ben Stiller) smoke a joint together after they reunite. And in Harold and Maude, Ruth Gordon (as Maude) plays an 80-year-old woman who turns a young Harold (Bud Cort) onto marijuana, enabling him to finally open up to someone about the source of his strange behavior, and learn to love life.

Gordon, one of the first women to appear onscreen with marijuana, was a multitalented stage actress and writer, who won a Tony in 1956 for her portrayal of Dolly Levi in "The Matchmaker," and co-wrote Adam's Rib for Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. When at age 72 she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Rosemary's Baby, she cracked up the crowd by saying, "I can't tell you how encouraging a thing like this is." She commented that night that, "I feel absolutely groovy."

When Harold comments after taking a toke, "I sure am picking up on vices," Maude replies, "Vice, virtue. It's best not to be too moral; you cheat yourself out of too much life. Aim above morality. If you apply that to life, then you're bound to live it fully."

Harold and Maude was directed by Hal Ashby, who is the subject of a new documentary from Amy Scott, Hal, set to premiere in select theaters soon. Ashby was known as a "dedicated pothead" who was (possibly) smeared as a cokehead too. In the trailer for the film, someone says, "Hal Ashby was obsessed with film. He'd smoke some pot and he would work all night."

Ashby's big break occurred in 1967 when he won the Academy Award for Film Editing for In the Heat of the Night, and his first film was The Landlord (1970) with Jeff BridgesAccording to Peter Biskind's book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Hal was busted for possession of marijuana while scouting locations in Canada for The Last Detail (1973) with Jack Nicholson. He went on to direct the hits Shampoo (1976) with Warren Beatty, and Bound for Glory (1976), starring David Carradine as Woody Guthrie. 

Yusuf (Cat Stevens) with Hal director Amy Scott 
Ashby's 1979 movie about Vietnam, Coming Home, starred Jon Voigt as a crippled soldier who joins the anti-war movement when he returns to the States, and won Best Acting Oscars for co-stars Voigt and Jane Fonda. But Ashby lost Best Director to Michael Cimino for The Deer Hunter, a controversial film that depicted Vietnamese as sadistic and drew picketers at the Oscar ceremony, but went on to win Best Picture. After losing the 1980 Oscar race for Being There and struggling to make more films in the reactionary 80sAshby died in 1988 of pancreatic cancer.

It's hard to imagine us getting back to a world where movies have the kind of subtlety, social consciousness and intelligent treatment of marijuana that Harold and Maude and Ashby's other films gave us, but it's encouraging that Scott, a 33-year-old female filmmaker, has taken on the subject as her directorial debut.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Yellow Journalism Pisses on American Icon Annie "Get Your Gun" Oakley

Annie Oakley as "The Western Girl"
An episode of PBS's "American Experience" reveals that Annie Oakley, the first female American superstar who was born on this day in 1860, was smeared by William Randolph Hearst's Chicago newspaper as being in jail and destitute after stealing a pair of man's pants to buy cocaine.

AP picked up the story and it ran in dozens of newspapers before it was revealed that the person arrested was a burlesque dancer posing as Oakley. Annie got her (legal) guns and sued 55 newspapers—the largest libel suit ever—even though most had printed retractions or apologies. She won 54 of the cases, including a $27,000 suit against Hearst, but the six-year struggle lost her money and career opportunities in the end.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Amazing Grace Jones Caught on Film in "Bloodlight and Bami"

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, currently in theaters and on Amazon Prime, captures the extraordinary artist that Jones is. No staid talking head-style documentary, this film is a visual statement worthy of its inspiration.

Filmmaker Sophie Finnes followed Jones for a decade, to Jamaica visiting family, on tour in Paris and New York, and to the recording studio for her 2008 album Hurricane. Concert footage of Jones's always-remarkable performances illuminate her story, particularly her poignant autobiographical lyrics.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Trump Administration Officials Try To Thwart Breast-Feeding Resolution

A front-page New York Times exposé by Andrew Jacobs reveals that the US used thuggish tactics in an attempt to derail an international resolution supporting breast feeding in Geneva this spring, no doubt at the behest of infant formula manufacturers.

"A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly," the article begins. "Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes."

"Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations. American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to 'protect, promote and support breast-feeding' and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Candy Barr: Drug War Victim

The erotic dancer known as Candy Barr was born on this date in 1935 as Juanita Dale Slusher in Edna, Texas. After her mother died when she was nine, she was ignored by a new stepmother and sexually abused by a neighbor and a babysitter. She ran away and took various jobs, eventually developing her striptease act and trademark costume—10-gallon hat, pasties, "scanty panties," a pair of six-shooters and cowboy boots.

Barr tried stage acting, but her legitimate career was derailed in 1957, when she was arrested for having a little less than four-fifths of an ounce of marijuana concealed in her bra. She maintained that she was framed by police and was only holding the pot for a friend, possibly an informant.

"We think we can convince a jury that a woman with her reputation, a woman who has done the things she has done, should go to prison," Assistant Dallas County District Attorney Bill Alexander told the Dallas Morning News after Barr's arrest. "She may be cute," Alexander told the jury in his closing argument, "but under the evidence, she's soiled and dirty."

Barr was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. "I always wanted a brick house of my own, and it looks like I am going to have one," she told an assembled crowd and news media when she walked into Goree Farm for Women in Huntsville, Texas, in December 1959.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

New Archeological Finds Point to Ancient Cannabis Use, Despite Prejudice of Some Scholars

“For as long as there has been civilization, there have been mind-altering drugs,” begins an article in the 4/20/18(!) edition of Science magazine.

Alcohol was fermented at least 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, the article continues, and psychoactive drugs “were an important part of culture. But the Near East had seemed curiously drug-free—until recently. Now, new techniques for analyzing residues in excavated jars and identifying tiny amounts of plant material suggest that ancient Near Easterners indulged in a range of psychoactive substances."

Australian archeologist David Collard, who has found signs of ritual opium use on Cyprus dating back more than 3000 years, was interviewed for the article, and said that some senior researchers consider the topic “unworthy of scholarly attention.” He told Science, “The archeology of the ancient Near East is traditionally conservative.”

By Einsamer Schütze [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0
(], from Wikimedia Commons
The Yamnaya people, who traveled from Central Asia around 3000 BCE “and left their genes in most living Europeans and South Asians,” appear to have carried cannabis, which originates in East and Central Asia, to Europe and the Middle East.” They also brought with them the wheel and possibly Indo-European languages.

The Yamnaya were part of the "corded ware culture," so named because of the cord patterns in their pottery, and possibly pointing to the use of hemp for rope.

In 2016, a team from the German Archeological Institute and the Free University, both in Berlin, found residues and botanical remains of cannabis at Yamnaya sites across Eurasia. Digs in the Caucasus have uncovered braziers containing seeds and charred remains of cannabis dating to about 3000 BCE.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Feds Squash Doctor Training on Cannabis for Pain

As reported by the Associated Press, The American Academy of Pain Medicine has cancelled its plans for a webinar in July aimed at training doctors on the use of cannabis instead of opiates for pain. The cancellation followed "a request from the U.S. government agency that provided the funding." The agency was the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“We cannot speak to the reason that SAMHSA has asked that we not proceed with this webinar, but the webinar will no longer take place,” AAPM spokeswoman Megan Drumm said in an email to AP.

Scheduled speakers for the course, titled "Opioid Prescribing Amidst Changing Cannabis Laws,” were pain doctors from the University of Texas and the University of California, San Diego. They planned to cover how to select patients for medical cannabis, appropriate products and doses, and how to “wean opioids in patients on chronic opioid therapy,” according to the course description.

A study released in March concluded that only 9% of medical schools are teaching students about cannabis as a medicine.  “I’m not surprised by the findings,” commented Mark Steven Wallace, MD, chair of the Division of Pain Medicine at UC San Diego Health and one of the speakers scheduled for the now-cancelled webinar. Dr. Wallace said there is an opportunity for experiential learning on the topic at pain clinics like his, where medical cannabis is recommended “every day.”

Dr. Wallace has observed that some chronic pain patients arrive at the clinic after having tried and responded negatively to medical marijuana. “Quite often that’s because they have not been using the right formulation or have been using too high a dose,” he said. “We find that a low dose of a strain that combines THC [tetrahydrocannabinol] with CBD [cannabidiol] is most effective, but you won’t find that mentioned in the literature or taught in the classroom.”