Friday, April 10, 2020

Top 20 Women and Weed Movies (Part 1)

It's somehow fitting that this April, when the whole month is 4/20, we should be forced into being couch potatoes while safely sheltering at home.

Here then, for your home viewing enjoyment, is the first installment in our Top 20 Women and Weed Movies, most of which are available on streaming services. Pass the munchees, and watch 'em stoned for maximum diversion.

#20. Lady Bird (2017)
The movie that won Greta Gerwig a scriptwriting Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for best director depicts actresses Saoirse Ronan and Beanie Feldstein trying some "primo" and feeling the first effects, like getting the munchees and giggling joyously. Oh, and not feeling your arms. Seems the gals were subtly stoned on prom night too, leading to the line, "We ate all the cheese." Gerwig went on to direct Ronan in "Little Women," by and about Tokin' Woman Louisa May Alcott.
On Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play. 

#19. The Family Stone (2005) 
Sarah Jessica Parker plays an uptight perfectionist who travels with her fiancé to meet his family at Christmas and loosens up with the help of the holy herb and her boyfriend's brother, played by Luke Wilson (ever the appealing stoner). Diane Keaton plays the cancer-stricken family matriarch who takes "special" medicinal brownies. SJP also toked on TV's "Sex in the City" and is one of the few actress who can actually play "stoned" (not drunk or stupid; more giggly and aware).
On Hulu (subscription); rentable on other services.

#18. How to Make an American Quilt (1995)
Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn and Winona Ryder share an intergenerational joint on the front porch in this film, where Ryder's character comes home to write a dissertation on quilting while she ponders a marriage proposal. A rare appearance by Maya Angelou as the master quilter is a treat; Lady Jean Simmons also appears. From the book by Whitney Otto, based in a town called Grass, California.

#17. Being John Malkovich (1999)
Catherine Keener rolls a joint for her admirers Cameron Diaz and John Cusak in this audacious comedy that intriguingly explores the nature of consciousness, who controls it, and what it takes to break out of the confining mundaneness of life. I think my favorite moment is when it's revealed why a chimpanzee has post-traumatic stress. "You don't know how lucky you are being a monkey," Cusak tells him. "Because consciousness is a terrible curse."
On Hulu (subscription); rentable on other services. 


#16. Life of Crime (2014)
Jennifer Aniston stars as a society wife kidnapped by a couple of pot-smoking Detroit hoods in this Elmore Leonard film. Aided by a supporting cast starting with her heinous husband (Tim Robbins) and his scheming girlfriend (Isla Fisher, who played Mary Jane in the Scooby Doo movie and Myrtle in The Great Gatsby), Aniston has a little fun as a hostage laughing at the classic "Sanford and Son" scene involving marijuana. In the film, as so often in life, smoking a little weed leads to a woman looking at the world in a different, better way.
On Hulu (subscription); rentable on other services. 

#15. Finding Your Feet (2017)
This charming British film stars Imelda Stanton as solid senior citizen Saundra who moves in with her Bohemian sister Bif (Celia Imrie) after leaving her cheating husband. She soon joins a dance troupe and re-discovers life, love, and marijuana. "I'm not like you, Bif," Saundra protests. "I just can't open up like a lotus flower." With the aid of a little weed, she finds her footing and begins to flower herself.
On Hulu (subscription); rentable on other services. 

#14. The Time of Our Lives (2017)
Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine) plays Priscilla, a pensioner housewife out on an adventure with Joan Collins, in a tour-de-force performance as a faded movie star. Priscilla ends up smoking a joint "for her arthritis" with Franco Nero; both actors were 76 years old when they played the scene. Collins (Pauline, not Joan) also appeared in 2016's Dough wherein a bakery business suddenly becomes popular when it starts adding weed to its recipes.

#13. The Women (2008)
In this remake of a Clare Booth Luce–penned movie, Meg Ryan plays a cheated-on wife who goes on a retreat where she puffs pot proffered by a shamanesque Bette Midler, and subsequently finds her way to her own bliss. You'll have to go to the deleted scenes on the DVD to hear Ryan saying, "I'm really stoned." The all-female, star-studded cast includes Candice Bergen (who was the first medical marijuana patient on TV in "Murphy Brown"). Midler also inhales onscreen as Mel Gibson’s psychotherapist in What Women Want (2000), although the scene is sometimes cut when the movie airs on TV.

#12. Ocean's 8 (2018)
Rihanna smokes in more ways than one playing a Rasta computer hacker on the female A-list, multiethnic jewel-robbing team (Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kalig, Awkwafina, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham-Carter, Anne Hathaway) working to pull off a daring and intricate caper. It just goes to show you that girls can do whatever the boys do, even (or especially) when we're stoned.

#11. I Love You Alice B. Toklas (1968)
Breakthrough for its time, this Paul Mazursky film is really more of a male fantasy about a middle-aged man (Peter Sellers) who takes a walk on the wild weed side with Leigh Taylor-Young, who is luminous in her debut role as the hippie baker of brownies. Actresses Jo Van Fleet and Joyce Van Patten inadvertently get in on the brownie action, and this trailer is priceless. Mazursky brought out Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice the following year, where Natalie Wood and Dyan Cannon partake (with no perceivable effects).

Also see: Top Women and Weed Movies #1 through 10, and some Honorable Mentions too.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Mark Twain, Fannie & Fred, and Hasheesh Candy in Old San Francisco

RICHARDS & CO., a San Francisco pharmacy that advertised Hasheesh Candy in 1872, was on the corner of Sansome & Clay streets on the outskirts of Chinatown, near the financial district and (today) the Transamerica Pyramid and Mark Twain Plaza. Clay was the street on which Twain was spotted after having ingested hashish in 1865. It's possible he procured his hasheesh from Richards & Co.

CF Richards & Co., wholesale drugs and chemicals, was defended by Twain for misinterpreting a prescription in 1864. It is depicted in William Hahn’s 1872 painting "Market Scene, Sansome Street, SF" (below), the first major painting of a contemporary California subject. It hangs at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento.

An interesting little advertising/PR campaign (or so it seems) appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1872. It began on September 19, with this item touting the medical uses of “magic” hasheesh conserves:

MAGIC CONSERVES – Debilitated, Hypochondriac Sufferer, physically and mentally in need of an invigorator, pleasant and harmless, use this Hasheesh Confection. For sale at RICHARDS’ corner Clay and Sansome. Price, #1 per box. Send for circular, P. O. Box 1733.

The following day, recreational use was included in this ad:

MAGIC CONSERVES – All who are afflicted use Hasheesh Confection and find relief. Those who seek for novelty use it for its exhilarating effects. Price $1 per box. Send for unique circular, P. O. Box 1733 or RICHARDS & CO., Druggists. For sale by druggists generally. 

One month later, on October 20, this item appeared just over the Church Notices:

ALL who have used the MAGIC CONSERVES (Hasheesh) speak of it in the most glowing terms. Two days later, another ad previewed a coming article: TRY THE MAGIC CONSERVES (HASHEESH), and if your dreams do not equal Bayard Taylor’s or De Quincy’s, write to Box 393.


On October 25, this curious personal ad was published:

Fannie—I DID TRY THE HASHEESH; I will be there to-night. FRED.

Perhaps Fred tried hasheesh at Fannie’s suggestion, or so it would appear. Or perhaps an inventive public relations man placed the ad himself.

An ad the following day simply said:

OFFICE for MAGIC CONSERVES (Hasheesh), Box 393.

Finally, on October 27 a long article with copious quotes from Bayard Taylor appeared in the Chronicle under this headline:

PECULIAR DELIGHT. In the Realms of Bliss – Heaven on Earth—The Wonderful Hasheesh Candy—What the Great Bayard Taylor Says of it. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Opera's Carmen, The Gypsy Drug Smuggler

Elina Garanca as Carmen with Roberto Alagna as Don José at the Met
As a treat for those of us (almost everyone, it seems) who are "sheltering in place" these days, the Metropolitan Opera is streaming, free of charge, an opera every night this week. Last night was Bizet's Carmen, the story of a tempting and  tempestuous Andalusian gypsy (more properly, Romani) who lures her soldier/lover Don José into the freewheeling world of a band of smugglers—but just what they were smuggling is not revealed.

Carmen is based on the 1845 novella by Prosper Mérimée, who traveled to Spain and its region in 1830, where María Manuela Kirkpatrick de Grevignée, the Countess of Montijo, told him a story that became Carmen. Mérimée, also a noted archaeologist and historian, was studying the Romani people and so made the character one of them, of whom he wrote, "Their eyes, set with a decided slant, are large, very black, and shaded by long and heavy lashes. Their glance can only be compared to that of a wild creature. It is full at once of boldness and shyness, and in this respect their eyes are a fair indication of their national character, which is cunning, bold, but with 'the natural fear of blows,' like Panurge" [a crafty character in Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, thought to be about hemp].

"The men generally call themselves grooms, horse doctors, mule-clippers; to these trades they add the mending of saucepans and brass utensils, not to mention smuggling and other illicit practices," Mérimée writes. "The women tell fortunes, beg, and sell all sorts of drugs, some of which are innocent, while some are not."

Monday, March 9, 2020

Marion Sunshine and Marijuana

While putting together my list of Top Ten Marijuana Jazz Tunes by Women last year, I learned that the song "When I Get Low I Get High," recorded in 1936 by Ella Fitzgerald, was written by actress, singer and songwriter Marion Sunshine.

Sunshine is best remembered as a songwriter and performer who helped introduce Latin music to American audiences. The prestigious Julliard school of music offers a scholarship in her name.

Born Mary Tunstall Ijames in Louisville, Kentucky on May 15, 1894, Sunshine began performing on the vaudeville circuit at the age of five, along with her older sister Clare, who was dubbed Florence Tempest because of her more tempestuous personality (apparently Mary was the Sunny sister). Starting with the first Ziegfeld Follies in 1907, Marion appeared in a dozen Broadway shows through 1926.

Between 1908 and 1916, Sunshine also appeared in 26 short films, many of them with her sister and billed as "Sunshine and Tempest," the title of a three-reel Rialto short produced in 1915. A promotional article about the film extolls, "As motion picture players the charming young actresses are great successes. Their clear cut beauty, their alertness, and their ready intelligence gives them more than the average screen value."

After becoming involved with Cuban businessman Eusebio Azpiazú in 1922, Sunshine began translating lyrics and writing songs for his brother Justo Ángel Azpiazú, better known as Don Azpiazú, a prominent Havana band leader. The 1930 rendition of "The Peanut Vendor," with English lyrics by Sunshine, became the first million-selling single in the history of Latin music. She and her husband engineered Azpiazu's 1931 tour, and she sang "The Peanut Vendor" with his band across the country. It may be Sunshine singing the song in this 1933 animated film.

Nicknamed "The Rumba Lady," Sunshine co-wrote other rumba hits such as "Mango Mangue," recorded by Celia Cruz and Charlie ParkerEating mangoes before smoking marijuana is said to improve the high, and the rumba was associated with marijuana culture in the 1930s: Louis Armstrong recorded a rumba version of "La Cucaracha" in 1935.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Men We'd Love to Toke With: Oscar Levant

Looking up Tokin' Woman Elizabeth Taylor on her recent 88th birthday, I came across this passage from her biographer Ellis Amburn: "Elizabeth sometimes ditched [second husband Michael] Wilding to slip off to Oscar Levant's Beverly Hills house with Monty [Montgomery Clift, a known marijuana smoker], where the pianist serenaded them with Gershwin tunes as they whiled away afternoons and early evenings.” It sounded like a stoner's dream date to me.

I'd seen Levant in "An American in Paris" (pictured), where he plays Gene Kelly's insouciant sidekick, uttering the unforgettable line, "It's not a pretty face, I grant you. But underneath its flabby exterior is an enormous lack of character."

Sunday, March 1, 2020

High Maintenance "Backflash" Episode Illuminates the Life of a Lighter

If you're ever wondered what happened to the many lighters you've lost sharing a joint or a pipe with your fellow pot smokers, the current episode of the HBO series "High Maintenance" answers the question in sweet and thought-provoking fashion.

The "Backflash" episode follows a lighter through the many hands that hold it, starting with a couple of teenage girls who skip out of a religious campfire circle where a goofy hippie plays Joan Osborne's "What If God Was One of Us." They share a pipe wearing T-shirts that say, "His Universal Flame....Let Your Light Shine (1999)"

One girl ends up with the lighter, to which she affixes a picture of the sheroic vampire slayer Sarah Michelle Gellar in shimmering silvery garb, making her look like a fire goddess. The lighter then travels to the girl's waitress sister, a gay couple she waits on, a young black boy and his friends, and others, taking breaks sitting in boxes or drawers, getting stripped of its color (until it's an "unlucky white") and finally painted in a psychedelic pattern. As the series so often does, "Backflash" demonstrates how pot smoking brings people together in creative, weird and wonderful ways, as they pass the Universal Flame.

Hildegarde von Bingen and Hemp in Herstory

Women's Herstory Month 2020 got off to an amazing start as NPR's "Live From Here" featured a performance of a poem and musical composition Ordo-Virtutum from 12th-century German abbess, authoress and mystic Hildegarde von Bingen:

The segment also featured Sarah Jarosz singing "Wake Up Alone" by Tokin' Woman Amy Winehouse.

In my book (now available at Target!) Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory, Hildegarde is the sole link between the ancient healing goddesses and their cannabis medicine kits, and the rediscovery of hashish by Western adventurers who traveled to the Middle East in the mid-1800s.