Collector's Edition (1973)
Black anthropologist Dr. Hess Green (Duane Jones) finds that his new assistant (writer/director Bill Gunn) is more than a little unstable when the man attacks and stabs Hess with a ancient ritual dagger and then commits suicide. The attack with the dagger has two effects upon Hess: he becomes immortal, but he also develops an unnatural taste for human blood. The arrival of the assistant's wife, Ganja (Marlene Clark) complicates matters further. Though she discovers her husband's body in a basement freezer, her relationship with Hess continues to blossom and deepen, as the lady has an addiction of her own: control and power
Ganja and Hess has a very troubled history. When the distributing company discovered that Bill Gunn had delivered a complex, often surreal art film when all they wanted was a blaxploitation vampire flick, they recut the movie into Blood Couple, causing Gunn and others to disown it. It's been known by at least six different video titles over the years. This version represents Gunn's original vision, minted from recovered 35mm elements. The movie works on so many different levels, concerning not only various forms of addiction, but problems stemming from cultural differences, the anomie that results from disconnection with one's ancestry, the power of religion on even the lives of 'unbelievers'... this is not the proper forum for an examination of the film's deeper meanings, but it deserves its growing reputation as a landmark film.
There are some blemishes apparent on the film, and the picture sometimes becomes shockingly grainy, but all these are to be expected from a movie which was shot on Super 16mm and then blown up to 35mm! The transfer preserves the thoughtful color palette and camera compositions, and pushes the source material to the limits of its clarity, allowing the viewer to truly appreciate the design work and artistry the filmmakers managed to pull off under a minuscule budget. Although it is recorded in mono, the soundtrack supports the surreal imagery breathtakingly - the sound alone can often make your head swim.
There's a very nice photo gallery, containing crisp, clean publicity photos shot for the original production. The essay on the film's travails by Tim Lucas and David Walker, originally published in Video Watchdog and likely instrumental in stirring interest in restoring the film, is excerpted here, but printed in a poorly considered color scheme that leads to eyestrain and headaches. The full essay is available on All Day Entertainment's Website in a much more readable format.
The true treasure here is the audio commentary, provided by producer Chiz Schultz, director of photography James E. Hinton, composer Samuel Waymon and co-star Marlene Clark. These folks sound exactly like what they are, a group of old friends come together to talk about old times. Though it is heavy on the reminiscing, it never fails to be informative and interesting, and is possibly one of the best commentary tracks I have ever heard.
Which is pure gravy when one considers that Gunn's original vision was nearly lost for all time due to the short-sightedness of people used to looking only at the bottom line. Once more, kudos to All Day Entertainment for not only preserving a film so very far from the mainstream, but for caring enough to do it right.
Special thanks to Joe Bannerman for pointing the way to the Watchdog essay.
Dr. Freex, 3/15/00