This being a film school, many students know of or have seen the 1936 “documentary” Reefer Madness, the propagandist film which attempts to warn children and their parents about the “new drug menace,” reefer (aka marijuana, Mary Jane, cannabis). The basic storyline from the original film (including direct quotes) was resurrected, parodied, and exaggerated into a satirical musical which was staged off Broadway. Then, with some of the actors from the stage, the play was written into a film script and debuted at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival as Reefer Madness: the Movie Musical.
Nowadays, with reefer being arguably less dangerous than cigarettes or alcohol, the exploded alarm over marijuana translates well into satirical comedy. Even viewers, like me, who know nothing about weed, still get a kick over the violent, sexual, and over-exaggerated affects the joints have over those in the movie that smoke them. Dope instantly turns women into sexual maniacs and men into cannibals.
If the satire isn’t funny enough, there are some clever, catchy musical numbers throughout the film, peopled with zombies, saints and hula girls, with cameos by Jesus, Satan, Franklin D. Roosevelt, William Shakespeare, and Neve Campbell. All the actors provide their own dancing and vocals, which make for impressive dance numbers.
Alan Cumming stars as the prophetic government agent who goes town to town informing ignorant parents about the marijuana menace. Just because they don’t know about it, or have heard differing views, does not mean their children are not in horrifying danger. Amidst the ridiculousness of the tale, the film makes some excellent comments on present-day politics and society. Cumming also turns up in a few of the other scenes and musical numbers, in the role of the narrator.
The film is surprisingly silly, with random lines such as “softer than a pillow stuffed with bunnies.” Its packed full of groan-inducing catch phrases popular in the 1930’s, such as “shake a wicked calf,” “skirt,” “hip cat,” “doll face,” and “take it on the heel.” The actors have hilarious delivery, especially Kristin Bell, one of the original actors from the stage production, who plays the teenage heroine Mary Lane. Bell shifts between sweet, innocent, ditzy, high school sweetie, with tight blonde ringlets that wiggle every time she speaks, and a more modern idiom where her voice lowers and she speaks quicker, with less sweetness.
Mary and her soon-to-be steady, dimpled, well-rounded boyfriend Jimmy Harper (Christian Campbell, another original actor from the play) star as star-crossed lovers who are seduced by the local reefer peddlers (Steven Weber and Ana Gasteyer).Reefer Madness: the Movie Musical will be presented by the Purchase Film Society on February 12, at 9 p.m., in the Student Center. Tell your friends!