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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Vampire > Supernatural > Voodoo > Addiction > Sex > Erotic > Ganja & Hess (1973/Kino Classics Blu-ray)/Shame (2011/Fox Blu-ray w/DVD)

Ganja & Hess (1973/Kino Classics Blu-ray)/Shame (2011/Fox Blu-ray w/DVD)


Picture: B-/B & C     Sound: B-/B & B-     Extras: B/C+     Films: B+/B-



Severe addiction is an issue you rarely see tackled in filmmaking of any kind.  It is not easy and can be a very ugly affair, but once in a while, a film tries to take it on and the following films are both successes in doing so and especially because they are able to deal honestly with human sexuality.



This is the third time we have covered Bill Gunn’s brilliant, highly underrated Ganja & Hess (1973), this time in an unexpected HD restoration issued on Blu-ray from Kino Classics.  Out previous coverage of what is one of the greatest vampire films ever made and then some, is in the following DVD editions from All Day Entertainment and its owner/film art advocated David Kalat:

Complete Edition DVD



Earlier DVD




To explain again, Duane Jones of Romero’s original Night Of The Living Dead (1968, see our import Blu-ray coverage elsewhere on this site) is Dr. Hess, a man who has a strange problem.  He is immortal, he cannot kill himself and he is a blood-hungry vampire.  The film begins with ominous singing and sound design set to a statue montage, then we move to the oppressive world of the gospel church, whose salvation will only be ironic and failed.  Other characters will slowly be introduced.


As we see things from everyone’s point of view, there is an overreaching sense of being trapped in a supernatural world of doom, but the flesh, blood, violence and physicality of mortality is as palpable as anything and this is all taking place with upper class types.  However, as is the tradition of Stoker’s Dracula, any power and wealth (including that of the church) is rotting.  Dr. Hess is an archeologist who has discovered a lost African civilization, but one that might have been purposely buried as it may be a connection to the evil he now as to face.


Why this still has not found the audience Romero’s original Night Of The Living Dead and Hooper’s original Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974, also on Blu-ray a few times on this site) have is amazing.  Maybe it is because it was almost a lost film, has an all African American cast (including Mabel King as the disturbing head of the lost civilization, knowing a dark secret that could claim us all in a really good performance that will surprise those who know her from the hit TV sitcom What’s Happening) and its distributor cut it up and dumped it.  That move actually killed them as a company in the short and long run, but this film still survives and endures.


I will let you find out more about the film by reading the other reviews or really, getting this disc (or DVD if you must) and seeing it for yourself.  I always get something new out of the film, including how complex and smart it is.  This time, I started to make the complex visual connection between it and Carl Theodore Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932), another horror classic that is underrated and at least somewhat as lost.  The film was important enough to fix and save all over again in HD this time, but Ganja & Hess ultimately is in its uncut form, still far ahead of its time, ahead of the Black New Wave and both African American filmmakers and Horror genre filmmakers are far behind catching up with it nearly 40 years later and counting.  If you have never seen it, consider it a must see film.


Extras repeat the later DVD including script and essay documents accessible though BD-ROM (vs. the DVD-ROM of the previous DVD), plus a Photo Gallery, 29 minutes long The Blood Of The Thing featurette from the 1998 DVD and a terrific feature length audio commentary track (hear it only after seeing the film) with Producer Chiz Schultz, Director of Photography James Hinton, Composer Sam Waymon and Ganja herself, Marlene Clark.



The other film is Director Steve McQueen’s Shame (2011) with Michael Fassbinder as a man who loves sex so much, that it rules his life, he is addicted to it and when he is not having all kinds of sex with women in any situation he can find, he is watching it on line, in print, on video and as a voyeur.  All is well in his world, as far as this lifestyle and problem can last, until his sister (the underrated Carey Mulligan) shows up and disrupts his life and therefore, addiction pattern.  Not that he was not heading for trouble to begin with, but things are about to change and get worse.


Rated NC-17, the film has plenty of sex, nudity and explicit sexually situations (forget about the language, which is also brutal), yet for all that freedom and flesh, it never seems as sexual and raw as Ganja & Hess with its R-rating showing how overly conservative (and therefore dishonest) cinema has become in four decades, how used we have become to sex on screen & in media and how much more you can do with the Horror genre than just dramas.


Fassbinder is bold, daring and impressive here, totally convincing in his role and totally convincing as he becomes very slowly but surely gutted out and undone by his addiction, though it never seems as life threatening as it should or could.  Somehow the mortality is not palpable enough, even when his risky behavior starts to cross over into dangerous new territory.  We see him slowly looking worse, more gutted out and his sexual appeal dissipating with it, which is not as easy to do as it looks.  A few moments will remind one of the banality of big business and big money from the likes of American Psycho (though this is a better film) and I give all involved credit for making a mature, adult film that works well, even if it still did not go as far as I wanted it to.  One of 2011’s best films, it is a must-see.


Extras include Digital Copy for PC and PC portable devices, four featurettes on the making of the film including one on Fassbinder and a Fox Movie Channel piece promoting the film.


The 1080p 1.66 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Ganja is a nice improvement from the previously restored DVD editions with more picture information, better color range, more detail and Video Red that is much more film-like than ever.  Originally shot in the Super 16mm format, this version is from a culmination of worn 35mm prints that the Museum of Modern Art and new backers of saving the film, The Film Foundation, used to produce a new 35mm negative.  The results are impressive given the film’s history of being chopped up, censored and neglected.


Director of Photography James Hinton’s work here is masterful, shot for a big screen and despite some grain (heavier in some scenes, but not as much of a problem in such a film) and detail limits from this being a blow-up.  For the first time in decades, we can see even more of the atmosphere and density the filmmakers intended.  This was a pleasant surprise and it outperforms the DVDs with ease.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 AVC @ 38 MBPS digital High Definition image transfer on Shame was shot in the old Techniscope format, originally created by Technicolor Italy using only two perforations per frame.  That made for grainy films, even when the format was printed in its native dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor form.  Films shot this way not using that process were known as Chromoscope until Technicolor dropped dye-transfer printing, so the name no longer meant the same thing.


Using the newest film stocks, this looks really good and you would think this might be Super 35mm, but it is far better than an HD shoot, plus only film could capture the fleshtones needed for the narrative to work.  Director of Photography Sean Bobbitt, B.S.C., lensed McQueen’s critical independent hit Hunger and uses the widescreen frame very effectively.  The detail and depth on this Blu-ray is about what this way of shooting film can deliver and that looks fine, solid and consistent throughout with good color (even when it is manipulated), good detail and depth.  The anamorphically enhanced image on the DVD is not bad, but no match for the Blu-ray at its best.


The PCM 2.0 Mono on Ganja is also a nice improvement from the lossy Dolby Digital on the previous DVDs and the restoration efforts took the best of the available, surviving optical mono tracks and make the film sound warmer, richer and fuller throughout down to the impressive score by Sam Waymon.  The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Shame is as well rounded as its image and even though there are silent moments and many dialogue-only moments, fine sound recording (note the mix of hit songs with Harry Escott’s subtle scoring) and a soundfield with accurate soundstage throughout make this a sound mix with character that works and forwards the narrative.  The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVD is not bad, but no match for the Blu-ray’s superior lossless playback performance.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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