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Reefer Madness

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Reefer Madness is a sensationalized anti-drug propoganda film from 1936.

It was re-discovered in the early 1970s by NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and held up as an example of the government's demonization of marijuana.


Reefer Madness



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Originally titled "Tell Your Children", the film was financed by a church group and intended to be shown to parents as a morality tale attempting to teach them about the dangers of cannabis use. Soon after the film was shot, however, it was purchased by notorious exploitation filmmaker Dwain Esper, who took the liberty of cutting in salacious insert shots and applying the more scandalous title of Reefer Madness, before distributing it on the exploitation circuit. Such education-exploitation films were common in the years following adoption of the stricter version of the Production Code in 1934. Other films included Esper's own Marihuana (1936) and Elmer Clifton's Assassin of Youth (1937), and the subject of cannabis was particularly popular in the hysteria surrounding Anslinger's 1937 Marihuana Tax Act.

The film was reissued under a number of alternate titles, including The Burning Question, Dope Addict, Doped Youth and Love Madness. The concept of after-market films in film distribution had not yet been developed, especially for films that existed outside the confines of the studio system, and were therefore considered "forbidden fruit." For this reason, neither Esper nor the original filmmakers bothered to protect the film's copyright, and it eventually fell into the public domain.

In 1971, Reefer Madness was discovered in the Library of Congress archives by NORML founder Keith Stroup, who bought a print for $297, and made it the darling of pot smokers and college campuses. For this modern audience the poor production values and overacting create an uproarious comedy. Stroup is also responsible for the notion that the film was originally created as a propaganda piece. Distributing Reefer Madness to college campuses of the 1970s helped bankroll the burgeoning film company New Line Cinema.

Today, Reefer Madness is considered to be a cult classic, and one of the best examples of a midnight movie. Its fans enjoy the film for the same unintentionally campy production values that made it a hit in the 1970s. The film was spoofed in a musical of the same name, which was later made into a made-for-television film in 2005, which featured major actors such as Alan Cumming, Kristen Bell, Christian Campbell, and Ana Gasteyer.

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