Cannabis Culture: Hotpot
Emperor of Pot
1999-05-28, Pete Brady (Sneak preview from Cannabis Culture #19, July/Aug)
Emperor of Hemp
By Pete Brady
“Emperor of Hemp,” journalist Jeff Meyers’s documentary film about the life and cannabis advocacy of author-activist Jack Herer, is comprehensive, educational and powerful. It’s the first marijuana film that weaves a coherent tapestry connecting cannabis, hemp, youth culture and prohibition. And because Meyers and director Jeff Jones have a great eye for detail, finely-honed editing and a compelling audiovisual style, the film packs an emotional and intellectual punch that will hit people on all sides of the cannabis debate.
Using Herer’s life as an anchor for the film’s major themes, Emperor shows how American government propaganda convinced Herer and most other Americans coming of age in the 1950’s that marijuana was a demon weed that caused reefer madness. Herer hated marijuana and “believed America was always the good guy,” the film tells us. Amidst a backdrop of poignant footage showing 1960’s hippies and anti- war protesters dancing, smoking herb and getting beat up by police, Meyers chronicles Herer’s enlightenment, culminating in his realization that a government that lies about marijuana probably lies about everything else.
The formerly conservative family man turned against the repressive values of the status quo he had embraced, and in 1973 co-authored a marijuana cartoon book called “Grass.” He instantly became famous as a pot expert, even though he was still wearing plastic jackets and polyester pants, even though he knew hardly anything about pot. When people started telling Herer that marijuana was hemp, he started his lifelong crusade of research and advocacy, a crusade that led him to the startling and prophetic conclusion that hemp and marijuana could beneficially replace almost every other source of food, fiber, building material, paper, fuel, and medicine.
Herer opened the modern world’s first hemp store, in wacky Venice Beach, California, began political activism to legalize cannabis, single-handedly proved that the US government had lied when it said it never made the 1940’s pro-hemp film “Hemp for Victory,” and spent time in federal prison (thanks to Ronald Reagan), during which he finally had enough solitude to write the first draft of “The Emperor Wears No Clothes.” The rest is history, and Meyers uses historical footage, cartoons, still photos and music to vividly recreate events and ideas that influenced Herer and the war on cannabis.
Onscreen are most of the heroes of the cannabis revival – Dennis Peron, Ed Rosenthal, Keith Stroup among them. And there are also great one-liners from Herer: “This used to be the land of the free, now it’s the land of the pee.” Emperor is an extremely compelling and professional documentary, but it is also art, a poetic plea to end the drug war, and a frightening portrayal of governmental and police abuses.
You’ll find yourself angry and heartbroken watching DEA agents bust people and street police bust the heads of unarmed protesters. You’ll be moved by the piano interludes that accompany shots of Herer passionately stating that it’s an “injustice” if even one person is in jail for marijuana. You’ll laugh at clever juxtapositions of quotes from political leaders and activists from different eras, juxtapositions showing the sinister stupidity of drug war propaganda.
“Emperor of Hemp” is a movie that can be shown to your conservative granny, police academies or a group of teenagers. They’ll all get the message, delivered with subtlety, fun and class, that cannabis prohibition is a war crime. This compelling film is not just a tool for changing hearts and minds – it’s also an homage. Jack Herer is a 60-year-old man with severe health problems; his zeal to legalize cannabis causes him to neglect his medical problems – he’s giving his life for the cause. Jack’s strong, caring voice, delivered from his bearded face in between tokes of the powerful cannabis named “Jack Herer,” may not always be with us in the flesh. But Meyers has forever memorialized the righteous spirit of this heroic man, and the plant and people he loves. Emperor of Hemp is in final production, and will be available solely through the production company’s website, www.emperorofhemp.com, in June.
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