The Gene Siskel Film Center presents programming in the spirit of the Black Harvest Film Festival all year long!
Ganja & Hess
1973, Bill Gunn, USA, 112 min. With Duane Jones, Marlene Clark.
"Certainly the most original and intellectually ambitious of all blaxploitation films of the 70s." - Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
"Bill Gunn's epochal indie lulu...so elusive and bloody and challenging a picture that it's every bit as overwhelming now as it must have been when it won the critics' prize at Cannes in '73." - Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice
Considered a milestone of both the blaxploitation and vampire genres but too contrary to nest comfortably under either label, GANJA AND HESS (which never uses the word "vampire") was acclaimed at Cannes, then butchered and badly distributed before finally emerging as a revered cult classic. Elegant anthropology professor Dr. Hess Green (Jones of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) is infected with a blood-hunger curse through an ancient African dagger wielded by his assistant (Gunn), who soon commits suicide. The assistant's assertive wife Ganja (Clark) shows up, initiates a passionate affair with Hess, and joins him in blood-drinking bliss until his religious awakening comes between them. Characteristically for Gunn, the plot accounts for only a fraction of the film's rich tapestry. Shifting gears every few minutes and packed with disturbing and provocative images, GANJA AND HESS is a disorienting and haunting experience. Spike Lee's 2015 remake DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS only enhanced critics' memories of the more potent original, and this new 4K restoration follows decades of truncated versions and fuzzy transfers. New 4K DCP digital restoration. (MR)
1980, Bill Gunn, USA, 165 min. With Vertamae Grosvenor, Walter Cotton.
"A nearly forgotten early '80s video epic from the brilliant GANJA AND HESS director Bill Gunn is an unexpected aesthetic marvel and a major rediscovery." - Howard Hampton, Film Comment
"Nothing less than an explosion of the television form...The gritty materiality of PERSONAL PROBLEMS is initially a shock but soon proves to be a font of exaltation." - Chuck Bowen, Slant
Conceived by author/provocateur Ishmael Reed (Mumbo Jumbo) as a two-part "experimental soap opera," PERSONAL PROBLEMS was filmed on 3/4-inch videotape, aired in a couple of cities, and then completely disappeared. Restored from the original camera tapes, it is now available for the first time in nearly forty years, and it has been acclaimed by critics as a landmark work of black independent cinema. The story centers loosely on Johnnie Mae Brown, a Harlem emergency-room nurse involved in an adulterous affair with a jazz musician. But director Gunn's loose, wide-ranging style enlarges her story into a rich mosaic of African American life in New York, with extended set-piece scenes of direct-to-the-camera interviews, hospital crises, hen parties, family quarrels, wakes, musical performances, and political debates. Note: There will be a 15-minute intermission. New 2K DCP digital restoration. (MR)