Saturday, April 21, 2018

Love musicals? Try John Howarth and Michael Fields' MARYJANE: A MUSICAL POTUMENTARY

Where did this very enjoyable and surprisingly encompassing movie -- MARYJANE: A Musical Potumentary -- come from, and why isn't it receiving a more major release? To answer that first question, the film is based on a stage musical put together by Michael Fields (shown below), first produced by Dell'Arte International (where Fields is part of the staff), a theater and school located in Humboldt Country, California (and yes, Humboldt is probably best-known as the "pot" capital of the USA, if not the entire world).

Why isn't the film getting the kind of release that it deserves? Probably for a number of not-so-good reasons, beginning with the fact that it's pro pot (Bill Maher would certainly approve), which is still a no-no in certain circles, despite marijuana's ever-increasing legality. Although the film won a Best Musical award at the Oregon International Film Festival (OK: it's not Cannes), there are no "names" attached to the movie save that of Ed Asner, who
has but a very small role in the film and does not appear until nearly the finale. Despite this lack of names there are some immensely talented folk involved in the musical -- from the several people who wrote its songs, to the performers themselves, to the director/  cinematographer/editor and co-screenwriter, John Howarth, shown at right). The theater production is said to have been the most successful ever produced by this company, and it's easy enough to understand why: Its subject matter could hardly be more "right" for the location nor more topical, too, for the entire nation.

To make the transfer from stage to film, Mr. Howarth has done some very clever stuff: inserting timely documentary-type interviews with police and fire department personnel (as below) who talk about the specific pot-produced problems that marijuana growing increases regarding the necessary protection of the community at large. Not to mention what weed production has done to the local ecology. Not good.

While the musical is definitely more pro pot than not, it also manages -- quite well, too -- to let us see the whole picture of a community whose very livelihood (not only for the growers and sellers but for so many other local businesses that thrive on the pot economy) has come to depend almost entirely on this product.

And yet the movie's never preachy nor finger-wagging. Instead, via one highly enjoyable musical number after another (there are said to be 16 in all), the ideas here come to wonderful fruition in the charming and funny lyrics that are also sometimes surprisingly smart and dark. (The music is good, too: often bouncy and buoyant, occasionally emotional and moving.)

Maryjane: A Musical Potumentary makes wonderful fun of its subject, as well as recognizing its many benefits. It addresses what will doubtless arrive once pot is completely legal and big business begins to put these small businesses out of business. A song such as I Am the Industry pleads in its own nasty way to keep pot illegal, while I Just Wanna Get High asks why liquor is legal but pot is not.

The adorable Humboldt Honey satirizes the hippie ladies of the town; The Rasta Tea Party offers up pot's "spiritual" side with its own side dish of satire; the beautiful What Have I Done, My Son and Child are hugely moving numbers sung with great passion and feeling.

Maybe the best of all is the spectacular song and dance set to an Hispanic style addressing the "trimmigrants": those workers, visitors and locals, who trim the marijuana and make pretty good money doing it. This particular number is a knockout.

Toward the end, as someone sings, "I'd like to teach the world to smoke in perfect harmony," you'll suddenly become aware, not just of satirizing that old Coke pop-song jingle, but also of how beautifully some of these numbers are being rendered -- in perfect harmony.

The cast could hardly be bettered -- many of them hail from the Dell'Arte alma matter -- as does the leading lady, Joan Schirle (near left and below), who is simply terrific whether acting, singing, dancing, whatever.

TrustMovies admits that he was not expecting much from this unknown-to-him little movie when he sat down to view it, and this may account in some part for his huge enthusiasm.
But only in some part.

Maryjane: A Musical Potumentary ought to have received a much wider release. Fortunately, it hit VOD just yesterday, April 20, from Green Apple Entertainment. Presented in widescreen with an aspect ratio of 16×9 (1.78) and Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0, it is now available on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, DISH/ Sling TV, DirecTV, FandangoNow, Xbox, VUDU -- with more venues coming shortly. The movie's very good soundtrack is available now, too.

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