Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
Released on: November 29th, 2016.
Director: Alex De Renzy
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Vinegar Syndrome presents three of Alex De Renzy’s early documentary films!
The first film on this two disc triple feature collection begins with a man in a courtroom discussing arguments for and against legalizing marijuana. This sets the stage for the rest of the film as it takes a look at the various pros and cons (well, mostly the pros) of smoking pot by way of some interviews conducted by Alex De Renzy. Yes, that Alex De Renzy. The guy who made those crazy pornos.
We head out into the middle of a field with a police officer and hear about how marijuana plants make great ground cover for pheasants and other forms of wild life during deep snows. From there we travel to Mexico and see some dope growers loading up a plane to safely take their crop to the dealers. We learn that in Mexico much of the weed is grown under cover of tobacco fields and so it isn't uncommon to find tobacco leaves mixed in with your Mexican pot. We also get a look at how the drug enforcement guys do their thing, we learn about various reports they use and how the track drug trafficking at the U.S./Mexican border.
An interview with a Coast Guard reprehensive talks about how boats are used to bring pot into bigger cities like San Francisco, and we see footage of random hippies playing badminton during a traffic jam (?). A pharmacist talks about how marijuana seeds can be legally brought in and grown if they've been sterilized and he explains the differences between marijuana and hashish. A solider argues on camera that pot use is 'no big thing' and Alex interviews a guy about a package of cigarettes he has - surprisingly enough, there are big ol' doobies inside!
We learn how Asian countries produce large crops of weed and how the local governments keep the thumbscrews on their people. Cambodia has legalized it and we learn that you can buy a pound of top quality weed in a local market for only one dollar. De Renzy and his assistant are pretty stoked about this find.
Hippies and law enforcement guys give their take on the increase of drug use and how it affects the populace, and a hippy guy explains what the different types of names for weed mean - Panama Red, Acapulco Gold, things like that - and how different kinds of weed go for different amounts of money. From there De Renzy heads to Tibet where he interviews hippies about hash bars and talks to people who sell government authorized weed. He also interviews a monk who talks about his thoughts on drug use and marijuana in particular. De Renzy finishes off his documentary by interviewing a man about drug education and how it's different than using alcohol and how drug education workers cannot go into the schools and tell students that pot is no worse for you than alcohol or they'll lose their jobs. They close by talking about how sooner or later the government will have to legalize pot because of the costs involved in drug enforcement operations.
While it won't surprise anyone to learn that this documentary is definitely more 'pro' pot than 'anti' pot, De Renzy's documentary is actually well researched and makes a few good points. Time has not been kind to it in the sense that a lot of the people interviewed here look like goofy, dirty hippies and as such are more amusing than they are interesting but the interviews with the various enforcement types are revelatory and there is some really good footage of the Mexican and Asian marijuana farming operations in here. While it's hardly the definitive statement on the 'legalize it' movement, it's an interesting documentary and the novelty of seeing it hosted on camera by a fairly notorious porno movie producer certainly adds some odd curiosity value to the production.
Note that this version of Weed runs one hundred and sixteen minutes in length, which is quite a bit longer than the version that was double featured with The Acid Eaters and released on DVD by Something Weird Video.
The first film on the second disc finds De Renzy delivering an expose of sorts on a sexually liberated Europe. This is fairly plotless and it’s as much a travelogue as it is anything out, but it is a fascinating time capsule of sorts. Over ninety-five minutes, De Renzy’s camera shows us pretty much everything that you’d expect given the director’s reputation, but it doesn’t play out like a typical porn film even if it does include some pretty explicit footage.
De Renzy travels across western Europe, voyaging through London, Amsterdam, parts of Germany and other neighboring nations. Along the way we get a look at attitudes towards prostitution, we go head first into some sex shops and we spend a lot of time inside dimly lit night clubs watching live sex shows. It’s here that most of the explicit footage shows up, and it’s clear that this is meant to be the real focal point of the piece. However, it’s the footage that shows off the red light districts, the hookers and the sex shops that’s more interesting than watching two people go at it in a dark room lit by red lights.
By the time it’s over, we’ve interacted with various Europeans, we’ve contrasted the old Europe with the new, sexually free Europe and we’ve watched a lot of people of varying degrees of attractiveness fuck in front of a live audience. It’s interesting in its own way, even if the social commentary it would seem De Renzy was interested in delivering gets lost along the way.
Sexual Encounter Group:
Last but not least, Sexual Encounter Group is pretty much exactly what it sounds like – an eighty-two minute piece in which a bunch of hippies get together at someone’s fancy house to experience all that the human body has to offer in terms of sexual pleasure.
Shot somewhere in California, our group is led by a charismatic ring leader of sorts who talks the talk and walks the walk when it comes to group encounters. He pairs everyone up to get started and De Renzy’s camera is along for the ride, capturing couples screwing in every room of the house, and some outside too for good measure (hey, that pool looks pretty inviting). Eventually it turns into the giant orgy that we all knew was coming the moment these guys all got together, but along the way the ring leader spouts off some loopy sexual philosophy and the whole thing has an appreciably weird new age vibe to it, albeit one delivered through some screwy early seventies filters.
An opening text piece alerts us to the fact that two reels of the film are missing their audio tracks. When this footage plays they’ve looped in some music from other early De Renzy efforts to fill in the empty spaces in the mix. While Vinegar Syndrome gets full credit for tracking this oddity down and releasing it in the first place, the scenes where there’s only music on the track simply aren’t as interesting. The appeal of Sexual Encounter Group lies not in watching a bunch of dirty hippies fuck their way around some guy’s house but in listening to the conversations that happen between them as they do it. It’s here that we get a feel for the attitudes and personas that came together on this shoot, and it makes for an interesting snapshot of the waning final days of the free love movement.
All three of the movies are presented in a 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio and transferred from original 16mm vault elements. These look alright. Expect some minor print damage and color fluctuations throughout but the transfers are nice and film like. Grain can be heavy in spots, which shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with 16mm photography, but the discs are well authored and the transfers very natural in appearance. There are no problems with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction.
The audio is on par with the video, in that it’s rough but serviceable considering the origins of the films and the materials available to work with. Each of the three English language Dolby Digital Mono tracks has some hiss and some audible cracking in spots but most fans of this material won’t mind so much.
Outside of menus and chapter selection there are no extra features on this release.
The Final Word:
All three of these early De Renzy documentaries are interesting for different reason given their subject matter, but each serves as a genuinely interesting time capsule of the late sixties/early seventies where social mores were changing and people were more than happy to experiment with sex, drugs and rock n' roll. Vinegar Syndrome presents these three features in as decent a shape as is likely possible given the elements available - to be able to see these at all is a bit of a treat, really. Fans of counter culture documentaries will appreciate this set more than smut hounds, and if you fall into that camp? Consider this recommended.