DIRECTED BY: Dennis Van Zak
FEATURING: John Holmes, Billy Curtis, and anonymous hippies
PLOT: A pro-pot documentary touting the aphrodisiacal properties of the titular herb, with brief
hardcore sex scenes to illustrate its key thesis.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s an absurd, exploitative historical oddity that’s worth noting, but it’s not nearly odd/hilarious enough to crack the List of the Best Weird Movies ever made.
COMMENTS: Aphrodisiac! The Sexual Secret of Marijuana is an example of a type of film of enormous importance in the history of film censorship. (Yeah, that’s why we wanted to check it out…) In the years before Deep Throat (1972) beat the censors in court, would-be pornographers were trying to stay on the good side of the Roth obscenity test, which concluded that a work could discuss and arguably depict sex if it was not “utterly without socially redeeming importance” and so long as “the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole” did not “appeal to the prurient interest.” A few sleaze sellers pounced on the documentary format as a promising way to provide “socially redeeming importance” while avoiding appealing “to the prurient interest” (at least, “as a whole”). They released daring films with titles like Man & Wife: An Educational Film for Married Adults (1969), Pornography in Denmark (1970), and Sexual Liberty Now (1971) that included some hardcore sex scenes amidst the “serious” (i.e., seriously boring) discussion of social issues. Aphrodisiac! falls into this brief tradition, but it’s extra-shameless in its willingness to meld sexploitation with drugsploitation while wrapping the whole thing in a semi-sincere wrapper of social relevance. Aphrodisiac! bounces back and forth between documentary nuggets, obviously fake “man in the street” interviews, and graphic illustrations of cannabis’ connubial powers. As a documentary the film is far from incisive, but really not as shoddy and misleading as you might have expected: prohibitionist Harry J. Anslinger’s central role in influencing public opinion against the “killer drug” is highlighted, as is New York City mayor Fiorella La Guardia’s much-ignored 1939 study concluding that marijuana posed little threat to public health. We also learn (correctly) that George Washington grew Continue reading CAPSULE: APHRODISIAC! THE SEXUAL SECRET OF MARIJUANA (1971)