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Pubdate: Fri, 23 Jun 2000
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2000 The Toronto Star
Contact: lettertoed@thestar.com
Address: One Yonge St., Toronto ON, M5E 1E6
Fax: (416) 869-4322
Website: thestar.com | Toronto Star | Canada's largest daily
Forum: http://www.thestar.com/editorial/disc_board/
Page: C3
Section: Movies
Author: Geoff Pevere
Editor's Note: Another review of the movie "Grass"


As any serious scholar of popular culture knows, God put the lower primates on this planet
for one purpose: to make people look silly.

And what a good job they do. When it comes to metaphors for human folly, nothing beats a

If you doubt this, simply try replacing some of the most important pop-cultural primate
metaphors with other animals. King Kong, widely recognized as a metaphor for unleashed
human libido run amuck, would hardly be recognized as such if, for example, the "beast" was
a giant Labrador retriever chowing down New York City's fleet of garbage trucks and
sprinkling the base of the Empire State Building.

Try Planet Of The Squirrels. Or "Hey, hey, we're the Beavers!/And people say we beaver
around . . ." What about Curious George? Would his curiosity have nearly the same
cautionary value for children if he were a lake trout? And as for the recent remake of Mighty
Joe Young, one doubts it would have had nearly the same emotional impact if the overgrown
animal in question had been covered in a flaky exoskeletal crust rather than pillowy tufts of
black fur. Not to mention those cozy scenes with the monkey-loving jungle babe Charlize
Theron, which would have taken on a different tone entirely.

One couldn't help but be reminded of the cultural destiny of simians a couple of weeks ago
when the Ontario Film and Video Review Board (formerly the less graceful-sounding Ontario
Board of Censors) emerged from a relatively long period of negative-publicity dormancy to
stumble straight into the metaphorical monkey's paw.

The occasion was, of all things, a feature documentary on the history of American
anti-marijuana legislation called Grass, a project assembled by Toronto filmmaker Ron
Mann. Among the movie's many fleeting archival attractions - including
how-dumb-can-you-possibly-get clips of prominent politicians and other paragons of civic
leadership smoking pot - there was a clip of chimpanzees caught doing the same thing.

Or, more accurately perhaps, caught for the act of smoking dope, as one doubts the monkeys
were toking up voluntarily.

But that's what caused the members of the OFVRB, or at least the three who signed their
(first) names to the subsequent Grass-related document, to perk their pens: In this 30-year old
footage of monkeys getting mellow, these guardians of community standards saw
unacceptable evidence of the human capacity for cruelty to animals.

Thus they responded accordingly, or at least according to the manner in which censors are
expected to respond: They demanded the sequence be excised from Mann's movie.

Three censors. Three signatures. One purpose: Let no evil be seen, heard or spoken.
Particularly as it relates to monkeys.

They were unsuccessful.

On subsequent consideration, after a chorus of oppobrium was heard in the press concerning
such matters, the decision was withdrawn, and Grass was permitted to reach local screens
with its sequence of toasted monkeys intact.

So far, there has been no hard evidence that the movie has had ill effect on community
standards as a result of the sequence, although the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo has noted a
slight increase in the desire among its primate population to do little more than eat pork rinds
and watch TV. "Personally," said one Zoo official who asked to remain nameless, "I think
the apes are stoned. But it's hard to tell because they eat the roaches."

Reeling from the lack of community support for its valiant attempt to prevent citizens from
enduring the spectacle of lab chimps burning a fatty, the OFVRB turned its protective
attentions elsewhere, this time to the poster (yes, the poster) for the blockbuster Hebrew
movie Yana's Friends, which apparently depicted near-subliminal monkey business (a.k.a.,
"hanky panky") going on in the promotional image's background.

If you looked hard enough, apparently, you could see a couple (human, not ape) engaged in
an act of pawing clearly not related to the removal of lice.

Appropriately, the poster has been withdrawn from public display, thus preventing the full-out
assault on community standards it might otherwise have occasioned.

Thus, while the OFVRB proved powerless to intervene on the soiling of community standards
threatened by the stoned monkeys in Grass, it has prevented all the people passing through
the lobby of the single theatre in the GTA where Yana's Friends is playing from collapsing
into complete turpitude by merely finding themselves within glancing distance of the film's
insidious poster.

Citizens may now make their way safely into the theatre before falling into the spiritual
abyss. Whew.

But let us return for a moment to the matter of monkeys and metaphor. If there is anything
positive to be gleaned from the recent activities of the OFVRB, it is not just the comfort we
can take from knowing there are anonymous public servants out there who are so fearlessly
concerned with maintaining the fraying moral fabric of the province.

To this we must also add the fact that, once again, the metaphorical viability of our simian
cousins has been proved.

If it weren't for those apes, how would we possibly know how stupid people are?

Posted by: Allan Wilkinson