Pleading the Blood
Bill Gunn's Ganja & Hess
Published by: Indiana University Press
The definitive look at one of the most important Black art films and original filmmakers of the 1970s.
Bill Gunn's Ganja & Hess (1973) has across the decades attained a sizable cult following among African American cinema devotees, art house aficionados, and horror fans, thanks to its formal complexity and rich allegory. Pleading the Blood is the first full-length study of this cult classic.
Ganja & Hess was withdrawn almost immediately after its New York premiere by its distributor because Gunn's poetic re-fashioning of the vampire genre allegedly failed to satisfy the firm's desire for a by-the-numbers "blaxploitation" horror flick for quick sell-off in the urban market. Its current status as one of the classic works of African American cinema has recently been confirmed by the Blu-ray release of its restored version, by its continued success in screenings at repertory houses, museums, and universities, and by an official remake, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014), directed by Spike Lee, one of the original picture's longtime champions.
Pleading the Blood draws on Gunn's archived papers, screenplay drafts, and storyboards, as well as interviews with the living major creative participants to offer a comprehensive, absorbing account of the influential movie and its highly original filmmaker.
Ganja & Hess: Credits
1. Awakening: Kelly-Jordan Enterprises and the Black Movie Boom
2. Vision: Bill Gunn and the Black Man Apart
3. Creation: The Making of Ganja & Hess
4. Judgment: The Reception and Revival of Ganja & Hess
5. Resurrection: Ganja & Hess's Life After Death
Conclusion: Ganja & Hess after Gunn, Gunn after Ganja & Hess
Abbreviations for Archival Sources
There is no doubt that Professor Sieving's book will make an indispensable addition to the history of 1970s Black filmmaking and the beginning of what we now consider Black art cinema. Within the broader field of film studies, it offers an important contribution to industry studies, independent cinema history, and offers valuable insights into the formation of what later came to be known as the "art cinema" paradigm in film studies. Clearly written, the book acts also as an accessible intellectual biography of a Black artist who consistently fought against external impositions to his freedom of expression (both personal and artistic). Because it does not overlap with existing works, it can begin to prepare the terrain for a history of post-war Black independent filmmaking (and especially Black art cinema) to be finally written.~Alessandra Raengo, author of Critical Race Theory and Bamboozled.
Sieving has produced the definitive history and critical assessment of Ganja & Hess that will be an indispensable companion to an elusive film and an enigmatic director and effectively argues for the significance of both to the history of American cinema. Those already familiar with the film will learn a tremendous amount and those new to the film will encounter a rich artifact whose history intersects with the major figures of African American artistic thought and political aesthetics.~Allyson Nadia Field, author of Uplift Cinema: The Emergence of African American Film and the Possibility of Black Modernity
This volume confirms that Christopher Sieving is one of our finest film historians. Pleading the Blood is impeccably researched and well written and confirms the place of honor that Ganja and Hess, and especially Bill Gunn, should have in the cinematic canon.~Gerald Butters, Aurora University
Sieving's Pleading the Blood is an exhaustive study of a cinematic masterpiece about bloodlust and its talented, enigmatic writer-director. The book is a sweeping tutorial in what happens when ingenious creativity comes up against industrial timidity and prosaicness. The result is illuminating lessons in genre and the economic imperatives of film production as well as identity politics and discrimination.~Robin R. Means Coleman, Ida B. Wells and Ferdinand Barnett Professor of Communication Studies, Northwestern University