The following is an expanded and revised interview by Chris Poggiali that originally appeared in Fangoria #191 (April 2000)
Also impressive were the challenging roles Gunn wrote for Clark and her co-star, the late Duane Jones (from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD). "You couldn’t wish for a better character,” the actress says of Ganja Meda, the mysterious woman who shares the curse of immortality and the thirst for human blood with Jones’ Dr. Hess Green. “There are so many levels to her personality. She’s such a collection of contradictions. Playing that part was very rewarding. And Duane was a treat to work with. He did a terrific job.”
GANJA AND HESS was the only American film screened during Critic’s Week at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, where it was named one of the 10 Best American Film of the Decade. It opened at Manhattan’s Playboy Theater a few weeks later. “The first time I saw the movie was at the opening-night screening in New York,” Clark reveals. “There was a splashy party afterward -- and being the lead actress, I was pretty much the star of the party! Nothing like that had ever happened to me before. It was wonderful.” The bubble burst the next day, however, when almost every New York critic panned the film. “When I read the reviews, I thought, ‘They didn’t get it,’” Clark remembers. “Many critics believe that black people make very straightforward, literal movies -- so Bill was really an enigma to them. They just did not understand what he had done.”
Gunn’s unique cinematic treatment of African-American spirituality and vampirism was also lost on the film’s distributor, Kelly-Jordan Enterprises. After a one-week run in Manhattan, the 110-minute version was pulled from circulation and replaced by a 76-minute bastardization called BLOOD COUPLE, with new credits listing “E.H. Novikov” (a pseudonym for film doctor Fima Noveck) as director.
"It never found much of an audience," Clark says, "but a number of industry people saw it, especially in New York, so I was offered some other movies."
She laughs again. "But it's not over yet, right? Who knows -- maybe someday, I'll wind up in a great place."