Les Blank: Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers (1980)

Les Blank: Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers (1980)

Improvising on a theme is as much the place of a musician as it is a film maker or really any working creative person. Les Blank’s made a career out of finding interesting people, scenarios and music to contemplate in the form of his documentaries. Over the last forty years Blank’s been able to capture on film a spate of musical performers towards the end of their lives. His portrayals of these individuals is as interesting as the fact that Blank has some weird timing allowing him to enter into a life or situation at precisely the right time. But that, I suppose, is part of being a good documentarian.

After having received some acclaim for his work with various old tyme blues players and making two films on Werner Herzog, in 1980 Blank contemplated garlic and its various uses in his film Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers. It sounds like a preposterous premise to a film – and it kinda is. In the hands of an adept documentary filmmaker, though, pretty much any topic should make for good entertainment.

Not being overwhelmingly familiar with Blank, his style or his penchant for East Bay hippies, new comers might be a bit startled by the figures in Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers that pass for authorities on the subject. Lacking only some sort of actually sensible voice – maybe the hippie who wrote a book and wears a silly garlic hat counts – Blank’s film is all entertainment while skimping on important or historical details too much.

The film begins with a brief interaction with a barbeque chef before moving on to various individuals who are relegated to representing their own ethnicities in disparate manners. Oddly enough, Warner Herzog even crops up for a moment to ask the documentarian what’s the point in wondering about Nosferatua’s relation to garlic.

A few surprising moments arise along the way as Blank attempts to illustrate the vast many uses of garlic. And in one scene some lucky fellow gets to apply a mixture of olive oil and garlic to a nude woman because the salve apparently wards off mosquitoes while aiding the skin in some way. It may have well been just an excuse to get some girl naked on a table. Who knows?

After that, though, a few different Bay area garlic festivals and farmers are offered as proof of garlic’s popularity. There’s Gilroy’s endless supply of garlic that gets examined – as well as some delicious looking seafood. Even a farmer who admits that garlic isn’t his favorite crop goes on to say that it’s an important thing to have and make use of.

There might be a bit too much footage of people cooking, but viewers should imagine that Blank finds those scenes artfully shot and well accompanied by an assortment of world musics. Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers is at times a bit disjointed, but it’s also the product of an East Bay resident, so that’s not too surprising.