Saturday, March 30, 2013

Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers (1980)

WHO: Les Blank directed this. Word is the legendary documentarian is not doing so well.

WHAT: A year and a half ago I had the honor of interviewing Blank at his studio in El Cerrito, for an article published in the "Radical Foods" issue of First Person Magazine. There are still a few copies of this gorgeously-designed publication (which also includes interviews with individuals at the nexus of food and art such as Sandor Ellix Katz, Jon Rubin, Marije Vogelzang, Ben Kinmont, and more) at Park Life in the Richmond District. I excerpted a segment from my interview prior to the launch party which included a screening of Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers, but here's another brief excerpt from Blank's remarks to me, about the time when he showed a work-in-progress version of the film to a Museum of Modern Art audience in New York that folkorist Alan Lomax attended. 
I was waiting to hear from him, since I respected his opinion so much. He said, 'Your film makes me so mad I want to punch you in the nose.' I was taken aback and wanted to know why. He said, 'Because it shows all these yuppies out in California playing in their food and thinking their garlic is so lovely and wonderful. Garlic is really the food of the people who live close to the earth-peasants, poor people, the starving. Garlic is what ties it all together for them. You trivialized it. I'm ashamed of you.' When I got over being mad at him, defensively, I decided that he had a point. I then went out and looked for people from other cultures who would demonstrate using garlic.
A "who's who" of some of the individuals seen in Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers has since been compiled by John Harris, who appeared in the film as seen in the above image.

WHERE/WHEN: Plays at 7:00 tonight at the Roxie.

WHY: Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers screens as part of the inaugural Food and Farm Film Festival, which pairs each foodie-centric screening with delicacies prepared by local chefs. Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters, who appeared in this film as well as in Blank's Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, will introduce tonight's screening. The festival began last night, but today it will also host a 35mm matinee showing of another locally-made food film, Pixar's Ratatouille and a shorts program, with more screenings to be held at the Roxie tomorrow.

It's time to flip over the Roxie's Spring 2013 calendar if you've got it hanging on your refrigerator. You'll probably notice a photo of Roman Polanski but no film titles listed. Well, just last week titles and (most) showtimes were announced online for next weekend's three-day tribute to the director, during which Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne will Skype with Polanski after the audience takes in an afternoon screening of that 1974 classic.

HOW: Evidently Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers will be a digital screening.


  1. Maybe one day Bay Area audiences will be as conscientious and scrupulous in their selection of screening formats ("Garlic" was shot on film) as they are justifiably now known for their meticulous care about natural, non GMO,organic, wholesome foods.

  2. I don't know if this film was ever blown up to 35mm, and I suspect there may be no 16mm distribution prints, which makes it so lucky that we have venues like the Pacific Film Archive which are able to screen archival prints of it on occasion. Still, this film deserves to be seen more often than a venue like that can book it.

    Since Ratatouille was created entirely digitally, should the festival have declined to use a 35mm print in that case, I wonder?

  3. I can't source it right now, but there was an interesting New York Times Op-Ed piece a while back where the author bemoaned that people (not just those in the Bay Area)placed greater emphasis on ephemeral pleasures such as food (much of which is soon eliminated as waste) while giving less care to the satisfactions such as art that have a longer lasting impact on the heart, the mind, the spirit.An inferior screening of a film can leave its imprint on the viewer long after one has gotten over a bad dining experience.

  4. That's a very powerful sentiment. Thanks for sharing, and do let me know if you ever stumble upon the original article.

  5. I think this might be it:

  6. I am interested in doing a community film screening of Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers for my local Slow Food non-profit chapter. I can't get a hold of the production company to ask about how to get rights to screen the film. Any advice?

  7. I presume you've already tried this. I wouldn't be surprised if Harrod Blank has his hands full dealing with the aftermath of his father's recent death. In the meantime, Canyon Cinema rents an abbreviated version.

    1. Thanks Brian. Yes, I've tried Les Blank's website. Thanks for the Canyon Cinema link!