Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Garlic is As Good As Ten Mothers

Garlic is the spice of life, and the National Film Registry Project is the spice of rainy afternoons.

 So.... this is a really odd film. It's on both Hulu and YouTube, if you've ever wanted to see a documentary about people in California who really love garlic. It's... well, another of those films that I don't understand why it's on the Registry. That's not to say it's a bad documentary or even a bad film. Where else could you see a man wearing a giant garlic hat telling you about how America has discovered garlic because of hippies? Or see a guy credited as an "Andulusian Gypsy - Sausage Maker/Garlic Lover/Butcher of Fighting Bulls" tell you about the Spanish Civil War and appear to be threatening to stab the documentarian for asking questions about the garlic/tomato peasant sandwich? Or see a woman belly dance with a string of garlic? Or hear another woman sing a love song about garlic? Or see a documentarian go to a playground and ask a bunch of kids "Hey, what do you think of garlic?" (general consensus from kids in the 1970's "It's okay"). Or hear Werner Herzog's opinion on what garlic has to do with Nosferatu – yes, this movie addresses the vampire/garlic problem.

This movie really, really loves garlic, and what it primarily wants to tell you is that it's okay if you do too. Unlike a lot of other food documentaries, it's not highly concerned with recipes or health benefits (though it mentions both). It just wants to tell you that a lot of people freaking love garlic. There's a weird phrase about 15-20 minutes in where a lady in voiceover says something about garlic being universal among people from "primitive cultures", and then it cuts to the very excitable Spanish man yell-singing about the way to keeping a man being to add a lot of garlic to his food. That was pretty weird, since most of the people shown enjoying garlic are decidedly WASP-y, though besides our friend the yelling Spanish man, we also have three whole black people appear in the movie to show garlic being used in barbecue, and a Chinese man appear to show us how to use garlic in a stir-fry. My roommate the chef was watching with me and really enjoyed those segments of the movie - most 70's food tends to look like the nation lost a bet with the Jell-O corporation. But even with the bad lighting characteristic of the mobile equipment of the 70's, most of the food shown in the movie looks pretty good. The end of the movie veers off from "People love eating garlic!" to "Garlic should be grown organically!" and showing us garlic pickers. And mad props to those people. It looks like a tremendously difficult job. The film ends with a caption over the screen: “Support the People Who Grow the Food We Eat”. Well, almost ends, since it goes on to show people carrying boxes, people cooking with garlic, and a few more close-ups of garlic. But it's still a pretty good message.

 Overall, my impression of this movie is that it's bizarre, but bizarre in a good way. I don't know why this particular Les Blank documentary was chosen for preservation, and Wikipedia isn't particularly enlightening on that fact. But it's still fascinating. So go check it out, if you want to see a bunch of people who really, REALLY love garlic.

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