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Thursday 29 December 2022

Burl reviews Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers! (1980)


By the whiff of the stinking rose, it’s Burl, here to review a picture by the marvelous documentarian Les Blank! Ha ha, I once attended a screening of his great Leon Russell movie A Poem is a Naked Person, and that was back in the days when Blank had to be in attendance for it to be screened legally, so he was there, and afterward I and some others went out to a nearby bar with him for a few beers! He was a nice fellow and awfully good company, and those qualities can be seen in the movie under review today, Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers!

Now, whether or not that specific equivalence is accurate, the movie makes a strong case for garlic as a curative and as a flavourer of food! No scientists are trotted out to make the case; neither Julia Child nor Edna Lewis nor any other celebrity chef of the day appear; instead, Blank visits a parade of bohemian food lovers who proselytize about the aliment and its many uses and benefits! Ha ha, I’ve always used garlic in my own cooking, so I was naturally sympathetic to these arguments!

The impression left is that there must be a thriving subculture of garlic-mad neo-hippies out there, cooking like maniacs and shoveling in the allium sativum as quickly as they can! Blank talks to chefs and enthusiasts, and spends time at a California garlic festival, and all of this is arranged in a wonderfully haphazard and aptly organic manner! There are some unexpected ingredients in this concoction: for instance, a bewildered Werner Herzog, whose mug we recall from the bad-guy role in Jack Reacher appears in order to give his two cents on garlic’s efficacy on vampires, and why he didn’t include that aspect in Nosferatu!


The heart of the picture are its many scenes of meal preparation, which make you want to rush to your kitchen and start cooking up a feast yourself! Vegetarians will not take to the movie, though – there are plenty of dead animals here, and meat being ground up in close shots; but cuisineries both committed and, like myself, casual, will find themselves transfixed by the lovely 16mm colour images!

There’s not a propulsive or coherent story being told here, but nor should there be! It’s a grincingly effective love-chaunt to an oft-maligned foodstuff, and at 51 minutes it’s just about exactly the right length! There’s some good music being played and some wonderful eccentrics appear, and if you like the way Les Blank organizes his movies, you’ll like this one as much as Burden of Dreams or In Heaven There Is No Beer? or any of his other fine works! Ha ha, I recommend it heartily! I give Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers three staring animal eyeballs!

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