GARLIC IS AS GOOD AS TEN MOTHERS
Director / Producer / Screenplay: Les Blank
Production Co.: Flower Films
Editor / Sound Recording: Maureen Gosling
Research: Marina Hirsch
Interviewer: Merle Linda Wolin
Translator: Paul Shalmy
Narrator: Chris Pray
Sound Mix: Mark Berger
Music: Anzonini del Puerto & Kenneth 'El Lebrijano' Parker (flamenco songs); The Balfa Bros. with Danny Poullard (cajun music), Tracey Schwartz and the Louisiana Playboys (cajun music); Le Camembert (French provincial music); Irene Hermann & Paul Hostetter (Swiss-Italian music); Ricardo Tunzi & Matteo Caseroni (Swiss-Italian music); The Marin String Band (Mexican string music); Sones Jarochos (Vera Cruz harp music); Feenjon Group (Morroccan music)
Songs: 'Bar-be-que Bess', Bessie Smith; 'The Garlic Waltz', Ruthie Gordon
Film Extracts: Mouthwash commercial (Lever Bros.); It's a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra)
Flamenco singer & sausage maker: Anzonino del Puerto
Garlic Queen: Kathleen Bendel
Youth saved from dysentery: Harrod Blank
Restaurateur (La Vieille Maison): Robert Charles
Restaurateur (Hunan Restaurant): Henry Chung
Garlic grower & squid chef: Val Filice
The Garlic Times publisher: Lloyd John Harris
Living with the Flowers author: Denny McCarthy
Anti-Vampire writer: Charles Perry
Belly dancer: Una Stevens
Restaurateur (Chez Panisse): Alice Waters
Not a 'hippy dipshit': Michael Goodwin
Mary T. Brown
Rose 'Pistollas' Evangelisti
If you have to devour at least three cloves of garlic today, I suggest you get started at once. Not only is it good for your heart and blood pressure, but apparently this health-happy herb is also the ultimate vice. As one garlic lover in the film explains, "After you eat a lot of garlic, you just feel like you're floating." Everyone in this picture, including the filmmaker, shares a wild affection for garlic in great abundance. "I've never really eaten it with much moderation," admits Les. Hey, why be sparing when you just gotta have that fix?
- Jessica Kaplan, Film Threat, 4/94
Garlic has been a Blank obsession for the last several years. "I enjoy eating garlic the way I used to enjoy eating candy bars," he maintains. Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers is Blank's idiosyncratic homage to the pungent herb. A stew of Cajun, flamenco, Mexican and Italian music, it's the first of several planned "food films" and is filled with informative tidbits (for instance, Eleanor Roosevelt ate three chocolate-covered garlic cloves each day). Despite its evocation of an international garlic culture, the film is very much rooted in Blank's central Californian base, which is, after all, one of the great garlic-producing areas of the world. Blank documents a garlic festival in Salinas and a garlic festival in Gilroy. He turns the Bay Area into a community of garlic aficionados, filming scenes in such well-known local restaurants as Chez Panisse, Flint's Bar-B-Que and Hunan. With his twin passions for regional music and ethnic cuisine, Blank is less an ethnographer than he is a pilgrim. His films are not made to so much record - or, some would say, idealise - traditional cultures as they're made to connect with them. As though acting from some deep, inner necessity, Blank is drawn to cultures where family ties remain strong, where food can be the most graphic metaphor for the nourishment that traditions provide, and where music shapes experience into an ongoing, familiar rhythm.
- J. Hoberman, American Film, 12/80
In Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers, his hour-long paean to the Cult of the Stinking Rose, Blank tenderly documents love and lovers of garlic. Its zealots constitute a fan club international in breadth, boundless in passion, their fanaticism bordering on religious fervour.
Although his focus is local - zeroing in on theory and practice in the San Francisco Bay Area - Blank convinces us that, in the language of food, garlic is culinary Esperanto. Insinuating his camera into the kitchens of Bay Area cooks, he mouthwateringly witnesses the preparation of Kung Pao Chicken, Spanish revolutionary salad (in 1939, tomatoes and garlic were staples of the nation because the country was defoliated), Calamari Marinara and Roast Suckling Pig Provencale - wordlessly demonstrating that garlic is the sine qua non of these cross-cultural cuisines. Originating in Siberia, actually a pungent lily and not a stinking rose, garlic is the bulb that conquered seven continents, transforming indigenous food. Its partisans, Blank assures us, make the claim that garlic is a benevolent imperialist because it enhances food, never dominates it.
The shape of a Blank movie is unstructure, so it's no surprise that while a more conventional documentarian might have begun by showing a harvest of the bulb, Blank begins - as it were - in media clove, garlic adherents delivering anecdotes and dictums. The movie's pace is rhythmic, sensuous, the various respondents implicitly linking sexual appetite with the taste for garlic, culinary eros signifying other kinds of adventurousness... In the movie's introductory anecdotes, enemies of garlic are vilified as puritanical white-bread-brains who smell something Mediterranean and suspicious in garlic, which to alliumophiles is the spice of life.
- Carrie Rickey, The Village Voice, 11/11/81
Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers is so good - and funny - that it doesn't even offend someone who takes a dim view of baked whole garlic and who doesn't exactly long to munch into chocolate-covered garlic cloves. This is a collage of interviews with people who preach garlic-evangelism. They include flamenco singers, beauty-contest queens, mothers, cooks, farmers, restaurateurs and just plain aficionados, who are promoting garlic not only as a seasoning, but also as a food, a medicine and a way of life. It tells you a lot more about garlic than you may ever have wanted to know and, in the manner of someone who knows The Truth, it has little patience with people who don't hold the same opinions. One fellow, who is introduced as "the head garlic head" tells of one lost soul, "a real vampire", who specialised in 13th-century Chinese cooking and could eat nothing but boiled rice flavoured with the dew collected from wild - not domestic - roses. Mr. Blank may not be convinced that garlic would keep Dracula at bay. However, he seems to believe that garlic lovers have some closer connection to life in general than those of us who turn up (or off) our noses at the mere thought of a meal composed entirely of garlic dishes, from soup through dessert.
- Vincent Canby, New York Times, 11/11/81