Archive for January, 2010

Know Your Mushrooms (2009)

January 10, 2010

Movie poster for Know Your MushroomsYou can view the IMDb entry for this film here

Synopsis: “Ron Mann investigates the miraculous, near-secret world of fungi. Visionaries Gary Lincoff and Larry Evans lead us on a hunt for the wild mushroom and the deeper cultural experiences attached to the mysterious fungi. The oldest and largest living organisms recorded on Earth are both fungi. And their use by a new, maverick breed of scientists and thinkers has proven vital in the cleansing of sites despoiled by toxins and as a “clean” pesticide, among many other environmentally friendly applications. Combining material filmed at the Telluride Mushroom Fest with animation and archival footage, along with a neo-psychedelic soundtrack by The Flaming Lips, this film opens the doors to perception, taking the audience on an extraordinary trip.” (Synopsis from Warsaw Film Festival via IMDb)

Review: It seemed clear from the synopsis and the few reviews of this documentary that it would be a lighthearted effort, and indeed, this film is light fare, but with enough worthwhile elements so that all-in-all I did end up finding it enjoyable and entertaining.  As an ardent mushroom hunter, I would have liked more solid data regarding the various mushrooms, and there were some disappointments, particular the sections devoted to morels.  I really wanted more information about morel habitats, for instance.  One little annoyance occurs early in the film when Larry Evans is frying up some mushrooms at the Telluride mushroom festival, where much of this documentary takes place.  They cut to Larry describing why he doesn’t like butter to fry mushrooms in, but it seems as if the editor chose to just miss Larry describing what fat he does like to use.  A small quibble, and one which could have been rectified so easily.

Know Your Mushrooms is peopled by a group of gently wacky hippy-like folks, a demographic in which I feel somewhat at home, even though I don’t altogether fit there.  Some of the opinions and beliefs espoused by the people in this documentary are ones which I’m familiar with, and which I don’t agree with or share, such as some of the mystical pseudo-scientific lore regarding the extraterrestrial origins of psilocybin (magic) mushrooms.  I do heartily endorse the passionate love of mushrooms as food, and I might even try a magic mushroom in the right context, but regardless of how magical the drug experience might be, I can’t see myself hopping on the extraterrestrial mushroom bandwagon.

It’s the people in the film who make the film fun and enjoyable to me.  The wacky hippy demographic ( a term I use with affection) is one which seems underrepresented in either documentary or dramatic films, and yet they make up a large part of American society.  And regardless of their holding some opinions and beliefs which I don’t share, they’re a generous, warm, interesting, artistic, and politically diverse group, and they’re a pleasant contrast to the vastly more represented so-called American mainstream demographic.  So in part, my enjoyment of this film resulted from being allowed a glimpse of a culture which I don’t often get to see, at least in movies.  The soundtrack was fun, and there were some fun but overused animated sequences, given the relatively short run-time (74 minutes).  The sequences which used archival footage were all pretty fascinating.

So, there are a number of problems which keep this from being a great documentary, but with enough interesting content and sweetness to make it worth watching, particularly if you are interested in either mushrooms or alternative American culture.

Themes/Issues:

1.  Do you have social contact with people or groups of people who are outside of the social groups that you consider your own?

2.  Do you believe that taking drugs, whether for simple enjoyment or as part of spiritual/religious/mystical rituals, can be a positive and natural part of modern life, or is it damaging and a scourge in society?  Is there some middle ground?

My Rating:  7/10.