#243) Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers (1980)


#243) Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers (1980)

OR “Banned in Transylvania”

Directed by Les Blank

Class of 2004

No trailer, but here’s a clip

The Plot: A documentary about garlic. Sounds weird, right? But in the hands of Les Blank, this movie is an entertaining celebration of garlic and the people who love it. In 50 minutes Les shows us garlic chefs both professional and amateur, those who grow garlic, those who sell garlic, a group called “Lovers of the Stinking Rose”, the anti-mouthwash movement, authors, children, and the proud few who literally sing the praises of everyone’s favorite deformed onion.

Why It Matters: The NFR salute Les Blank, calling the film “hilarious and affectionate”. They also make mention of the film’s “AromaRound” release, involving the smell of garlic being piped into the theater throughout special screenings.

But Does It Really?: I’d be more inclined to give this a pass if it was Les Blank’s only film on the list, but he’s got “Chulas Fronteras” as well, and that got inducted on the fifth round! I guess they really like Les Blank over at the NFR. “Garlic” is a fun, informative slice (forgive me) of life, but is it really worthy of preservation ahead of “Grey Gardens” and “Hoop Dreams”? I don’t know.

Shout Out?: The credits say that “It’s a Wonderful Life” is featured during the film. Did I miss it? I assume it’s the clip of Mr. Potter using the slur “garlic eaters”. The credits state that the clip is courtesy of public domain. Well…sort of.

Everybody Gets One: As is the case with most documentaries, this is the only NFR entry for most of its subjects. Most notable among those interviewed is fellow filmmaker Werner Herzog!

Wow, That’s Dated: Ah the Bay Area of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. It’s the world my parents got married in, so I’m always a bit nostalgic for this time. And now I have something completely unrelated in my eye.

Title Track: No one says the title, but the rest of the saying is “…for keeping the girls away.”

Seriously, Oscars?: Due to weird eligibility guidelines regarding documentaries, I don’t know if “Garlic” would have been eligible for the 1980 or 1981 Oscars. Either way, it didn’t get nominated. Had it been, Les would have lost to either a documentary about Western music in China or the Holocaust. The Oscars definitely weren’t giving that award to a film about garlic.

Other notes

  • I hope Kander & Ebb sued for the obvious “Money” parody.
  • I’m sorry to report that the Flint’s Bar-B-Q featured in the movie closed in 2010. It is still remembered fondly in Oakland and the East Bay.
  • You gotta wonder how many of these people like but don’t love garlic, but wanted to be in a movie.
  • Ah! Dead pigs! I’m not a vegetarian, but this is unsettling. I don’t need to see how the sausage is made! In this case literally!
  • The Lovers of the Stinking Rose are giving me a real hippie vibe. Did they run out of drugs? And who told Lloyd John Harris that a giant garlic hat was a good idea? Side Note: I’ve been to the Stinking Rose. Good stuff.
  • If this film were made today it’d be a quickly edited, blandly narrated Food Network Special called something like “The Great Guide to Garlic!”
  • Werner Herzog’s appearance may seem random, but at the time Les was working on “Burden of Dreams”, a documentary about the making of Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo”. Herzog also directed “Nosferatu”, hence his appearance in a movie about garlic. It’s pretty amazing when Werner Herzog is the most normal seeming person in your movie.
  • Remember the film I mentioned last week about Werner Herzog eating his shoe? That was Les Blank. It’s all connected!
  • Oh man I started salivating about halfway through this movie. My advice: eat before viewing.
  • Filmmakers approaching unattended kids on a playground asking them questions? Not anymore! Simpler times indeed.
  • Thanks for sitting through my documentary about garlic, have some brief backside nudity!
  • “Hippie dipshit” may be my new favorite phrase.
  • Why is this narrator yelling at me? And why is he only showing up now?
  • True to form, Les Blank showcases a lot of music in this film. Turns out the most common themes in songs are love, pain, and garlic.
  • For the record, garlic bread is amazing.


  • Les Blank continued cranking out documentaries for the next 35 years, most notably “Burden of Dreams”. He even managed to release four posthumous documentaries. That has got to be the record.
  • Well, people still eat garlic, and you can’t prove that this film didn’t help that.

3 thoughts on “#243) Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers (1980)”

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