While certainly not one of the more exciting topics to the general public, mushrooms have found their way into a plethora of mediums whether you realize it or not; whether it’s the psychedelic variety or the kind you find next to a tree in the woods, mushrooms are a vast and wild medium. Of course chances are you don’t care or have no idea about the average mushroom, but documentarian Ron Mann, of Comic Book Confidential and Grass fame, wants to change your mind and attempt to enlighten you a bit on the subject.
From the award-winning director of Comic Book Confidential, Grass, Go Further and a host of paradigm-shifting films reappraising the backwaters of popular culture, Ron Mann investigates the miraculous, near-secret world of fungi with his newest piece of cinema, KNOW YOUR MUSHROOMS. KNOW YOUR MUSHROOMS follows über myco visionaries Gary Lincoff and Larry Evans as they lead us on a hunt for the wild mushroom and the deeper cultural experiences attached to the mysterious fungi. Combining material filmed at the Telluride Mushroom Fest with animation and archival footage along with a neo-psychedelic soundtrack by The Flaming Lips and The Sadies, KNOW YOUR MUSHROOMS opens the doors to perception and takes the audience on a longer, stranger trip.
While I pondered why I was about to invest over an hour into a documentary about the wildly interesting area of mushrooms (he says with sarcasm), I nevertheless surged forward in an attempt to educate myself on the crazy ‘shroom. To be truthful, my only exposure to mushrooms has been of the vegetable variety and I find them to be quite rubbery and disgusting. Then of course there is the Super Mario Bros. games where mushrooms play a vital role in determining your size in the game…but that doesn’t really apply here.
In any case, Mann starts off this documentary with a clip from a very old (like 1902 old) film entitled “Trip to the Moon.” It’s a curious piece to lead off with, but as the spongy and mushroomy surface of the moon comes into play, it’s evident why the film was chosen to open the film. Well not entirely evident; it’s bit of an odd thing to see, but in a way the average viewer of the documentary would be like the astronauts. Traveling to a new world where mushrooms reign supreme. Or something like that.
There’s no real grand premise of the film that it attempts to get across; it is nothing more than a basic documentary on mushrooms, but with a lot more whimsy and spunk than your average Discovery channel outing. Mann brings in plenty of old school film clips (as evidenced by the opening to this film) and custom animation to help illustrate the various families, types, and possible dangers of the wide array of mushrooms out there. It’s highly education, yes, but still a lot of fun to watch just for the ridiculous amount of information and entertainment clips that Mann was able to dig up on the topic. He was even able to find songs by The Flaming Lips and The Sadies on the topic…extraordinary!
Of course the documentary is littered with commentary from Lincoff and Evans as well as other various ‘shroom experts. There’s festivals profiled as well as a brief overview of the specific types of mushrooms (including the crazy psychedelic kind) so there’s no shortage of interesting visuals and locations to partake in. As far as boring topics go, mushrooms are probably at the top of the list in terms of topics I don’t care about, but this documentary was a nice way to kill an hour and while I now know more about the topic than I ever cared to it was still an enjoyable expedition if only for Mann’s unique visual representation of the topic. Recommended to…well, I don’t know who. But if you read this entire review then I imagine you’ll fit the audience in some fashion or another.
docuramafilms brings Know Your Mushrooms to DVD in a standard amaray DVD case. Nothing overly special about the presentation of the documentary here—no fancy exterior cardboard slipcase and nothing to really pop out at you, although that cover is pretty wacked out and slightly disturbing. Video and audio are what you’d expect from a film that’s full of mixed video and audio from various eras and mediums and overall it’s a solid transfer and nothing ever really distracts due to any mastering issues.
Extras are limited but include:
WELCOME TO THE FUNGAL JUNGLE: A video short by mushroom hunter Larry Evans
Gary Lincoff lecture from the Telluride Mushroom Festival
Mushroom Clubs in North America: An interactive listing of mycological groups; Fun With Fungi trivia game
These are rather short pieces, although Lincoff’s lecture is the longest of the bunch. They’re all interesting in their own right, but you really need to have some kind of fascination with mushrooms to really get into this documentary. Even after watching this entire disc I don’t want to eat them, but I was entertained by its contents nonetheless.
Overall a Recommended release for mushroom fanatics (which I imagine is a very, very niche market, but hey…), but otherwise a Rental.
Know Your Mushrooms arrives on DVD on December 15th.