CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

The Creeping Garden, Irrational Encounters with Plasmodial Slime Moulds

Production details, movie
Directed & produced by Tim Grabham, Jasper Sharp
Original soundtrack: Jim O’Rourke
Genre: Documentary - Science/ Art/ Nature
Running Time: 82 minutes
Year of Production: 2014

Publication details, book
By Jasper Sharp
Published by Alchimia, an imprint of FAB Press, Ltd., England, UK.
ISBN-13: 978-1903254783; ISBN-10: 1903254787
92 pages; Price: $25

Why a film (and book) about slime molds? What is a slime mold? What does it do? What is its role in the natural order of things? I am still not entirely sure I can give a satisfactory answer to any of these … one might say The Creeping Garden isn’t even really about slime molds, or at least, it isn’t only about slime molds.” So opens The Creeping Garden, the book, explaining the inception for the movie of the same title.

The Creeping Garden (the book) is meant as a companion to the film The Creeping Garden, Irrational Encounters with Plasmodial Slime Moulds. First off: both are excellent! Excellently produced, excellent visually, and very informative. And although the book is billed as a companion to the movie—it does feature some behind-the-scenes on the making of the film and back stories on personalities in the documentary—the nearly 220-page volume is excellent in its own right as a quirky and fun text about those odd creatures we mycologists and mycophiles typically include in our discussions of fungi (even though we know they’re not really fungi!).

We know what slime molds are not, but what they are has been a conundrum from the start. Some of them resemble fungi in their growth habit, and they make spores, so they were historically lumped into the Fifth Kingdom (even before the fungi had a kingdom of their own). Nowadays they are considered more closely allied to the amoebae, thus are considered to be protozoan. (Some scientists would have the plasmodial slime molds in a separate kingdom of their own.) And taxonomy is just one of the intriguing and bizarre attributes about these creatures. Frankly I don’t wonder why a film about slime molds … I wonder why there have not been more films about slime molds!

The Creeping Garden, the film, is a real life science fiction movie exploring a world creeping right beneath our feet, where time and space are magnified and intelligence redefined. One film critic summed up the movie this way: “Imagine if Stanley Kubrick and Douglas Trumbull were tasked with making a 1970s educational science film about the pods from Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers and you’re some way to understanding The Creeping Garden.” Moreover, the film is a multiaward winning feature-length creative documentary exploring the work of fringe scientists, mycologists and artists, and their relationship with the extraordinary plasmodial slime mold. The slime mold is being used to explore biological-inspired design, emergence theory, unconventional computing and robot controllers, much of which borders on the world of science fiction. But as well as exploring the slime mold in the lab, the film also travels out into the wild, hunting for the organisms in their natural habitat. The documentary movie is co-directed by artist filmmaker Tim Grabham and writer and film curator Jasper Sharp, and follows in the unconventional footsteps of Grabham’s previous feature KanZeOn and Sharp’s fascination with the extended world of mycology. The original soundtrack was composed by celebrated musician and producer Jim O'Rourke, who has worked with Sonic Youth and Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man). Indeed, Werner Herzog’s 2007 film Encounters at the End of the World was cited as heavily influential to the creators of this current film. Herzog’s technique of making a documentary about a place but allowing the story to run off into different directions and taking closer, almost voyeuristic looks at people and characters in the story is very compelling. As compelling as the slime molds themselves are, the researchers, artists, and others drawn to these bizarre and at times unexplainable creatures are every bit as enthralling and makes The Creeping Garden a fascinating and remarkable movie.

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi