DVD Review: Know Your Mushrooms (2009 Sphynx Productions)

MUSH 777474 Those expecting this documentary to be about the mind-expanding, space-travel inducing, true sacred portal to the gods types of mushrooms, you have to wait until the latter half of the film. The first part is about plain old yummy wild mushrooms, and the people who love them, hunt for them, and hold festivals in honor of them.

Written, produced and directed in whimsical fashion by Ron Mann (who includes several animated ‘shroom trivia questions, hosted by a small, bug-eyed pink mushroom), the film primarily is a documentary of the annual Telluride Mushroom Festival in Colorado. Our guides for this, er, trip, are Gary Lincoff and Larry Evans, edible fungus hunters, former (?) hippies, and general inner travelers. We follow them as they take festival goers on hunting ventures into the woods, cook their finds, and muse on the goodness of the fungi for everything from health to being the fuel for interstellar travel. Lincoff’s story of his first trip on the psilocybin variety is hilarious.

Other attendees are just as eccentric in their past and present mindsets, though there were more than a fair share of SUV-driving wannabes, who most likely cleared out when there was no expensive wine or celebrities hanging around.

Disembodied clips of John Cage and everyone’s favorite late ethnobotanist, Terrence McKenna, extol the possible origins of and primitive uses for the fungi: did speech develop from a really heavy dose? Did consciousness itself develop from a trip? Where mushrooms come from outer space, a sacred gift from the gods? How about this: John Allegro (who also appears in a bizarre clip), noted Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, write a book in the early 70s where he claimed that Jesus Christ WAS a mushroom, and that his followers tried to hide the secret of their holy stash by creating the story of Christ!

The Flaming Lips contribute some songs to the soundtrack, and are of course appropriate to the action. Other psych tunes as well keep things grooving, though this is mostly a talking head picture (no pun intended). In all the film is funny and kind, and is full of people you want to spend time with—well, maybe not the high 18 year old on the street talking slow and groovy like he was at Woodstock and not waiting for dad’s Lexus to swing by and get him after the trip to Whole Foods, but…

Know Your Mushrooms is a feel good movie, whether you are a daring foodie, a cosmic seeker, or one who wants to see aging hippies who didn’t either die, make bland corporate rock music, or sell out their hopeful, whimsical vision of how good the world can be.

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