‘Creeping Garden’ makes slime mold interesting

Let us dispense with the jokes about films with unusual topics: Yes, if you have to see one movie about slime mold this year, “The Creeping Garden” is it.

Yes, “The Creeping Garden” is the “Citizen Kane” of slime mold movies.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s state that “The Creeping Garden” is indeed a fascinating film about slime mold, and that it fulfills the documentary objective of informing us about a subject we know little about. The film flies bravely in the face of the world’s ignorance of slime mold, in fact.

We visit a British specimen collection in the fungus department of an archive in Kew Gardens, where the curator wistfully notes that very few people request access to the slime mold section. Those who do are in for a treat: dozens of tiny, dried samples of slime mold, resting in wee boxes with labels hand-lettered by some long-forgotten enthusiast from the 1920s.

Slime molds should not be classified with fungi, actually, as they were long ago determined to be a separate family. After the shock of that wears off, we can ask: What is slime mold?

As we learn here, it’s a substance somewhere between vegetable and animal, a gunky goo that lives in dark places in the forest. When confronted with a food source — in the lab, they really dig oats — slime mold will move inexorably toward the object of its appetite, until it overwhelms and absorbs it.

In other words, “The Blob” was less fantastic than anyone dreamed. (The premise of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” of spores drifting through space, gets support too.)

Directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp use time-lapse photography to show how slime mold extends its tendrils and crawls along (it can work its way through a maze), all the while throbbing in an uncanny way.

Slime mold even makes music, of a sort, and we hear its murmurs digitized and then played on piano. The movie itself has a terrific, David-Lynch-on-”Forbbiden-Planet” soundtrack devised by Jim O’Rourke.

“The Creeping Garden” is also notable for its people, including artist Heather Barnett and an erudite early-cinema expert. And there’s a young American working in the Kew archive, cheerfully obsessed with his collection of samples (he brings to mind Henry Fonda’s herpetologist in “The Lady Eve,” who avers that “Snakes are my life” while Barbara Stanwyck is trying to seduce him).

They’ve all been absorbed by slime mold, you might say. For 80 minutes, you will be, too.

“The Creeping Garden” (3 stars)

An unexpectedly fascinating documentary about slime mold, gunky goo that grows in dark places in forests. You will learn a lot about the stuff, and also witness its uncanny movements in time-lapse photography.

Rating: Not rated; probably PG for subject matter

Showing: Grand Illusion

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