The Creeping Garden (2014) (Blu-ray film review)

April 25, 2017 | By | Reply More

‘The Creeping Garden’ opens with black and white footage of Roy O’Neill, an excited NBC reporter. He says there are reports of blobs up to 18 inches in diameter appearing in gardens in Houston, Texas!

Cut to a path through a pleasant wood and a man looking for slime moulds. Writing on the screen tells you he is Mark Pragnell, amateur mycologist. A modern day Thoreau, Pragnell is a close observer of woodland life and especially slime moulds. Despite the title, the dramatic opening and the spooky 70s style music all the way through, this is a documentary not a horror film. It’s probably too late now to make a horror film in which radiation, that old culprit, boosts slime moulds to menacing proportions. You could have done it in the 50s with an old doomed scientist, his pretty daughter and the handsome expert with a pipe who saves the day. You can’t do it now: too corny!

Mycology is the branch of science concerned with the study of fungi. Slime moulds were classed as fungi early on and the label has stuck. Superficially, they look like fungi but, under a microscope, it can be seen that they’re very different. Our next expert is Bryn Dentiger who tells us that the name Mycetozoa means fungus animals. At one time, they were thought to be some kind of animal because they moved, albeit only at 1/20th of an inch per hour. Over the years, they have been put in specimen drawers near fungi, studied by the guys who study fungi and generally got stuck in the fungi camp. Too bad.

Cut to the arts and Heather Barnett. She manipulates the behaviour of slime moulds using repellents and attractants to create art. She can force it to grow and make letters by feeding it dead insects and other forms of carbohydrate. Like Scotsmen, slime moulds are particularly fond of oats. Cut to Dentiger, who tells us that they feed on the yeasts and bacteria caused by decay but are not themselves responsible for decomposition. They just eat the organisms that are. Cytoplasmic streaming is used to absorb other matter, a process we are shown by the miracle of time lapse photography.

Which brings us to the next chapter: ‘Time Magnification‘. Our expert for this is Tim Boon, author of ‘Films Of Fact: A History Of Science In Documentary Films And Television’. He explains some of the history of photographic projection, using magic lanterns, then lets on that time lapse photography is as old as cinema. Before 1920, one Percy Smith used the technique when making nature films in his house, his garden and his greenhouse. He called the process Time Magnification. In 1931, he made a film called ‘Magic Myxies’ to show slime moulds moving. Then it’s back to Mark Pragnell, who tells us how slime moulds climb high in the forest so their spores will be dispersed by the wind.

The next chapter is ‘The Fungarium’ in which Dentiger shows us the world’s foremost repository for fungi, a huge collection that also includes slime moulds. Most of these were collected by amateurs. Oddly, this has turned into a contemptuous word but there were many amateur scientists before World War One and some after, eagerly collecting specimens and data and contributing to the world’s fund of knowledge. Dentiger reminds us that the word ‘amateur’ comes from the Latin verb ‘Amo’ for love. They didn’t do it because they were too dumb to be professionals, they did it for the love of it. I can identify with that.

There is much, much more. In their simple quest for food, slime moulds put in a maze will take the shortest route to an exit marked by those porridge oats they so eagerly seek. Scatter porridge oats in the pattern of the major cities in Europe and the moulds form paths between them that almost duplicate the motorway network. Computer scientists are rigging them up with electrodes to make a sort of biological computer and a robotics researcher is using them to tell robots which direction to move in. Another fellow is using the patterns to make music that, I assure you, will never be in the hit parade. He ventured the notion that they are a kind of intelligence.

The scientists disagree. Slime moulds have mechanistic responses to external stimuli that can form complex patterns which almost look like behaviour, but that does not constitute intelligence. Like critics, slime moulds do not seem to play any vital role in the world and if they were eliminated from the planet we might not even notice.

Had anyone asked me if I wanted to see a film about slime moulds, I would have said no but I’m glad I did. It starts slow but this is an interesting documentary. Odd that it’s been released on DVD rather than sold to BBC4 or the National Geographic Channel but mine is not to reason why. After all, I’m only an amateur.

Eamonn Murphy

April 2017

(Region B/2, Region A/1 blu-ray: pub: Arrow Academy. 3 blu-ray disks. Price: £14.99 (UK). ASIN: B01MR5W1D1)

check out website: www.arrowfilms.co.uk

Category: Films, Science

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About the Author ()

Eamonn Murphy lives in the west country and grew up reading Asimov, Heinlein, lots of other old SF and Marvel Comics. After many years experimenting with alcohol he has settled down to the quiet life with a nice lady, a big garden and a dog but finds time to write reviews for crowsnest and a few short stories, some of which even get published in obscure magazines. His horror novel 'Arnos Hell' set in a Bristol graveyard is available on Amazon as a kindle book.

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