A pulsating, amorphous mass that moves of its own volition, it acts with apparent intelligence in its endless quest to find and absorb food. No, this isn’t the plot to 1958 sci-fi horror The Blob, but a description of The Creeping Garden’s fascinating if revolting documentary subject, slime mould. A bizarre group of organisms that defy understanding, slime moulds are neither plant, animal or fungus. They reproduce through spores, but do not root themselves to rotting vegetation like true fungi, instead creeping through their environment like autonomous primordial soup..
The extra-terrestrial qualities of slime mould are hard to deny, and directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp aren’t afraid to draw alien comparisons, framing their documentary with an archival news report that could have come straight out of The War of the Worlds. Almost as interesting as the slimy stuff itself are the figures who study it. Mark Pragnell, an amateur mycologist, spends his days searching for fruiting bodies in his local woods, identifying and logging the different species he discovers. Elsewhere, at the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, Heather Barnett studies the biodesign potential of slime mould, researches its emergent ability to solve problems.
Even more bizarrely, Professor Andy Adamatzky has used the growth patterns of slime mould to map out human road networks, discovering that, astonishingly, the patterns mirror those of roads as well as resembling human blood vessels and the neural networks of the brain. Perhaps most incredible, however, are the scientists who are using slime mould to control robots, claiming that their research may one day contribute to bio and quantum computation. One researcher even uses slime mould to make music – though there’s no word yet on how well it dances to Jackie Wilson. Credit, too, is due to Grabham’s gorgeous cinematography and Jim O’Rourke and Woob’s otherworldly score, which work together to evoke the strange life of the film’s subject.
As a serious documentary, The Creeping Garden falls just a little short. There’s not much effort to draw the film’s disparate thematic tendrils together, jumping from amateur mycologist, to historical magic lanterns, social experiments and bio-computer research with nary a narrative segue. Rather, the connective tissue of the film consists largely of figuratively pointing at the fascinatingly gross nature of slime mould, each section a variation on the theme of “Wow, look at this!” Grabham and Sharp’s documentary works best as a series of vignettes, but the yuk / intrigue factor has a pretty high return on their slimy subject. For all its incoherent shortcomings, The Creeping Garden swells with moments of surprise, revulsion and uncanny beauty.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell