When I first started contributing to Berkeleyside in 2009, I had two things going for me: a little writing experience and a lot of enthusiasm. What I lacked, however, was a Rolodex full of contacts, and I had no idea how to get access to advance screenings of new films — or repertory screenings of old films, for that matter.

Les Blank Documents Berkeley, Saturday, June 17, 4:30 p.m., $14

It was sometimes hard to find column material in those early days: For a while, I penned articles about films shot in Berkeley like The Graduate (1967), Changes (1969), and the obscure Officer 444 (1926). It was fun, but ultimately a bit of a dead end: Berkeley has never been a popular filming location and the well of subject matter soon ran dry.

Except it didn’t: I never wrote about the films of Les Blank, who lived and worked in Berkeley for more than 30 years until his death in 2013. That rather embarrassing oversight finally comes to an end thanks to Pacific Film Archive’s special one-day program, Les Blank Documents Berkeley, screening at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 17.

After years spent in the Deep South, Blank — aided and abetted by PFA director and curator Tom Luddy — relocated to Berkeley in the late ’70s. His arrival signaled the beginning of a decades-long purple patch of Blank-helmed 16mm documentaries about eccentric personalities, roots music and food.

This Saturday’s mini-festival highlights two of the filmmaker’s Berkeley-focused shorts.
Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers (1980) examines the attributes of the stinking rose via footage shot at the late, lamented Gilroy Garlic Festival (which, bizarrely, seems to have morphed into a golf tournament), scenes of Alice Waters preparing a garlic-themed meal at Chez Panisse, and film of diners cutting a rug to the sounds of local zydeco band The Louisiana Playboys.

A man with a beard and a funny hat and a garland of garlic around his neck stands in front of a wall papered over with newspapers.
Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers. Courtesy: PFA

We meet enthusiast Lloyd Harris (whose garlic bulb hat is a sight to behold) and get to see how garlic sausage is made (and, as a bonus, get to hear it being made, which is somehow even worse). A veteran of the Spanish Civil War regales us with his own garlic stories and songs, and Blank documents the culinary genius of legendary San Francisco chef Henry Chung, whose Hunan Restaurant was your humble scribe’s favorite Chinese eatery in the 1980s.

Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers is lots of fun, but Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (also 1980) is even better. Documenting an appearance by the titular German director at the UC Theatre — where he did, indeed, eat his shoe (prepared, as we see, in the Chez Panisse kitchen with Alice Waters) — the film draws a direct line from Chaplin’s footwear feast in The Gold Rush (1925) to Herzog’s meal, the result of a bet made with fellow filmmaker Errol Morris. Chaplin’s shoe, of course, was made of licorice; Herzog’s shoe was the real thing.

Accompanying Blank’s films are two brief tributes produced in the wake of his 2013 passing. Remembering Les features Waters and Luddy reminiscing about their long-time friend, while An Appreciation of Les Blank is a heartfelt salute from Herzog, who was in town earlier this month.

Freelancer John Seal is Berkeleyside’s film critic. A movie connoisseur with a penchant for natty hats who lives in Oakland, John writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as...