America’s love affair with milk is a fascinating topic, one that has generated a lot of scholarship. In this curious documentary, Gerstein and McCollum tap into some of that scholarship to create a mix of cultural history and side-door polemic. Rather than making a direct argument (industrial milk production is bad, and maybe milk isn’t even good for us), they build implicitly, piling up a collection of opinions and weird snippets of history. And just to make the experience even less like a conventional documentary, they employ a variety of avant-garde filmmaking strategies (stop-motion, shooting out of focus) and a score (by McCollum) that mixes theremin and keening violins.
Gerstein and McCollum link milk to Richard Nixon (seen praising milk in a speech) and even to racist eugenicist theories (milk was seen as the drink of the “white races”). To use a metaphor from another part of the dairy farm, this smear by association is what’s known as “egging the batter.” But even if their sly approach grates a bit (anything seems strange if you slather on the theremin), this film deserves points for avoiding the more common documentary trap of obvious preaching. By the end, you may not be sure which of their experts to trust (a few sound like crackpots to us), but you’ll be likely to look at a glass of milk differently.