An early tinkerer with agricultural bioengineering is the subject of “Hybrid,” a docu that’s itself a bit too apples-and-oranges: Helmer Monteith McCollum’s B&W Midwestern Gothic atmospherics impart intrigue, but they ultimately lend more ponderous gravity than pic’s lightweight portrait can bear. Experimental fillips and attenuated length make this difficult to place beyond fest gigs, though it does show promise. Given a sensibility somewhere between David Lynch and the Brothers Quay, perhaps McCollum’s next project should be a Bible Belt noir.While he was obsessed with developing and marketing his hardy strain of corn beginning in the 1930s, rural Iowa farmer Milford Beeghly’s withdrawn, uncommunicative ways kept his three children at a bewildered distance. Now retired, Beeghly (also seen in amusingly stilted 1950s regional corn-seed TV ads) may well still “love corn more than kin.” But his wife’s passing and a second marriage have evidently loosened him up — he’s plainspoken but garrulous. Although weakened by a stroke, he’s still alive and kicking (albeit nursing-home-bound) at 101. Subject is engaging enough, but McCollum (his grandson) promises more than he delivers with his elaborate presentation. Somber B&W lensing as well as quirky photo-collage and stop-motion animation segs evoke a sort of timeless, stark Grant Wood Heartland steeped in stoicism, eccentricity and loneliness. Yet its suggestion of dark psychological baggage proves somewhat superfluous; interview segs don’t dig very deep, while Beeghly is seen interacting with his middle-aged offspring so seldom that we can’t gauge whether there’s still any bad blood between them. Results are texturally striking, but neither dysfunctional-family nor science/agribiz theme finally seems weighty enough to justify portentous stylization. As it becomes clear that pic has no great secrets to spill, constant visual digressions (“dancing” corn cobs, bemused livestock views, melancholy landscapes) grow gratuitous. Nonetheless, arty package is quite impressive on its own terms, with meticulously thought-out design and tech aspects throughout — including violinist McCollum’s quirky score for string trio.
A Picture presentation. Produced, directed by Monteith McCollum.
Camera (B&W, 16mm), McCollum; editor, Ariana Gerstein; music, McCollum; sound, Jim Moore. Reviewed at Rafael Theater, San Rafael, Calif., Oct. 2, 2000. (In Mill Valley Film Festival.) Running time: 92 MIN.