Dubious Documentaries #3

220px-Hellstrom_chronicle

(The first two entries in this series were posted on my Facebook page, before I decided to originate them here. Please feel free to friend me on FB, I am the Rick Ouellette from Bedford, MA)

The Hellstrom Chronicle
Directed by Walon Green—1971—90 minutes

Professor Nils Hellstrom is a man who has “lost two fellowships and a few friendships” because of his left-field theory concerning the imminence of insect world domination. The viewer is told right off that Hellstrom is a fictional creation; actor Lawrence Pressman plays him as a man on the verge of madness in a performance that stops just short of satire. After all, he asks, is the idea really so crazy? Those little buggers have a long evolutionary head start and limitless adaptability—not to mention that they kill more people each year through diseases like malaria than die in wars, car accidents and from old age. Viewers who can excuse the film’s daffy cinematic conceit will move on quickly to the real attraction: the astonishing field footage of the insects in question. The by-now-familiar time lapse and super-macro photography must have seemed extraordinary in 1971 and still holds up pretty well today. “The Hellstrom Chronicle” actually won a best documentary Oscar despite being nominated alongside Marcel Ophul’s “The Sorrow and the Pity.” Ophul’s four-hour investigative film about French collaboration and cooperation amid the Nazi occupation is now acknowledged as one of the great achievements in the documentary field. Amends were made 17 years later when Ophuls won for the similarly-themed “Hotel Terminus.”

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