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Eccentric 'Hybrid' documentary grows only so much

Thursday, January 24, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Iowa, the sunny representation of homespun Americana celebrated in "State Fair," also spawned Alvin Straight, who rode 300 miles on a lawn tractor to visit his ailing brother, and Milford Beeghly, who has spent most of his 101 years cross-breeding corn and remaining remote from his family.



EDITOR: Ariana Gerstein

PRINT SOURCE: Monteith McCollum



"Hybrid", playing tomorrow through Sunday at the Melwood Screening Room in Oakland, is every bit as eccentric as Beeghly. It was made by his grandson, Monteith McCollum, the second generation of his family trying to figure out what makes the old man tick.

With its grainy black-and-white film and long, static but often haunting views of Beeghly's farm and the Iowa countryside, the documentary looks like a Soviet realist paean to tractors directed by the genetically mutated progeny of Sergei Eisenstein and Andy Warhol. It contains campy old TV ads for Beeghly's Hybrid seed, bizarre stop-action animations of corncobs doing a mating dance (and technical explanations of corn sex), testimony from Beeghly's stoic offspring about how they never really knew him.

Yet the old man himself, when he finally decides to talk to the camera, seems downright loquacious and full of surprises.

His way of life flies under the radar of mass culture but seems even more quintessentially American than those "State Fair" homebodies -- stubbornly individualistic, eccentric and inquisitive, a man tied more to his work than to his family.

For all that, I don't know that the sex life of corn or the mysteries of Milford Beeghly are enough to sustain a full-length documentary. Monteith's long takes begin to feel indulgent and redundant. But fans of truly oddball cinema might have a hankering for "Hybrid."

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