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October 26, 1971 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1971-10-26

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Rage Two


Tuesday, October 26, 1971

Page Two THE MICHIGAN DAILY Tuesday, October 26, 1971

Hellstrom Chronicle': They
said no one could top Disney

Contemporary Discussions
Prof. John Stevens
Comics: The Massest Media
Multipurpose Room UGLI

I would doubt very much that
The Holstrom Chronicle, one of
those true-life nature pictures,
will spark an epiphany in any-
body, even if that's what it in-
tends to do. It is, however, ab-
solutely fascinating, and if you
don't know a thing about in-
sects, it is likely to prove edu-
cational as well. I mean, have
you ever seen a termite queen
and her huge translucent sack
filled- with little goodies like
tubes, ganglia, organs and eggs?
Or have you ever seen a war
of black and red ants? Or the
mating of two black widow
spiders? Or a bug being gob-
bled up by a Venus Fly-trap?
And there are dozens more
things to delight urban yokels
like myself whose only contact
with the insect world is via the
. Some of this may recall the
days when your parents packed
you off to a Saturday matinee
of Disney's Secrets of Life. All
those tiny creatures crawling
around with an authoritative
narrator explaining it to you.
Now, I hate to attack American
institutions, and I may be ra-
tionalizing my love of true-life
adventures at my old age, but
The Hellstrom Chronicle seems
far superior to the Disney films
of my youth. For one thing, it is
technically unequalled; then
camera crews stationed all
around the world and equipped
with very special Arriflexes
spent two years capturing the
life and times of our tiny ne-
meses. Just how the camera-
men got some of their shots to-
tally baffles me.
M o r e o v e r, The Hellstrom
Chronicle improves on Disney by
wisely avoiding his synthetic
personification of the animal
world. You know, There goes
Mr. Bee out to meet Mr. Flower
and make honey. And we all
love honey, don't we? Incredi-
bly, without this junk, the bugs
are moving in their own gro-
tesque way, especially when we
see a battlefield strewn with
limbs, corpses. and dying in-
sect soldiers. War is hell on any
But for all its educational
value, the film, unlike Disney's
pictures, is not a simple docu-
mentary. Instead, the nature
photography serves to illustrate
the dire predictions of the fic-
tional Dr. Nils Hellstrom, a
young tweedy assistant profes-
sor, who confesses that he's
been labeled a lunatic. You see,
Hellstrom has a fixation with
bugs. He thinks they're going
to take over the world if we
don't reform ourselves and fast.
Insects were here long before
Man. They have a social order
that Man has been unable to
match. They operate on an in-
herent logic that tells them the
best option in a certain situa-
tion, so that even when they
kill they are acting in accord
with Nature (which, I guess, is
supposed to be some kind of
consolation for the victims).
Finally, insects have a "tech-
nology" that rivals our own-an
elaborate system of communi-
catibns, a built-in. computer, a
little ABM
Inescapably, on the peri-
phery of Hellstrom's exhorta-
tion is a bit of philosophy. Man
will succumb to bugs, says the
Doctor, because bugs are linked
inextricably to Nature. They
cannot think for tliamselves:
they merely act out their fates.
And in the bane-up finale, he
shows us a terrifying horde of
blind driver ants literally de-
stroying everything in their
path, no matter how large. Even
lizards are devoured by the

mob. It's unbelievable and a wee
bit frightening.
But even more frightening,
philosophically at least, is the
plight of the mayfly. This bug
has a life span of only one day
and spends its lifetime procre-
ating another generation of
mayflies, who, in turn, will
spend their lifetimes . . . and so
it goes. This, of course, may be
the ultimate in being at one
with your environment, and
Hellstrom uses this example to
berate Man and his H-Bombs.
"Life's only purpose is life it-
self." Which is well and good if
you consider a life like the may-
fly's worth living. I don't (after
all, I'm not ,a mayfly), but the
maniacal Hellstrom, like so
many others, believes a buglike
order may be the answer to our
problems. ,Whether it be the
conservative's order of the club
or the liberal's order of futur-
ism, we must, in a kind of total
ecological commitment, plug
ourselves into Nature to curb
our destructiveness.
To me, the real question this.
raises is, How much is our
safety worth? Hellstrom says of
the bugs, "Where there is no
intelligence, there is also no stu-.
pidity." But it works both
ways: Where there is no stupid-
ity, there is also no intelligence.
Granted, Man alone is able to
undo God's work; Man alone is
also able to consciously create.
I'm not sure if glorification-of
intelligence is the message of
The Hellstrom Chronicle or if
there is any message at all be-
yond the amazing nature pho-
tography. (T h e r e probably
isn't.) When bugs start making
movies about human beings I'll
start worrying. Until then .
* * *
In looking over my review of
McCabe and Mrs. Miller I've
noticed a major failing, and I'd
like to at least clarify my am-
biguity. The problem is that
although a reader should have
realized I liked the film, I never
stated unequivocably where I
stood. My apologies. Most
critics either loved the pic-
ture or hated it. Kael came on
TV to hail it as a major tri-
umph; Kauffman lambasted it

as "trash." When I first saw
McCabe last summer I was im-
pressed without being over-
whelmed. It had a clear and
solid theme, which I limned in
my review, and within the
bounds of its style it had very
few faults, unless, of course, you
happened to consider the style
itself one big fault.
I've never been a big fan of
style for its own sake, but Mc-
Cabe's was well enough inte-
grated with theme to prevent
the film's quick dismissal as
avant-garde gibberish. The mo-
vie's director, Robert Altman, is
rapidly becoming one of Ameri-
ca's most personal filmmakers.
He is audacious, and even when
he fails, as in Brewster Mc-
Cloud, he fails with a certain
aplomb. McCabe is another of
his experiments, and since most
of us aren't prepared to accept
an expeiment on its own
terms, I found myself (on first
viewing) attracted by its beau-
ty and singularity while re-
pelled by its choppiness. On the
positive side, it was a lovely,
even classic, portrait of chang-
ing West bereft of spiritualism,
a portrait concerned more with
situation than with story. On
the negative side, in dispensing
with taut narrative and tra-
ditional character development.,
it also dispensed with fleshed-
out characters. I'm old-fashion-
ed. I like three - dimensional
But alas. matters were fur-
ther complicated when I went
back to review the film. Maybe
it was just knowing what to ex-
pect, but I came away from
these viewings satisfied and en-
thusiastic. The picture had
somehow grown. True, I didn't
find it any more moving than
before; Altman's treatment mil-
itates against that. And yet I
had to give the man credit for
having his vision so fully rea-
lized. If I were to take the mean
of my two reactions, McCabe
would wind up solidly on the
plus side. I won't do that. I'll
merely say that while the film is
too disjointed (or I'm too tra-
ditional) for me to call it great,
is is possibly the best American
film this year. Warts and all.



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Here are Ladies'
set at Mendelssohn

This Friday and Saturday eve-
ning The University Professional
Theatre Program will present
Siobhan McKenna in "Here are
Ladies". McKenna will perform in
Mendelssohn Theatre.
Her dramatic gallery of famous
characters from the works of such
leading Irish authors as Shaw,
O'Casey, Synge, Yeats and James
Joyce, is climaxed by her ren-
dering of the Molly Bloom solilo-
quy from 'Ulysses'.
The Irish theatre's most dis-
tinguished actor, Jack MacGow-
ran, follows for two performances

on Jan. 21 and 22 in the "Works
of Samuel Beckett." This per-
formance won both the Obie
Award and the Theatre World
Award for MacGowran last sea-
son Off-Broadway, where the cri-
tics hailed MacGowran as "the de-
finitive exponent of Beckett, the
towering avant - garde dramatist
of our age."
Try Our New
" Gerry Erickson
* Dennis Shaner
near Michigan Theater

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"I wouldn't say McCABE is more
enjoyable than M*A*S*H; it is
simply richer and better, a cas-
s'c of its kind . . . be forewarn-
ed: the trick of appreciating
settle back and let it gurgle
over you."
Neal Gabler-Michigan Daily

Norman Podhoretz
Editor of Commentary Magazine
Author of Making It and Doings and Undoings
speaking on
"Is It Good for the Jews?"-The Question
of Jewish Interest in the 'Seventies


8:30 P.M.




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author of the classic modern text on film editing



-An alienated young man copes with a mad world in a mad-cap way-identifying with animals in the process-
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