dir. McCollum
Fri Nov 23 & Sat Nov 24
Whitsell Auditorium

I never thought of corn as something to feel passionate about. Yes, I know passion flourishes in the realm of the arts--that people feel passion for writing poetry or playing the oboe or ballet dancing--and that people feel passion for their lovers. But corn? Nope, never crossed my mind to feel passionate about a vegetable.

But corn is exactly what drives Milford Beeghly, the crackled, elderly farmer who is the subject of the documentary Hybrid. Corn keeps Beeghly alive and puts the life-sparkle in his eye. Beeghly, who was at the forefront of corn genetics in the '30s, when many scientists and farmers thought of corn interbreeding as an abomination, feels an affinity for corn that he won't or can't feel for people. He lovingly describes his cornstalks as having individual personalities; but, like anyone that becomes consumed by unchecked passion, Beeghly ignores everything else in his life, including his wife and children.

Director Monteith McCollum approaches his subject with an organic knowledge of the situation--Beeghly is his grandfather. His camera captures Beeghly the way a grandson would capture his grandfather--in coarse black and white film, with Beeghly seeming weathered and sweet all at once. Most importantly, McCollum shows how connected his grandfather is to nature, using gorgeous, textural images of feathery bugs flapping their wings, worms crawling wetly through clumps of mud and, of course, majestic shots of beautiful corn, towering above the flatness of Iowa like shifting rows of clouds.

It is the carefulness and unconventionality with which McCollum shot Hybrid that further intensifies Beeghly's passion to the viewer. McCollum intertwines shots of Beeghly singing sweetly in a corn silo with delicate stop-animation of cornhusks in a graceful mating dance. Shots such as these are so beautiful that, even between scenes of Beeghly's children's teary testimonies that he was never around, you can almost understand McCollum's desire to think only of corn.

Hybrid chronicles Beeghly from his birth in 1898 to his 100th birthday party, where he kisses other elderly people on the lips and sits contentedly near his second wife. It's a reality check--throughout most of the film, Beeghly seemed almost immortal, sort of a corn-god ruling his sunny farm. There's something to be said about the longevity of passion; even passion about something so wonderfully mundane as corn.