The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971)

G | 90 mins | Documentary, Drama | July 1971

Directors:

Walon Green, Mel Stuart

Writer:

David Seltzer

Producer:

Walon Green

Editor:

John Soh

Production Company:

Wolper Pictures, Ltd.
Full page view
HISTORY

The working title of the film was Project X . The opening credits include a written acknowledgment of eight institutions "for their assistance in the production of this film: U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and University of California at Los Angeles, Griffith Observatory, California Institute of Technology, Lorquin Entomological Society, Entomological Society of America, Anti-Locust Research Center, London, National Museum, Kenya." Although there is an onscreen copyright statement that reads "Copyright 1971 Wolper Pictures, Ltd.," the picture was not registered for copyright until 3 Oct 1985, at which time it was given the registration number PA-276-942.
       Most of the film's production credits are at the end of the film and include the following written statement: "Nils Hellstrom, M.S., Ph.D., is a fictional character who was portrayed by Lawrence Pressman. His statements relating to the impermanence of the human species have been synthesized from contemporary opinions. All statements about the insect world are factual and have been reviewed by Roy Snelling and Charles Hogue, Ph.D. of the Entomology Department, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History." The fictional Hellstrom is also mentioned in the opening credits. After a title card reading "A David L. Wolper production" the following title card reads: "In Association with Nils Hellstrom M.S., Ph.D."
       The end credits include two title cards of acknowledgments, thanking persons "who assisted in the making of this motion picture: Mel Stuart, Linda Strawn, Phil Leakey, John and Lenita Moore, Jim Dannaldson, Jim Robertson, Lloyd Martin, Conlon Carter, M. C. Ruben and Gerald Calderon." Clips from the films The Naked Jungle (1954), Them! (1954) and the Wolper production ... More Less

The working title of the film was Project X . The opening credits include a written acknowledgment of eight institutions "for their assistance in the production of this film: U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and University of California at Los Angeles, Griffith Observatory, California Institute of Technology, Lorquin Entomological Society, Entomological Society of America, Anti-Locust Research Center, London, National Museum, Kenya." Although there is an onscreen copyright statement that reads "Copyright 1971 Wolper Pictures, Ltd.," the picture was not registered for copyright until 3 Oct 1985, at which time it was given the registration number PA-276-942.
       Most of the film's production credits are at the end of the film and include the following written statement: "Nils Hellstrom, M.S., Ph.D., is a fictional character who was portrayed by Lawrence Pressman. His statements relating to the impermanence of the human species have been synthesized from contemporary opinions. All statements about the insect world are factual and have been reviewed by Roy Snelling and Charles Hogue, Ph.D. of the Entomology Department, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History." The fictional Hellstrom is also mentioned in the opening credits. After a title card reading "A David L. Wolper production" the following title card reads: "In Association with Nils Hellstrom M.S., Ph.D."
       The end credits include two title cards of acknowledgments, thanking persons "who assisted in the making of this motion picture: Mel Stuart, Linda Strawn, Phil Leakey, John and Lenita Moore, Jim Dannaldson, Jim Robertson, Lloyd Martin, Conlon Carter, M. C. Ruben and Gerald Calderon." Clips from the films The Naked Jungle (1954), Them! (1954) and the Wolper production If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969, see entries below) are shown within The Hellstrom Chronicle to illustrate various points.
       Although The Hellstrom Chronicle is a documentary, the film contains numerous brief segments in which the fictional scientist Hellstrom is seen on camera describing his life and work and commenting on the action presented and its effects on the earth. Presented as a maverick who often has been derided by superiors and colleagues for his views, Hellstrom offers his opinions and philosophies on insects as they relate to the evolution history of the earth. Between his on camera sequences, Pressman, a Broadway actor who made his feature film debut in Making It (see below), which was released shortly before The Hellstrom Chronicle , provided voice-over narration of the insect segments throughout the film, always speaking in character.
       An ad in Var on 10 Dec 1969 stated that the film was "now filming around the world," and the onscreen acknowledgements noted that some of the entomological sequences were shot in Kenya. The dramatized Hellstrom segments were shot at various locations in Southern California, including MacArthur Park, Hollywood Blvd. and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. According to documents in the David L. Wolper Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library, the sequence in which Hellstrom appears in a desert among ruins of buildings was shot on 24 Apr 1971 in Rhyolite, NV, a well-known Western ghost town. As The Hellstrom Chronicle was shown at the Cannes Film Festival on 27 May 1971, it is likely that the Rhyolite sequence was the final sequence filmed.
       According to a Var article on 30 Jun 1971, the film cost $850,000 to produce. The article continued that director Walon Green was a thirty-five-year-old filmmaker who had formerly worked on a television nature series for National Geographic, and that noted NBC News anchor Chet Huntley was so impressed with the film after a print was sent to him by Cinema 5, Ltd. president Don Rugoff that he flew to Los Angeles to appear in its theatrical and television trailers. A DV news item in Mar 1972 stated that Los Angeles butcher Marvin Weinstein was suing Wolper Productions for $250,000, charging that "fraud and deceit" were used to convince him to appear in the hidden camera sequence that was edited to make him appear unconcerned for the health of his customers. In the sequence, a butcher does not react when a customer grimaces after seeing a large bug on a piece of meat. The disposition of the suit has not been determined.
       The Hellstrom Chronicle garnered outstanding reviews, with most critics lauding the film for making a potentially uninteresting subject exciting. Although many critics praised the film's dramatic blend of science, bold close-up and stop-action photography with dire ecological prognostications, others lambasted Hellstrom's characterization, which purposely included bleak dialogue, delivered in a deadpan manner by Pressman. New Yorker critic Penelope Gilliatt expressed the contention of some critics that Hellstrom's pompous nature made him tantamount to a "religious-minded ass."
       The film won an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary, in addition to being awarded the 1971 Grand Prix de Technique at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was one of five official U.S. entries. The picture also won the Grand Technical Prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Jul 1971, the Moscow Film Festival Special Organizing Committee Award and the Robert Flaherty Award for Special Achievement by the British Society of Film and Television Arts in Feb 1972. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
4 May 1971.
---
Daily Variety
8 Jun 1971.
---
Daily Variety
2 Mar 1972.
---
Filmfacts
1971
pp. 259-62.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jun 1971
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Aug 1971.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
23 Jul 1971.
---
Los Angeles Times
18 Jul 1971.
---
New York Times
2 May 1971.
---
New York Times
29 Jun 1971
p. 30.
New Yorker
17 Jun 1971
p. 45.
Newsweek
12 Jul 1971
p. 82.
Saturday Review
24 Jul 1971
p. 51.
Time
19 Jul 1971.
---
Variety
10 Dec 1969.
---
Variety
16 Jun 1971
p. 22.
Variety
30 Jun 1971.
---
Variety
17 Jul 1971.
---
Variety
25 Feb 1972.
---
WSJ
29 Jul 1971.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A David L. olper Production in Assoication with Nils Hellstrom M.S., Ph.D.
A David L. Wolper Production in Association with Nils Hellstrom M.S., Ph.D.
A David L. Wolper Production in Assoication with Nils Hellstrom M.S., Ph.D.
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Hellstrom seq dir
Dir of Rhyolite seq
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Principal cine
Principal cine
Principal cine
Hellstrom seq filmed by
Addl photog
Addl photog
Addl photog
Addl photog
Addl photog
Addl photog
Asst at the cam
Key grip, Rhyolite seq
2d grip, Rhyolite seq
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
MUSIC
Mus supv
SOUND
Sd rec at Rhyolite
MAKEUP
PRODUCTION MISC
[Tech adv]
[Tech adv]
Prod exec
Post prod
Prod assoc
Dial supv
Unit mgr
Prod asst
Prod mgr, Rhyolite seq
Prod coord, Rhyolite seq
Transportation, Rhyolite
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Project X
Release Date:
July 1971
Premiere Information:
Cannes Film Festival premiere: 27 May 1971
New York opening: 28 June 1971
Los Angeles opening: 21 July 1971
Production Date:
began late 1969
Hellstrom seq, early 1971
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
C. F. I.
Duration(in mins):
90
MPAA Rating:
G
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
22943
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Prof. Nils Hellstrom, a scientist who has been derided by his colleagues for his opinions on the ecological state of the earth and the evolution of its various species, relates an etymological history of insects. Hellstrom explains that insects were the first creatures on earth and are the only creatures which constantly adapt to new environments, suggesting that their very simplicity is what makes them both vulnerable and strong. Scenes of various societies of insects, including several species of ants, termites, locusts, caterpillars and bees, are shown in their natural environment as they are born, work, seek nourishment for themselves and their young and procreate. Ants, like many creatures, spend their entire lives working to preserve their colonies, with each ant having its own specific and rigidly adhered to task. Some insects, such as termites and ants, willingly sacrifice themselves to protect their colony and their queens from danger. Hellstrom calls the mounds in which termites dwell similar to primitive computers because they are compartmentalized and powered by energy from the mound’s queens, who may live as long as fifty years. To illustrate that humans are often disgusted by or afraid of termites, Hellstrom experiments by using a hidden camera show people's reactions when they encounter large bugs in grocery stores and restaurants. Hellstrom postulates that the human revulsion for insects springs from the fact that insect-related diseases, particularly from such diseases as malaria and plague, are the greatest single cause of death in human history. Hellstrom states that insects can cause even greater harm by destroying man's food source by eating as much as one hundred times their weight. Discussing ... +


Prof. Nils Hellstrom, a scientist who has been derided by his colleagues for his opinions on the ecological state of the earth and the evolution of its various species, relates an etymological history of insects. Hellstrom explains that insects were the first creatures on earth and are the only creatures which constantly adapt to new environments, suggesting that their very simplicity is what makes them both vulnerable and strong. Scenes of various societies of insects, including several species of ants, termites, locusts, caterpillars and bees, are shown in their natural environment as they are born, work, seek nourishment for themselves and their young and procreate. Ants, like many creatures, spend their entire lives working to preserve their colonies, with each ant having its own specific and rigidly adhered to task. Some insects, such as termites and ants, willingly sacrifice themselves to protect their colony and their queens from danger. Hellstrom calls the mounds in which termites dwell similar to primitive computers because they are compartmentalized and powered by energy from the mound’s queens, who may live as long as fifty years. To illustrate that humans are often disgusted by or afraid of termites, Hellstrom experiments by using a hidden camera show people's reactions when they encounter large bugs in grocery stores and restaurants. Hellstrom postulates that the human revulsion for insects springs from the fact that insect-related diseases, particularly from such diseases as malaria and plague, are the greatest single cause of death in human history. Hellstrom states that insects can cause even greater harm by destroying man's food source by eating as much as one hundred times their weight. Discussing the initial effectiveness of pesticides such as DDT with a farmer, Hellstrom relates that insects are the most adaptable creatures on earth and that insects that survive pesticides such as DDT not only become immune to them but pass on their immunity to future generations. In a drive-in theater, Hellstrom watches scenes from the film If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium and discusses reproduction which, in insects, is relayed through scents, or pheromones, which are an aspect of insect communication. In his backyard, Hellstrom illustrates that, while water can kill insects, if only one pair of insects survive, they easily can maintain the entire species whereas, if only one male and one female human were to survive on earth it would take millions of years for the species to evolve. In a desert, surrounded by partially destroyed buildings, Hellstrom ponders what mistakes the mighty dinosaurs made that caused them to vanish while insects survived, then proffers that no one knows what species will be the last to survive, saying that the true winner is the last to finish the race. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.