Offbeat, enthralling and more than a little spooky, first-time filmmaker Monteith McCollum's award-winning documentary is simultaneously a portrait of his grandfather, Milford Beeghly (pronounced "bigly"), and an impressionistic account of Beeghly's lifelong obsession with hybridizing corn.
Shot in ominous B&W over the course of several years, the film combines present-day interviews with Beeghly, his adult children and widow, 1950s commercials for Beeghley's Best Hybrids, eerie shots of rural Iowa that suggest the dark vision of David Lynch and truly disconcerting, Quay Brothers-like stop-motion animation of ears of corn and farm-related objects. Even without the eye-catching animation, corn proves a surprisingly interesting subject, though some might feel they were better off not knowing that every yummy fork-load of corn kernels is actually "a mouthful of ripened ovaries." And while the elder Beeghly neglected his first wife and children shamefully while doting on his crops, the spry and lucid nonagenarian is surprisingly affable on camera, in a rough-hewn sort of way. Poking around in his relatives' childhood recollections, McCollum turns up oddly suggestive nuggets of information, like the fact that Beeghly's mother dressed him as a girl until he started school. But family skeletons take a backseat to those swaying fields of corn, the product of Beeghly's dream of developing a strain that would grow straight and tall, resist bad weather and yield bushels of delicious kernels. To that end, he cajoled farmers who believed crossbreeding was tinkering with God's design, hid his first hybrid plots behind an isolated barn like some cornpone Dr. Frankenstein and gave away seed with hucksterish assurances. Though Beeghly closed his business in 1974, he continued tinkering until shortly before his death in 2001, aged 102.
But it's the juxtaposition of Beeghly's voice-over recollections, delivered in a rasp as dry as old husks, and McCollum's feverish animated sequences that give the film its haunted power. Accompanied by McCollum's own plaintive violin score, ears of corn shudder, rotate nervously and strip down to their naked kernels as Beeghly, apparently aiming for a one-of-the-boys jocularity but instead sounding like a botanical pervert, quips that corn "likes to play with itself" and explains why crossbreeding requires rigorous human intervention. Canned niblets will never look the same.
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- Released: 2001
- Rating: NR
- Review: Offbeat, enthralling and more than a little spooky, first-time filmmaker Monteith McCollum's award-winning documentary is simultaneously a portrait of his grandfather, Milford Beeghly (pronounced "bigly"), and an impressionistic account of Beeghly's lifelo… (more)