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The Hellstrom Chronicle

The Hellstrom Chronicle(1971)

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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 October 3, 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 Variety on December 10, 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 April 24, 1971 in Rhyolite, NV, a well-known Western ghost town. As The Hellstrom Chronicle was shown at the Cannes Film Festival on May 27, 1971, it is likely that the Rhyolite sequence was the final sequence filmed.
       According to a Variety article on June 30, 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 Daily Variety news item in March 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 July 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 February 1972.