Tuesday, September 13, 2005
I saw a GREAT documentary today after work. It was called Grizzly Man.
The Grizzly Man was Timothy Treadwell and he spent three months of the year with grizzly bears in Alaska. For the last five years of his life he took along a video camera and made over one hundred hours of footage of himself with the bears. Werner Herzog made this doco using some of this footage plus interviews with people who knew Treadwell, and experts on these grizzly bears.
We see Treadwell talking to the bears and telling them how much he loves them, he is so close to the bears, these ENORMOUS bears that when they stand up they are ten feet high, and you think that any minute one is going to lazily swat his head off his shoulders.
Treadwell started off wanting to be an actor and he auditioned for the part of bartender in Cheers, but when Woody Harrelson got the part, Treadwell was crushed and became an alcoholic. Then he went on a holiday to Alaska and saw these grizzly bears and fell in love with them, and decided to dedicate his life to protecting them. This idea of his, we learn, was kind of nutty because the bears are in a National Park and there are thousands of them, they are in no apparent danger whatsoever.
Again and again Treadwell admits that he loves the bears so much he is prepared to die for them, and in fact believes that this may be the only way that his message will get to a wider audience. Still, he made it onto the David Letterman show, and Letterman asks him if one day we will see a news report that Treadwell was eaten by the bears, but he says no way.
Treadwell gets so physically close to the bears, and he doesn't even have guns in case one of the bears was to attack him. He seems to believe that he is strong enough and understands the bears well enough that they will not harm him. Also perhaps they sense that he really only wants to protect them, so they will not try to swat his head off his shoulders. But a park ranger is interviewed and he says the way Treadwell behaves with the bears is as though they were simply people dressed up in grizzly bear costumes. Also that possibly the reason the bears don't attack him is that maybe they think he is mentally retarded.
Herzog's narration is excellent and he makes some challenging observations, for example at one point he notes that Treadwell sees some kind of nobility in the eyes of these bears, where Herzog sees only a half-bored interest in food.
Treadwell also has a great haircut, a "Prince Valiant" haircut (that style not only chosen to symbolise his protector status, but also to disguise his receding hairline), but mostly he wears bandanas on his head. At one point he discusses filming a shot but wearing different coloured bandanas. Actually, his mannerisms struck me as similar to the actor Owen Wilson.
Ultimately, Treadwell comes across as a defender of Nature's creatures, a rare human, seized with passion, too easy to label *mad*, although he surely was, but for sure the best kind of mad; he had bi-polar disorder and stopped taking anti-depressants because he wanted the up and down moods rather than the safe boring flatness. There is much footage of him declaring his love for the animals (not only the bears, but foxes who run around with him like domesticated dogs) in a strange high-pitched voice, loving, seemingly incapable of negative human emotions; yet later he rages at the National Park authorities who make rules like he must move his camp every day, he swears like mad, gets really abusive and flips his middle finger, this formerly placid "kind warrior" exploding with a furious verbal barrage, in a very funny scene, he even laughs at the end of it.
And ultimately he is a great character, immensely likeable, larger than life, one in a million, although one who had a tragic end. On his last trip to Alaska he took his girlfriend and they were attacked by one of the bears, but not one of the regular bears. They stayed past their usual time and the regular bears had gone into hibernation, but some mean bears came along and it was one of those. The camera was running but with the lens cap on. Near the end of the doco, Herzog listens to the tape in front of Treadwell's ex-girlfriend and it brings him to tears. He advises her never to listen to it, in fact urges her to destroy it.
Grizzly Man was great great GREAT. I've never seen anything like it, and don't think I'll be able to stop thinking about it for weeks.