Thirty Thousand Streets

Monday, March 30, 2009

Grizzly Man

This evening I watched the Werner Herzog documentary 'Grizzly Man' about the reclusive guy who fed himself and his girlfriend to bears in 2003, Timothy Treadwell.

There's something incredibly eerie about it, as it largely mostly consists of footage self-filmed by Treadwell whilst out in the Alaskan wilderness, consisting of him delivering enthusiastic bulletins about his ursine friends, when you in fact know what the grisly outcome of this obsession was

And he was definitely an 'unusual' guy, with something of a chequered past, who discovered bears like other people discover Jesus. In fact, there is an messianic zeal about some of his straight-to-camera monologues, which veer from sweet (if somewhat naive) hymns to the giant beasts he loves so much, to expletive strewn rants against human society, against the bleakly beautiful backdrop of some mountain vista – usually with a skip-sized brown bear swaying in the middle distance.

In contrast to which, Herzog's measured, considered voiceover seems incredibly compelling. He is clearly fascinated by this man and the legacy of his extant footage, though while the I got the impression he views him kindly (and some people interviewed for the programme clearly saw him as a crank who got his comeuppance) he is as at odds with the spiritual significance that Treadwell projected on to the lumbering beasts who were his companions as anyone. One quote which we actually had to rewind and re-listen to it was so solemn and aphoristic was (and I paraphrase) "The common denominator in the universe is chaos, hostility and murder".

Ultimately, this is quite a sad, affecting portrayal of a man who paid the ultimate price for his love of bears (great tagline, huh?). What stays with me as much as anything however is the incredible gravitas that the archived documents that survive Treadwell possess, the breathtakingly stark beauty of an Alaskan wilderness, mostly indifferent to human motives, set against the emotional crusade of a single man, and as well as being a documentary it's a tragedy, if not also a strange sort of love story.

I also enjoyed Little Dieter Wants to fly by Herzog, too. Next time, I think I'll try and catch one of his actual 'movies'.


Zeno Cosini said...

I totally agree with everything you've said here. I love this film - the footage Treadwell shot is amazing, and there's something wonderful about the delicacy and restraint with which Herzog deploys material. I felt totally haunted by the sequence where H plays himself the recording of Treadwell's death (which we never actually hear), and then begs the guy's ex-girlfriend never to listen to it.

Herzog is amazing. If you're going to check out his other films, I recommend Aguirre Wrath of God, and Even Dwarves Started Small (which is one of the most disturbing films I've ever seen).

The Eyechild said...

Yeah, the scene where he's listening to that recording is truly gut-wrenching. In a film which constitutes a truly astonishing document of the recordings Treadwell left behind him, the spectre of that recording, like Treadwell's death, lurks ominously in the wings. I wonder if his ex-girlfriend did, as he advise, destroy it?

Cool. I'll scout them out... 'Aguirre Wrath of God' sounds appealling in particular...