Grizzly Man

Like Matthew Ross of Filmmaker Magazine, I really liked Werner Herzog’s fascinating documentary, Grizzly Man (IMDB). Herzog’s doc focuses on grizzly bear activist Timothy Treadwell, who spent 12 summers living with and “protecting” grizzly bears from poachers. Treadwell was a mini-celebrity of sorts. He once appeared on David Letterman’s show and spent hours speaking to children about animal rights. The film opens with the revelation that Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were attacked and killed by a grizzly, leaving behind hours of footage of Treadwell and his relationship to the grizzlis he admired (significantly Amie rarely appeared on screen, and Treadwell often spent days alone with the bears).

Herzog is a sensitive interpreter of Treadwell’s footage, mixing Treadwell’s fascinating, often deeply confessional, images with interviews with Treadwell’s family and friends. And Herzog wisely allows Treadwell’s footage to carry the story, sometimes showing us Treadwell’s own professional ambitions (he’d often do several “takes” of a shot he was preparing for his documentary) but also showing us those unexpected images that would emerge when Treadwell simply allowed the camera to run.

As Herzog notes, Treadwell’s charming persona (laid-back, childlike Californian) masked a deeply haunted psyche, and we get several segments where Treadwell curse repeatedly in front of the camera, his paranoia about the threats to the bears magnified by his isolation. Herzog’s interpretations of Treadwell’s story–conveyed largely through voice-over–are often quite insightful, especially when it comes to Treadwell’s inner demons, but Cynthia’s point that Herzog may have romanticized Treadwell, seeing in him another version of the “holy fool,” may be right. When Herzog compares Treadwell’s relationship to the grizzlies to his own highly-conflicted relationship to actor Klaus Kinski, it seemed as if Herzog was appropriating Treadwell’s story.

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