Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Flim Bolg Top 100 Films of 2000-2009

082. Grizzly Man (Directed by Werner Herzog, 2005): Grizzly Man is a textbook example of how a viewing experience can taint one's opinion of a film. After months of reading reviews and hearing hype on the film, I found out that Discovery Channel would be airing it in its entirety. I watched it, thought it was all right, and forgot about it. I continued to read hype about it and was baffled about it. Finally, about one month ago, I picked up the DVD to watch it again and was blown away by how terrific it really is. And that reason is: commercials! The Discovery Channel, looking to make back some of the money they'd invested in the film, would run about 3-4 minutes of the film, then put it 3-4 minutes of commercials. The commercials break up the pace, making it a two hour, stilted slog, whereas it's actually a pretty brisk 103 minutes when viewed on its own. But, enough about my complaining about commercials, on to the film, itself.

Grizzly Man is Werner Herzog's documentary about the remarkable life and grisly death of bear-lover Timothy Treadwell. For 12 years, Treadwell would travel north and live amongst the grizzly bears of Alaska for the bulk of the summer and a portion of the fall. He filmed them, named them, and, in his own mind, crusaded against poachers and other hazards the grizzly bears faced. In his thirteenth summer, however, Treadwell and his girlfriend, up much later than usual in the Alaskan wilderness, were both mauled and killed by grizzly bears.

Herzog's documentary is composed of interviews with friends and associates of Treadwell, as well as amazing footage shot by Treadwell, himself, of his interactions with the bears in their natural habitat. Herzog talks to the pilot who flew Treadwell to his campsite and was the man to find Treadwell's remains, to Treadwell's ex-girlfriend who has, in her possession, an audio tape of Treadwell and his girlfriend being killed by the bears, as well as those who were critical of Treadwell's methods. One expert questions whether Treadwell did more harm than good, fighting an enemy (poachers) that weren't really a problem while making the bears used to human interactions, leading them into possibly fatal situations with human beings.

But, Herzog digs even deeper than these conflicts and, in Treadwell, finds a man who is on the outside of society. There are references to Treadwell's difficult relationships with friends and family, and Treadwell's love of the grizzlies borders on mania, such as when he touches bear feces because he's so amazed that they were just inside one of "his" bears, or when he launches into a lengthy, profanity-laced tirade against the Parks Department and other colleagues. Herzog suggests that modern life had passed Treadwell by, and he no longer felt comfortable in the human world.

Watching this with a friend, I came up with the idea that maybe Treadwell's own death was something he cooked up in his own head as a form of noble suicide. There are references made to him fighting with the airline that was intended to take him back down from Alaska and how he and his girlfriend return to the wilderness, much later than usual, with unfamiliar grizzlies. For Treadwell, who, right or wrong, loves the grizzlies so much, I could see this being his idea of a noble death, dying at the hands of a grizzly, his own body acting as nutrients for said grizzlies. It's a fascinating film

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