Great Outdoors &Miscellaneous &Politics 01 Aug 2006 12:26 pm

Grizzly Man

Last night we watched Grizzly Man, a documentary by Werner Herzog, about Timothy Treadwell, a self-styled eco-warrior, and protector of brown grizzly bears.

I recommend it highly. This is after I was dreading watching it, since Treadwell was eventually killed in a bear attack. Herzog made a really thoughtful documentary though, and while the issue of his death and the gruesome manner in which it transpired need to be dealt with in the documentary, he managed to do it better than I ever could have imagined.

We originally picked the movie up because we recognized Herzog’s name, and because after just having visited Yellowstone and Yosemite this summer, we were interested to learn more about bears. Mostly, it was to see the bears. We were not disappointed in the bear footage, or the other little animals that Treadwell met in his 13 summers in the Alaskan wilderness. Herzog edited down over 100 hours of Treadwell’s footage, and I feel he did an honest, yet subjective rendering of Treadwell. He balanced outtakes, and interviews with friends, family, native inhabitants, and the eventual rescuers.

Most valuable though was the way that Herzog, and Treadwell for that matter, really prompt reflection about nature and our role in it. Should we co-habitat with giant, ferocious, wild animals like bears? Does nature boil down to cold, heartless expediency when resources like food get tight? Are we as humans destined to follow those same rules? Along with these questions, we see first-hand how different people deal with the enormous, immediate fear that bears evoke. These ten foot tall creatures with razor claws strip away the self-consciousness of the people interviewed. Treadwell acknowledged that fear and yet he spent 13 summers living among the bears. That is a remarkable response to that fear, no matter what his politics or other daemons that he was confronting.

I’ll refrain from commenting any more so as not to ruin the movie. I highly recommend it, even if you’re not interested in bears.

Speaking of not-bears, the DVD also contained a short documentary of the two days spent creating and recording the music for the documentary with Richard Thompson and a collection of studio musicians. This smaller documentary was as engaging as the main documentary. It let the viewer in on how the music was built to support the movie, and how the director works interactively with the musicians to achieve his vision. The camera work was excellent, and the exposition of the iterative process of creation, along with some of the tedium in making music for a documentary were enlightening. I have a much more profound respect and appreciation for both Werner Herzog and Richard Thompson.

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