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This is my old blog, which I no longer update. Feel free to browse around old posts and such, but the much more recent version of my ramblings are to be found at MarilynAnneCampbell.com

Saturday, June 03, 2006

"Grizzly Man" Could Have Used a Better Handler

Werner Herzog fills me with The Rage.

I finally saw his film "Grizzly Man", which was supposed to be a fantastic documentary. It turns out it was a fantastic documentary subject that was nearly ruined by the way it was handled. "Grizzly Man" is about the late Tim Treadwell, a troubled, would-be actor who went out to live among the grizzly bears in Alaska for thirteen summers. He started taking a video camera with him and the resulting footage Herzog had access to was absolutely engrossing, both for the wildlife it featured and for the oddity of the man doing the filming. In between Treadwell's footage though Herzog has placed awkward and clearly 'directed' interviews with people who are variously biased, bizarre, or have no real idea what they're talking about. Worse is Herzog's pompous voice-over and carefully constructed "scenes" that seek to push Treadwell out of the picture and place Herzog himself as a main player.

By far the most annoying was the ending. The "Grizzly Man" narrative is hung on Treadwell's death, which did eventually come in the form of a bear attack that saw both he and his girlfriend devoured. For the first hour everything everyone says implies this happened because one of the bears Treadwell believed he had established a relationship with finally, inevitably turned on him. When Herzog gets around to the facts however, it turns out Treadwell foolishly went back to his camp later in the year than he ever had before and thus encountered the hungry bears from the interior who were making a last-ditch effort to fatten themselves before hibernation. The bear that killed Treadwell was not one of "his" bears - it was a stranger to him and he to it. But Herzog just threw that fact out there and kept talking like it was irrelevant, when it runs totally contrary to the "he got what was coming to him" vibe of many interviews in the film.

I'm not saying Treadwell's bears thought of him as their friend, as he so perilously believed. What I am saying is that while it's still possible one of those bears someday would have turned on him, the fact is they didn't. To build your whole narrative on a potential outcome as if it was already the case is sloppy, shoddy storytelling.

I wish they'd just put out a DVD with Treadwell's footage and some excerpts from his diary. Tim Treadwell was his own story - we hardly needed Herzog telling us what he thought of the man or of the beasts that man chose to live and die with.

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