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Grizzly Man
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Welcome to Bear City!"
4 stars

In his long and varied career, which has encompassed both feature films (including “Fitzcarraldo” and “Aguirre: The Wrath of God”) and documentaries, Werner Herzog has always demonstrated a fascination for characters–real or fictional–whose personal obsessions are so all-consuming that they completely willing to place themselves and others at the risk of physical and/or emotional destruction in order to pursue them. Hell, he is one of those very people in real life–this is a man who has traveled to the ends of the earth and repeatedly placed himself in unfathomable jeopardy (he once shot a film on the edge of an active volcano) in order to bring his own particular visions to the screen. This is not the kind of person who could make a safe and bland piece of product if he tried; he is a man who marches to his own drummer, not because he wants to but because he pretty much has to.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise to discover that he would want to make “Grizzly Man,” a film about Timothy Treadwell, a self-proclaimed “protector” of Alaskan brown bears who spent the better part of 13 years living among them in the wild until the animals finally turned and killed and ate both him and girlfriend Amie Huguenard in 2003. Although few questioned his sincerity and devotion to the bears, many took issue with his methods. He became convinced, for example, that he was becoming more and more a part of the bear world and that the animals understood and respected him for that. He was so convinced of this, in fact, that he began to ignore the very same safety rules that helped to keep him safe in the first place on the assumption that they no longer applied to him. Near the end, Treadwell’s increasing paranoia pretty much alienates everyone around him and there is one long and hypnotic scene in which he tapes himself delivering a speech that begins as a poetic ode to the end of his bear season and quickly degenerates into a deranged, foul-mouthed rant so brutal that you can almost see lightning flash from his eyes and winds himself up further and further.

Using interviews with friends and colleagues as well as portions of the 100 hours of extraordinary video footage that Treadwell shot of himself in the wild, Herzog paints a haunting and bleakly funny look at a man who was so desperate to transcend his own existence that he neglected to sense the very real dangers surrounding him, what he dubs “the overwhelming indifference of nature.” Some of the best moments of the film come from Treadwell’s own footage. There is an incredibly brutal bear fight (an incident that would have sent any rational human scurrying for the hills in a heartbeat) and, in one of the last bits of video he shot, we get a look at a bear lurking unnoticed in the background–this bear, according to Herzog, is probably the one that killed him.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of “Grizzly Man” is the way in which Herzog deals with Treadwell’s final tape–an audio recording of the fatal attack on himself and Huguenard (although captured with a video camera, the lens cap wasn’t removed) that still exists. Does he play the audio and turn his film into a virtual snuff film or does he ignore it completely and run the risk of offending those who want to hear a person chewed up by a wild animal. His solution is equal parts clever, crafty and sneaky–he shows himself listening to the audio on earphones and then proclaiming to one of Treadwell’s friends–she is the owner of the tape but has never brought herself to listen to it–that she should burn it so that it can never haunt anyone again. On the one hand, this is clearly Herzog at his most showman-like–he knows that there is nothing creates a desire to see or hear something than being told that it is simply too horrible to bear. On the other hand, the look of Herzog’s face as he finishes listening to the tape seems pretty genuine–if something like that can affect a man who spent months in the jungle with Klaus Kinski and lived to tell the tale, it must be pretty horrible indeed.

And yet, Herzog doesn’t simply write him off as a kook–although he disagrees with many of Treadwell’s methods, he recognizes and understands what Treadwell must have felt out there in the wild (as anyone who has seen the astonishing “Burden of Dreams,” Les Blank’s documentary of the dangerous lengths that Herzog went through in order to film “Fitzcarraldo,” will attest). He also speaks admiringly of Treadwell’s filmmaking technique, even if Treadwell himself was most likely unaware of what he was doing. (Herzog speaks of how Treadwell would capture amazing things by letting the camera run after the planned scene would come to an end, a approach that he uses himself in his own interview footage.) To Herzog, Timothy Treadwell is more than just a guy who acted weird and got eaten by a bear–he was a kindred spirit and, perhaps, a cautionary example of what can happen when one pursues their obsessions too far. It is that empathy that rings through in “Grizzly Man” and it is what makes it such a fascinating film to see and contemplate.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11232&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/12/05 00:24:18
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/19/15 jeanne His arrogance and ignorance of WHERE HE WAS got two bears killed. Good job, dumbass. 1 stars
9/19/09 Angry Bear I may have possibly died briefly during this spectacular explosion of laughable dirge. 1 stars
5/10/08 mb Very self-centered. 2 stars
6/09/07 Bob Amateurish, flimsy, wanna-be documentary. Thank God this moron was eaten. 1 stars
1/18/07 MP Bartley The Bear Witch Project. Craaaaazy guy. 4 stars
12/27/06 Bobby Ny Not all that great, expected more Bear scenes 2 stars
10/21/06 Tanya Grays It was odd but interesting, it proves we should not mess with animals 4 stars
10/21/06 Tanya Grays It was odd but interesting, it proves we should not mess with animals 5 stars
8/16/06 Mary Beth it was ok 3 stars
6/02/06 Rowsdower Great character study. 5 stars
6/01/06 San Lamar i highly enjoyed this one 4 stars
5/29/06 Jill Made me hungrier than Super Size Me did. 5 stars
5/08/06 Tiana G it is amaizing!!! 5 stars
2/16/06 tatum Strong and fascinating, and uncomfortable to watch 5 stars
2/14/06 Indrid Cold Unique and interesting, but ultimately pointless. 4 stars
2/14/06 malcolm TT was plumb nuts. awesome doc' with no preplanned agenda. take a lesson michael moore. 4 stars
2/06/06 Ole Man Bourbon Gayer than Carson from Queer Eye for the S. G. Cute film though till the end. 5 stars
2/05/06 WTF Best comedy of 2005. 5 stars
1/16/06 Jared Wilson I can't believe how much I LAUGHED! 4 stars
1/07/06 strider Fascinating flawed Treadwell - had an amazing "connection" with the wildness around him 5 stars
11/21/05 Kurtis J. Beard Herzog = Great Movie. Go see Aguire, the Wrath of God. You won't regret it. 5 stars
10/23/05 Naka YES HE MUST HAVE. Jackass, you don't GET to enjoy this movie. Sucks to be you. 5 stars
9/21/05 Alex Interesting and beautiful. Rather selfish of how he got her killed along with himself. 4 stars
9/16/05 APK A brain fried on drugs 2 stars
9/04/05 JDikner I want my money back! 1 stars
9/03/05 Naka Without question the single greatest documentary I have ever seen. 5 stars
8/30/05 sully "Beyond that,we all enter the food chain,& not always right at the top" Hunter S. Thompson 4 stars
8/29/05 Lisa ridiculous narcissm by both Herzog and Threadmill 4 stars
8/27/05 jenjenmarie what a psycho, pretty entertaining though... 4 stars
8/25/05 Me is this thing for realz? does anyone suspect this guy is faking his own death? 4 stars
8/22/05 Steve A film about an unstable, self promoting guy. Chris Guest appears to have written this. 2 stars
8/22/05 Pam Sloane Another great Herzog contribution-troubling, exhilarating and memorable. 5 stars
8/09/05 kamal nothing 5 stars
8/01/05 Lou Schlegell a voyeuristic work using a very incompetent man as its foil pretending to be a documentary 1 stars
6/09/05 Nikki Hix good perspective 4 stars
1/29/05 Garnet Leib Great 4 stars
1/28/05 buddy garrett aargh! 2 stars
1/28/05 buddy garrett aargh! 2 stars
1/28/05 Naka Neat documentary. 4 stars
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  12-Aug-2005 (R)
  DVD: 26-Dec-2005

  03-Feb-2006 (15)


Directed by
  Werner Herzog

Written by

  Timothy Treadwell
  Amie Huguenard

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