12 March 2008
This film is not about grizzly bears. And despite all the other amazing things in Grizzly Man, I am most fascinated by what Herzog must have thought when he first got his mitts on this footage. The first time he ran through a bizarre fox-petting shot with 15 takes. I imagine the slick German accent inside his head: “Wow. This is perfect.”
Just teed up for him. It is anti-civilization. I could see this when he gave old Klaus a shout with “I have seen men go mad on camera.” Had to eat up the obvious mental illness, the deranged friends, the surprisingly artful footage. Right back into his Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo wheelhouse.
There was a moment (dare I say “touching”?) when Herzog defended Treadwell as an artist even if the man was tremendously flawed. Loved the windblown moment when Timothy sets up a shot on a narrow path, the small, whipped trees obscuring the way, unintentionally filming the metaphor of his whole life. Herzog deserves all the credit in the world for highlighting it.
Loved the unguarded, lengthy, completely fucked up Treadwell take on his sexuality, his sensitivity, the stuff he knows he’s ”good at” in bend, how easy gay guys have it, etc. Loved the lisping fucking baby talk with the half-ton animals (Herzog so right on how Treadwell was wrong here: this world—like any—is ruled by chaos and death, not peace and justice). Loved the fact you never saw his girlfriend’s face because Tim had to be “alone” in nature. Loved that his differently-surnamed father pointed out Treadwell was a “family name”—the strange connective pride that parents still maintain. Loved the most rational people interviewed all said Tim was a misguided nutjob—“you aren’t a bear,” “people and bears are separate.” Loved Treadwell’s “best friend” at the beach telling the incredibly important story of how Tim’s bangs covered his receding hairline even whilst body-boarding. Loved the psychotic Kodiak, Alaska coroner with his descriptions of the pitches of screams and the pictures of bags of viscera.
And you absolutely cannot beat the fact that Treadwell’s life hinged on his second place finish for the role of Woody on Cheers (certainly Harrelson would play Treadwell in the biopic—he owes him so much!).
I only wish Grizzly Man would have pushed further towards the idea of man becoming a bear. There is reference to the many shots of Treadwell on all fours acting the beast but we didn’t see enough actual image (Frank Bidart would remind us that the best within can drink till it is sick but it cannot drink till is satisfied). I had to console myself with the two shots of Treadwell worshipping warm bear shit.
I’m so bitter I didn’t know more this about the film when it came out (perhaps I hadn’t seen enough Herzog to really “get it” at that point though). I might have seen it thinking it was just a nature documentary maker lost, March of the Penguins with a sad ending. But it’s the second coming of Grey Gardens, if not more.