Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Grizzly Man

Originally Written and Posted at on 3/29/08 w/ Additional Edits.

Directed and narrated by Werner Herzog, Grizzly Man tells the story of a man named Timothy Treadwell whose love for grizzly bears in Alaska would lead to his death. Using many of Treadwell's audio and video footage, Herzog explores Treadwell's descent from a man who loses sight of reality while trying to be like the bears. Giving his own insight along with many who knew Treadwell and the late man himself, Herzog creates a documentary that is fascinating in its subject matter. The resulting film is one of Werner Herzog's most enduring and sympathetic portraits of a unique personality.

On October 2003, Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were found dead in the treacherous area of the Grizzly Maze in the Alaskan peninsula as their bodies were found mauled by a bear by a pilot. The bear was eventually killed as those closest to Treadwell are saddened though not shocked. Friends including Treadwell's former girlfriend Jewel Palovak talk about Treadwell and his devotion to bears. She met Treadwell in California where they both worked at a restaurant. His devotion to the protection of animals including grizzly bears has met with praise while he also met with a lot of harsh criticism. Even as two of Treadwell's ecologist friends read these harsh criticism as Herzog defends Treadwell's actions despite his own view on nature.

Herzog discusses the film footage that Treadwell had shot in the 13 summers he had been in at the Alaskan wilderness where Herzog is impressed by what was shot and such. Given Treadwell's background as an actor where at one point, he auditioned to be in the show Cheers but lost his part to Woody Harrelson that would lead to his own downward spiral following a promising career as a diver in high school and college. He learned of Treadwell's background from a small town in Florida where his original last name was Dexter as he talked to his parents. His mother revealed his devotion to animals at a very early age where he had a pet squirrel as a child while carrying a teddy bear that was an obvious link to his love for bears. When Treadwell went to college, things changed as a friend said that a near-overdose would give Treadwell a chance to change his love where traded his bad habits for his love of nature.

Yet, there was those who felt that Treadwell's delusional devotion to protecting the bears in the Alaskan wilderness from poachers and such crossed an invisible line between man and nature. Though the footage of Treadwell interacting with bears and foxes were fine, some feel that being too close to the bears seem to go wrong. Then there was Treadwell's behavior towards nature that Herzog felt was very sentimental as a scene about Treadwell's disdain for human civilization and authorities were causes for concern. More shockingly was the footage from his final trip as well as audio of his final minutes where Herzog himself hears the tape in front of Jewel Palovak where he makes a decision where he goes beyond his role as a filmmaker.

The film itself is really about a man whose devotion to nature and his delusions in believing his protecting the bears and wanting to become one of the bears is certainly fascinating yet ironic. With over several hundred of hours of footage filmed from Treadwell's camera including the last summer with his late girlfriend Amie as the camera operator. Herzog and longtime editor Joe Bini use the footage to show Treadwell's light-hearted if misguided view of nature and then, his often dark, delusional side about his views of the world and authority. With longtime cameraman Peter Zeitlinger providing the camera work for the interviews and wonderful overhead shots of the Alaskan wilderness. The film overall has a great look that is true to its doc style.

Then there's Herzog's direction and approach to his subject matter and the people he's interviewing. While the questions Herzog may ask seem to be upsetting, he gives the people he interviews a chance to give time to answer without going further. While Herzog the filmmaker might be pressed on to delve further but Herzog the person knows what is not needed or asked. One crucial scene in the middle of the film when concerning the audiotape of Treadwell's final minutes along with Amie is probably the most emotional. Though the tape itself isn't heard except through what Herzog and the coroner are saying. What Herzog decides to do and his reaction along with its aftermath is enough to know what he needs for his film without delving into exploitation.

Then there's Herzog on Timothy Treadwell. Herzog, who is known for his films that often concern Mother Nature, has a very cynical view on nature though he has an appreciation for it as well. While his commentary on Treadwell's reactions to nature and his interaction are interesting, he doesn’t say over and over that what Treadwell did was wrong. Herzog finds a balance in both sides of the viewpoint of nature where he asks a Native American man who worked a museum on the Alaskan wild about humans interacting with bears where he believes that bears should be left alone. While it's a viewpoint that Herzog and maybe the audience might agree on, Herzog doesn't attack Treadwell for his sentimental approach on bears as he feels that what Treadwell was doing is earnest and certainly a better path than the one he had previously had taken with drugs and alcohol. The result is truly a genuine yet moving portrait of a unique man.

With music by British folk legend Richard Thompson, Thompson's plaintive, melodic guitar work captures the simmering yet enchanting mood of the Alaskan wilderness that includes a wonderful back-up band featuring Jim O'Rourke.

The 2006 Region 1 DVD from Lions Gate Films and the Discovery Channel presented in 16x9 widescreen format with 2.0 Dolby Surround sound in English with closed caption and Spanish subtitles. Special features in the film include the film's theatrical trailer along with several trailers from Lions Gate Films. The big special feature is a 50-minute documentary about the music of the film entitled In The Edges: The Grizzly Man Session. Featuring Werner Herzog, the doc is essentially Herzog, Richard Thompson, editor Joe Bini, and music producer Henry Kaiser in a recording studio in December 2004 for two days with various musicians including Jim O'Rourke, formerly of Sonic Youth, playing. Herzog tells Thompson and the musicians to improvise the music as he and Bini figure out what will be used. It's an overall excellent companion to the film that shows how Herzog approaches a film score without delving into the traditional conventions of Hollywood films.

Grizzly Man is a brilliant and enlightening documentary from the brilliant Werner Herzog. Fans of films about nature will no doubt enjoy the images that the late Timothy Treadwell has shown while for enthusiasts of Werner Herzog will no doubt consider this one of his finest documentaries as well as an essential to his prolific film work. While the film is a wonderful yet enticing portrayal of the late Timothy Treadwell, the film is also a reminder of how people react towards nature and vice versa while reveling on the varied points of nature itself. In the end, Grizzly Man is a wonderfully superb, crafted documentary by the legendary Werner Herzog.

Werner Herzog Films: Feature Films: (Signs of Life) - (Even the Dwarfs Started Small) - (Fatana Morgana) - Aguirre, the Wrath of God - (The Enigma of Kasper Hauer) - (Heart of Glass) - Stroszek - Noferatu, the Vampire - Woyzeck - Fitzcarraldo - (Where the Green Ants Dream) - Cobra Verde - (Scream of Stone) - (Lessons of Darkness) - (Invincible (2001 film)) - (The Wild Blue Yonder) - Rescue Dawn - (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans) - (My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?) - Queen of the Desert

Documentaries: (The Flying Doctors of East Africa) - (Handicapped Future) - (Land of Silence and Darkness) - (The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner) - (How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck) - (La Soufri̬re) - (Huie's Sermon) - (God's Angry Man) - (Ballad of the Little Soldier) - (The Dark Glow of the Mountains) - (Wodaabe РHerdsmen of the Sun) - (Echoes from a Somber Empire) - (Jag Mandir) - (Bells from the Deep) - (The Transformation of the World into Music) - (Death for Five Voices) - (Little Dieter Needs to Fly) - My Best Fiend - (Wings of Hope) - (Pilgrimage) - (Ten Thousand Years Older) - (Wheel of Time) - (The White Diamond) - Encounters at the End of the World - Cave of Forgotten Dreams - (Into the Abyss) - (On Death Row) - From One Second to the Next

© thevoid99 2012


Unknown said...

Quite possibly the best found footage film ever made.

thevoid99 said...


Alex Withrow said...

Yeah, for me, Grizzly Man, and Werner Herzog as a human being, is best summed up by Herzog's reaction to listening to the tape of Treadwell being killed. Definitely the film's emotional climax. In fact, that is as powerful a moment as anything Herzog has ever put on screen, in my opinion.

Excellent review man.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex-A lesser filmmaker would just reveal what is heard. Yet, Herzog made the right decision as I'm sure if we all heard the tape. We wouldn't want to hear it again. I'm glad Herzog did something that goes beyond the idea of what a filmmaker should do.

Alex Withrow said...

Completely agree.

Chip Lary said...

Good review. I agree the scene where the tape is being listened to is the most emotional.

The scene that will always stick with me is early in the film where he is filming a bear standing on its hind legs rubbing its head on a branch. He's going on and on about how it's a big bear then it starts walking toward him and his whole tone changes from delight to fear. The bear moves on, but then the scene cuts to him standing in the same spot the bear was and Treadwell's head is something like 3 or 4 FEET below the branch the bear was rubbing against. I remember thinking to myself, "Holy shit, that was a big bear."

thevoid99 said...

@Chip-It's been some time since I've seen the film as I do remember that line but not that scene. I do like some of the humor of it. A Herzog film has to have humor, otherwise it wouldn't be a Werner Herzog film.