Grizzly Man

on August 12, 2005 by Annlee Ellingson
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After 13 summers living with the grizzly bears of Alaska's Katmai National Park and Reserve, the mauling of Timothy Treadwell and a female companion in October 2003 at the paws of one of his beloved creatures was viewed as inevitable by both supporters and detractors skeptical of his warm and fuzzy portrayal of the beasts. Although a critical examination of this controversial figure occurred at the time of his death, a more complex, nuanced portrait is emerging only now with Werner Herzog's documentary, assembled from interviews with people close to him, those familiar with the circumstances of his killing and 100 hours of footage that Treadwell shot himself during final five seasons in the wilderness.

At once childlike and exceedingly vain, idealistic and increasingly paranoid, vulnerable and methodically molding his own myth, Treadwell produced home movies with some of the most spectacular images of the wild that one is likely to see -- a clear appeal to co-distributor Discovery Docs. But ultimately "Grizzly Man" is a film not only about nature but filmmaking itself. In heavily accented voiceover, Herzog expresses a fascination with the magic of seemingly empty moments inadvertently captured by Treadwell's camera, and in his own footage it's less interesting what his interviewees say than what his camera captures as it lingers on their faces. There are times, however, that the director's personal responses play too prevalently.

The most intriguing piece of tape, however, doesn't even make the final cut: Treadwell's video camera had been flipped on for his last moments, although there wasn't time to remove the lens cap. On the one hand, Herzog uses the Zapruder-esque audio to build agonizing suspense. He interviews the coroner, who describes its contents in detail in addition to the injuries sustained by the victims, and he tapes himself listening to it on earphones. Morbid curiosity is dashed, however, when he warns Jewel Palovak, an old friend of Treadwell's and executor of his estate, to destroy it without ever listening to it. The decision to not include it was an easy one for Herzog and ultimately the right one: To have included it would have rendered "Grizzly Man" a snuff film. Starring Timothy Treadwell. Directed by Werner Herzog. Produced by Erik Nelson. A Lions Gate release. Documentary. Rated R for language. Running time: 104 min

Tags: Starring Timothy Treadwell, Directed by Werner Herzog, Produced by Erik Nelson, A Lions Gate release, Documentary, murder, vulnerable, vain, magic
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