Werner Herzog's GRIZZLY MAN (2005)

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Werner Herzog's GRIZZLY MAN (2005)

Postby arsaib4 » Tue Oct 25, 2005 8:32 pm

Man attempting to surmount nature, and failing miserably, has long been an obsession of German filmmaker/documentarian Werner Herzog -- his work during the 70's most ardently dealt with that. In his latest effort, Grizzly Man, Herzog has found a way to retread the concept through Timothy Treadwell, a man who spent 13 summers in the Alaskan nature preserve, often breaking laws in order to get closer to the grizzly bears he apparently cared for. The documentary consists of excerpts from the over 100 hours of footage Treadwell mostly shot himself over the course of 5 summers before him and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were killed by one of the bears in October, 2003.

Early on in the film, its hard not to sympathize with Treadwell and his passion, but slowly and surely, it becomes apparent that he wanted recognition (not fame, necessarily). Its obvious to me that his accomplishment led him to believe that hes superior to other humans in a way ("You wont @#%$ survive here like I did," he once says looking directly into the camera), something he always aimed for, rather than it allowed him to strive to "become a bear," which is what we hear from various "professionals."

Having said that, we need to be careful regarding making an ultimate judgment. After all, Herzog has given us only a few minutes of, as I mentioned earlier, over 100 hours of footage. What we watched fitted well with Herzogs overall agenda. Its quite possible that if another documentarian wouldve taken on the subject, wed be discussing something different. Still, in this doc, which is overall well put together, Herzogs shouldve dug deeper into Treadwells contentious relationship with Huguenard, which we discovered through his diary entries. The bear who killed them (and then later got shot) was provided more attention than the girl.

And Herzogs penchant for details of their gory deaths was primarily incorporated in order to go around what he didnt wanted to do: let us hear the audio tape. I have mixed feeling on that. Is it more "noble" to have an overly excited forensic-embalmer(?) explain how the bear tore into Treadwells skull, or would Herzog have been able to make his obvious point by employing an artistic means? I recall Mexican director Alejandro Gonzlez Irritus mastery of sound editing in the anthology titled 11'09''01 - September 11 (2002) in which his segment simply consisted of screams of people jumping from the buildings after the attack. It was a moving and devastating account and not simply a technical showcase. But if Herzog was going to stay away from the sounds, then he shouldnt have tried to recreate a scene where he listens to the tape and then informs Treadwells former girlfriend to throw it away. It teases us more than anything else. Not good.

However, what follows is the films most astonishing and, to some, possibly disturbing scene: Two bears fight it out for the "Michelle Pfeiffer of bears," as Treadwell later notes. Herzog rightfully remains quiet during the sequence, which culminates with his protagonist recognizing the laws of nature while sitting not far away for the fallen bear. This is where Treadwell feels like a human being, one whos brave enough to be right there. (He also spoke about the possibility of his death on numerous occasions; practically he knew that his end would be through the animals he loved most.)

The filmmakers best moments, however, do comprise of his commentary, at times running along Treadwells. Herzog doesnt allow us to make a connection between his subject here and his "favorite" actor Klaus Kinski -- he makes it himself: "[Treadwell]s rage is almost incandescent, artistic. The actor in his film has taken over from the filmmaker. I have seen this madness before on the film set." This was after Treadwells profanity-laden rant against the Alaskan park services. (The disappointing part is that the bears were doing perfectly fine. There are many, many other species out there that couldve used him.) And then later on, its Treadwell who provides him with the close-up of a bears face, making Herzog conclude that "in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature."

Nature is cruel. Most of us recognize that, I think. But its also beautiful and majestic. While the focus here is certainly on the former, Herzog duly notes that Treadwells images, unwittingly, often consisted of the lush green hills and valleys in the region, not to mention the rivers and the lakes that surrounded them. But ultimately the filmmaker believes that the common denominator here is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder. Looking at the direction we seem to be headed in, he just might be right.

Re: Werner Herzog's GRIZZLY MAN (2005)

Postby A » Fri Nov 04, 2005 2:48 am

After reading your review, it seems to me that the reviews written by the main contributers on this site are getting more and more consistently good. I really like to read them more and more often, and sometimes when reading some film magazin I wonder why "professional" writers often fall in the trap of adding heaps of word- play upon each other without having anything subjective to say about the film. Obviously here it's not the case. Maybe it's only me, but I think if this tendency continues we will have some very fine writers on our board. Hopefully you guys try yourselfs on some essays in the future.
I know we have few active members, but I think the activity of the small number that is more than makes up for it.

As for the film itself, I'll try to catch it, if it's released here in Germany. But Herzog gets sadly much more attention internationally than he does in his home country. Here in Germany everybody who talks with or about him wants to know the same old @#%$ (sorry for my language) from th 70s that has already been chewed and spitted out 1000 times. Well, maybe when he dies a critical study (and re-appraisal) of his WHOLE body of work will be undertaken...

Re: Werner Herzog's GRIZZLY MAN (2005)

Postby wpqx » Sat Nov 05, 2005 1:41 am

Herzog does alright here, partially I think because Roger Ebert (who's treated as gospel to many Chicago filmgoers) worships him. Unfortunately The White Diamond only had a one week showing, so I was unable to catch it. This film is coming out in December on DVD I believe, so best of luck finding it. Lately a lot more of his work is being released, as New Yorker put out some rather long OOP early films from him. I honestly hope it doesn't take his death for people to notice his whole body of work.

Re: Werner Herzog's GRIZZLY MAN (2005)

Postby arsaib4 » Sat Nov 05, 2005 4:58 pm

I think more of Herzog's work is already available (partly because he works here now) compared to, say, Wim Wenders. It doesn't hurt that Herzog doesn't shy away from publicity. The White Diamond is now available on DVD.

Re: Werner Herzog's GRIZZLY MAN (2005)

Postby howardschumann(d) » Sun Jan 22, 2006 9:50 pm


Directed by Werner Herzog (2005)

In 100 years of keeping records in Alaska, less than 12 people have been killed by grizzly bears, according to German director Werner Herzog. Herzog's film Grizzly Man documents two of them, the first known bear killings in Alaska's 4.7 million-acre Katmai National Park. In October 2003, the bodies of environmentalist Timothy Treadwell and his friend Amie Huguenard were found near Kaflia Bay when a pilot arrived to pick them up and take them to Kodiak Island. A starving thousand-pound, 28-year-old male grizzly, unknown to the area had mauled Treadwell and Huguenard to death. The film tells the story of the self-styled protector of bears and co-author of the book "Among Grizzlies: Living With Wild Bears in Alaska."

Treadwell spent more than a dozen summers living with bears in the area he called the Grizzly Maze and videotaped over 100 hours of footage during the last five years. Complemented by narration from Herzog, Treadwell tells his own story in front of the camera. He was an aspiring actor who dealt with drug and alcohol problems in California before he moved to Alaska in the summer of 1989. It is unclear how much of his determination to live among the bears resulted from his love of nature or from his need to escape his problems at home. In any event, he became a friend to the bears and developed a brash confidence around them, giving them names such as Mr. Chocolate, the Grinch and Sgt. Brown, and often getting so close he could touch them. Though the image of Treadwell is of being reckless and foolhardy, according to John Rogers, owner of Coastal Bear Tours who knew him, "his (Treadwell's) knowledge and understanding of bears was equal to the experience of any commercial bear viewing guide or bear specialist in Katmai National Park, better than most".

Far from being delusional or failing to deal appropriately with nature and recognize its dangers, Rogers says, "he was not one to blithely walk up to a bear, he was cautious, even fearful, around bears he didnt know, but he developed relationships and mutual trust with a few individual bears over the years". Though the film raises complex questions that do not lend themselves to easy answers, it has nonetheless been seized upon by the corporate media to denounce environmentalists and those who dare to live on the edge of society. Treadwell has been called a nut, a certified madman, foolish, obsessive, an egomaniac, bipolar, paranoid and schizophrenic. While his on-camera behavior is often bizarre and at times repugnant, we don't know how much this represents who Treadwell really was or even whether Mr. Herzog selected particular footage to produce a desired effect.

Bizarre or not, the fact remains that Timothy did what he said. He lived in open and honest communication with wild animals for thirteen long years, a feat that required mental and physical toughness, endurance, and commitment. In the process, he educated thousands of children by speaking in schools without compensation, and founded "Grizzly People", an organization devoted to preserving bears and their wilderness habitat. Though he does express admiration for his filmmaking ability, Herzog makes clear his antipathy to much of what Treadwell stands for. He refers to environmental activists as "tree huggers" and sees nature as "chaotic, hostile, and murderous". Treadwell's nature photography is beautiful, showing things that we may have never seen before, particularly a fight between two huge bears, yet Herzog cannot resist getting in a dig at unions with his remark that his footage is something "studio directors with their union crews could never dream of".

Grizzly Man, under Herzog's direction, veers toward the sensational. In one sequence Treadwell demonstrates the emotional maturity of an eleven-year old in an expletive-laden rant against the Park Service, but the sequence has no timeframe and no context. Herzog also criticizes Treadwell's celebrity status, describing him as "a star by virtue of his own invention." (He had appeared on David Letterman's Late Show, the Discovery Channel's Discovery Sunday, and other television programs.) Although interviews with people who knew Treadwell appear to be balanced, some of them seem staged for melodramatic effect. Herzog films Timothy's parents awkwardly clinging to Treadwell's childhood Teddy bear and we watch as he presents Timothy's still ticking watch to a former girlfriend, Jewel Palovak in a bizarre sequence that feels contrived. In another scene that can only be described as maudlin, the director listens to the audio tape of the bear attack (pretending to hear it for the first time) and cautions Jewel never to listen to it, yet at the same time titillating us with its contents.

Many critics have called Treadwell delusional for thinking he was protecting the bears. Yet perhaps the most telling fact is that during his time in Katmai, no bear was known to have been killed by poachers. In the first year after his death, five bears were poached. According to leading Alaskan conservationist and filmmaker Joel Bennett, "The recent poaching of bears in Katmai National Park shows that Alaskans should never be complacent about the protection of their treasured wildlife resources. Tim Treadwell's vigilance may well have saved other bears from the same fate." Was Treadwell a friend of the bears or their worst enemy? Was he a man that only wanted to share his observations that grizzlies are not the ferocious beasts we have always thought them to be, or a sick egotist, obsessed with his own demons? It is hard to tell from this film. Perhaps the answer is a little bit of both. Though I am grateful to Herzog for exposing Treadwell's work to a wider public, I am unclear as to whether Grizzly Man celebrates his life or exploits it. "For now", in the words of friend Louisa Wilcox, "it is enough to honor the dead and celebrate a rare life, and the places and creatures he brought into ours."


Re: Werner Herzog's GRIZZLY MAN (2005)

Postby Unregistered(d) » Thu Feb 09, 2006 9:58 am

Film Review by Alaskan Author, Nick Jans

"Deadly Passion" is a thorough, fair, and artful examination of the circumstances surrounding the death of California bear activist Timothy Treadwell and his companion Amie Huguenard. Rather than sensational, the approach is thoughtful and journalistic--a series of interviews by Alaskans who knew Timothy, interspersed with footage of Katmai bears. This 37-minute documentary by Kodiak resident David Kaplan and Stefan Quinth offers a unique Alaskan perspective which is far more objective than Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man." And overall, "Deadly Passion" is less judgmental in its approach, as well as more compassionate. I highly recommend this film.

--Nick Jans, author of The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell's Fatal Obsession with Alaskan Bears

Re: Werner Herzog's GRIZZLY MAN (2005)

Postby Unregistered(d) » Thu Feb 09, 2006 10:01 am

On October 7, 2003 the world learned of the gruesome deaths of Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard who had been mauled to death and partially eaten by the very bears they sought to study and protect in Katmai National Park, Alaska. This story unfolded in newspapers and magazines across the globe, reporting Treadwells passion for bears, delving into details of Treadwells life and outlining the personal cause that ultimately led to his death. Now, several filmmakers are trying to present Treadwells life and death to a wider audience on the big screen and on television, each taking a different perspective on who Treadwell was and what his life stood for. Hollywood, The Discovery Channel, Werner Herzog, and two Kodiak documentary filmmakers have released or announced production. David Kaplan (Kodiak Resource Development) and Stefan Quinth (Camera Q) have collaborated in the film production of Deadly Passion The Timothy Treadwell Tragedy. This film will counter the inclination to mythologize Treadwell in death. The documentary aims to objectively examine the causes of Treadwells death, looking at what most likely happened. To gather first-hand material for the film, Kaplan and Quinth filmed exclusively in Katmai National Park, Alaska in 2004, capturing the bears and filming where Treadwell communed with these 1,000-pound animals.

For more information contact: David Kaplan email: krd@ak.net or visit Camera Q www.cameraq.com

Re: Werner Herzog's GRIZZLY MAN (2005)

Postby trevor826 » Sun May 07, 2006 5:11 pm

Very intelligent comments arsaib4 and Howard. Taken as it is, Timothy Treadwell comes across as a man spiraling into madness. But documentaries can be manipulative and depend totally on the intentions of the director, it's certainly impossible to ascertain what sort of man he really was afer watching Grizzly Man. Still, an interesting film with some amazing footage of the wilderness and the wildlife.

Cheers Trev.

Re: Werner Herzog's GRIZZLY MAN (2005)

Postby arsaib4 » Sun May 07, 2006 9:39 pm

Thanks. I'm glad you got an opportunity to watch it.

Re: Werner Herzog's GRIZZLY MAN (2005)

Postby Anasazie » Mon May 08, 2006 2:59 am

Great comments by all. It's a very self-indulgent, contrived film by Herzog, very unobjective. He seems to be more interested in how Treadwell's experience fuels his own feelings on human nature, than in building up a decent portrait of the man and allowing the audience to come to the piece themselves, he kind of takes away our ability to form an opinion in a way, only slightly though. Talking over the top of people is a recurring issue in Herzog's documentary work.

Having said that, i still think Herzog interprets the situation with a lot of truth and i still think the subject matter is amazing.

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