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16th January
2009
written by Steph
Na na na na na na na na na na na BATBEAR! (see below)

Na na na na na na na na na na na BATBEAR! (see below)

Steph's Take

No this isn’t one of those Sci-Fi channel made-for-tv movies in which a hybrid man-bear (pig?) monster terrorizes people.  I don’t know about you, but personally my favorite types of documentaries are slightly kooky and a little quirky.  Which is why I could hardly resist when I stumbled across Grizzly Man in the documentaries section on Netflix.  A movie about a guy who yearly goes to the northern wilderness in order to “protect” the local population of grizzly bears?  Sign me up! The movie is directed and narrated by Werner Herzog, who edited over 100 hours of footage shot by one Timothy Treadwell, the founder of the nature preservationist group Grizzly People.  The movie showcases a good deal of Treadwell’s footage of the bears that he captured over the summer months that he had spent out in the wild over the course of the past 13 years.  Of course, Treadwell often features prominently in a lot of the footage, so rather than an eye-opening exploration of the ursine community, this is more the examination of the man himself.  Within the first half hour of the doc, you learn that Treadwell and his girlfriend wound up perishing in Alaska, ironically mauled and devoured by an ornery grizzly. The rest of the documentary attempts to piece together a picture of Treadwell, through interviews with former friends and family, as well as his own footage.  Through his own admission, we learn about his previous addiction to alcohol, which he claims he overcame when he discovered the bears (I assume he was aware of their existence before, but I suppose at this point in his life, Treadwell was touched by whatever he perceived to be their plight).  A former girlfriend also mentions that at one point he was prescribed medication to treat depression, but Treadwell didn’t stick with it because he believed that his “highs and lows” were a necessary part of his personality.  I think it’s pretty clear that Treadwell was mentally ill; whether he was manic depressive or something else, I don’t know, but he was not well.  Clearly he transferred his addiction with drugs and alcohol to the bears, but in the end, the obsession was equally unhealthy.  Also, he speaks frequently about how he isn’t gay but has so many lady troubles… I think this may have been a closet case.  The gentleman doth protest too much, you know?  But that’s really tertiary to all of the other things going on in this guy’s life.  I’m not sure why the people in his life didn’t intervene and try to temper his behavior, try to inject a bit of reality into his vision, but he really needed it.  What with his cutesy nicknaming of the bears, and his genuine belief that somehow they reciprocated his love or that his love for them would offer some kind of protection against these WILD ANIMALS’ NATURAL INSTINCTS.  Honestly, it was completely mesmerizing to see how someone who had enveloped himself so completely in the natural world was so uncomprehending about how nature actually works.  He romanticized and sentimentalized the world around him, weeping over the death of a baby fox (while vilifying the wolves who did it), waxing poetic over a bee who died while pollinating a flower (though in an awesome moment of schadenfreude, the bee is not actually dead), and perhaps best of all COOING over and FONDLING the feces of a female bear, unable to get over the fact that this was so recently inside of her and was her life.  I could not make this stuff up.  Seriously, you must watch this documentary to believe it. Another thing we learn is that Tim had, in his youth, aspirations of making it as an actor in Hollywood.  Apparently he told his parents that he came in second for a part on Cheers, but they viewed his failure to win the part as the straw that broke the camel’s back and the beginning of his downward spiral.  It is apparent to the viewer that Treadwell never really gave up these aspirations, as his appearances in his footage always have a grandiose, theatrical flair.  Also, his obsession with being the bears’ only protector hints that his motivations for being out there with them were not necessarily as unselfish as he would have us believe.  He viewed any involvement of outside sources (like the national park services, for which bear protection is a part of their actual job) as interference and became violently angry and upset at the notion of people intruding on his domain.  A friend reads a letter she received from Treadwell in which he says that he sometimes wonders if in order for his cause to be taken seriously, in order for him to be taken seriously, he needs to die in order to become a tragic hero.  Perhaps this is why, although there is no video footage, his camera was filming at the time of his death (with the lens cap still on), and so there is audio footage of the attack that killed him?  I’ll note that you never hear this footage, so if you’re squeamish, you don’t need to worry that you’ll experience anything remotely grotesque. One part of the film that I thought was most interesting is when Treadwell is huddled in the bushes watching some tourists, and they throw a few rocks to keep away an advancing bear.  Treadwell loses it saying how he’s there to protect the bears and that he won’t stand for them to be treated in this way… and then proceeds to continue to hide in the trees and fume.  And this is what I fundamentally don’t understand about his role as protector… it’s never clear throughout the entire film what exactly Treadwell did to protect these animals.  I mean, yeah he promoted awareness of them (especially perhaps how dangerous they are and how not to treat them), and he tried to pet them a lot, and told them how much he loved them… but I don’t know what he did to promote their safety or anything like that.  In the very end, they’re wild animals, so I think that probably the best we can do for them is offer them safe territory and then just leave them be.  But, I think Treadwell had other ideas, though I’m not exactly clear on what those were. Timothy Treadwell was clearly a very disturbed individual, but I won’t lie, almost all of the people who feature in this documentary (including the coroner, who clearly missed his calling as an actor) are pretty weird.  Except for the helicopter pilot who essentially says that Treadwell got what was coming to him, which you know, if you’re poking bears on the nose and trying to swim with them and stuff, you can’t really argue with that.  I don’t think anyone would say that anyone deserves to be eaten by a bear, but as far as poetic justice goes, this is pretty Shakespearian in its scope.  I’m not really sure what messages you take away from all of this other than it is perhaps better to respect bears than it is to love them, and we shouldn’t go camping in unprotected areas they are known to frequent, which are all things I trust most people know.  But I urge you to watch Grizzly Man anyway, because it’s both fascinating and entertaining, and it’s 100 minutes well spent. Rating: 4 out of 5
Tim Treadwell (right) and Mr. Chocolate

Exhibit A: Tim Treadwell (right) and Mr. Chocolate

Tony’s 2 Cents

Steph claims you won’t see anything grotesque in this film. This is a lie. Exhibit A: Tim Treadwell. Timmy is one of the few very special people in society who manage to transcend mere humanity and become the most wonderful gift to documentaries and film imaginable: a living caricature. The dictionary definition of grotesque is “comically or repulsively ugly or distorted.” Yes, yes and yes. Tim’s ideals, actions and persona are so ridiculous they couldn’t be anything but cinema gold. I think Tim’s last link to human society was alcohol. When he stopped drinking he lost some part of himself that was still tied to his humanity and he became something other, something more. All of his dialogues with the camera, clearly unscripted, give evidence to his desire to be a larger than life figure. They also serve to highlight his insane self-imposed isolation. Tim felt like an outcast, so he made himself into one. The crux was that he wanted to be recognized by everyone while still being left alone. His idea that he was some sort of noble vigilante for bear justice was absurd, as Steph points out. Bear Batman’s (Batbear?) enormous amount of denial about the very essence of nature reached heights that took him to the very edge, and over as his fate proved. Nature is a giant, indifferent, implacable force that does not want anything, and consequently has no bias for or against anyone or anything. Batbear did not see this. He did not understand that wild animals do the things they do to survive alone, and for no other reason. That little fox that “stole” his hat and took it to his den was clearly out to get Batbear’s goat. It had nothing to do with the fact that the fox found something fun it wanted to chew on in privacy – don’t be stupid. We’re all sure the fox knew that the hat was vital to this year’s expedition. Because it was a very important hat, and if it ends up in that den I’ll fucking explode! I will, I swear! Goddamn you fox! On an aside, the whole Batbear and foxes subplot thing was adorable. The foxes really seemed to like him and followed him around all the time. Much cuter than bears, and less deadly. Maybe not quite as entertaining, but still better for the health overall. Past Batbear’s delusions about nature, we come to the man himself. I have little doubt that he was a closeted homosexual, based on the little tête-à-tête he had with his camera during a walk where he proclaims that life would be so much easier if he were only gay. He could just wander in to a truck stop or rest area and have the sex. You know, like all gays do. Easy, right? But noooooo, he had to end up straight and consequently no woman will stay with him (the co-founder of Grizzly People, who apparently dated him for three years, the lonely hippie who stored his gear and was obviously in love with him, and the poor soul who followed him to their mutual death by bear notwithstanding). Now, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with being gay, obviously. What I do think is that  this underlying conflict within played into a large part of Batbear’s psyche and obviously was a huge, convoluted issue for him, and could be part of what drove him to try and find a life with some of Earth’s largest predators rather than, you know, people. Why no one will stay with him becomes apparent as the film progresses. Besides the fact that he clearly doesn’t want anyone around to share his spotlight, this is a man who walks up to 10 foot tall bears and tries to pet them. Ha! Poke! Pet them? A bear! Jesus. He, as Steph said, also pets their poop. What’s not to love? Beyond all this, Batbear obviously has a rather explosive and irrational temper as evidenced by his almost instantaneous transformations from a gracious and enthusiastic documentarian and protector of nature to a foul mouthed and slightly effeminate sailor. My particular favorite was his minutes long tirade against the National Park Service for their lack of bear supervision and oversight. Herzog wisely cuts the sound here as Batbear apparently goes after some specific figures within the service, but his frantic, prancing gesticulation and pantomimed masturbation (seriously, what the hell? What could he even have been saying during that little part of the episode? It will always haunt me) make it clear he is not pleased. And yet. He seems to revel in the fact that he, and he alone, is out there, making a “difference,” saving bears from… things. Really the weather, mostly (we need some fucking rain, Mr. Chocolate is hungry!). It becomes clear that if the Park Service (or anyone else for that matter) actually took a more active role in bear management that would probably make them wankers as well. Ultimately, Batbear gets his comeuppance. No he didn’t deserve it, I agree with Steph on that point, and no it wasn’t a tragedy either. There was nothing tragic about someone so wildly in denial of his own, presumably screaming, common sense. I think Batbear’s ultimate mission in life was to serve as a message to others: don’t fuck with bears. They are big, irrational, and hungry. During most of the movie I just wanted to yell at the screen “Get a puppy for Christ’s sake! You can coo at them all you want, and even pet them, and they won’t bite you in half!” Watch this movie and prepare to be amazed.  I was. Rating: 4 out of 5

7 Comments

  1. JT
    01/17/2009

    You don’t know what you are talking about and were only allowed to see snippets (the most bizarre) of the surface of Treadwell.

  2. 01/18/2009

    That was an insanely good review by both parties! This sounds like something that would be fascinating to see, despite the ambient craziness of the subject. I am going to be on the lookout for this documentary. And fondling the bear poop? Wow. Just Wow.

  3. JT
    01/18/2009

    “Treadwell’s unscripted journeys into craziness exist is very telling about who he was as a person.”
    And what about that makes him crazy? So, you have never been outraged, sad or had an emotion that was highly beyond reason. You have always been reasonable? Even alone? Some people are not that successful at going through life so stoic. I applaud you for your resilience.
    I want you to know that the Park Service (let’s see, I’ll give them 5 years though they had many more than that) had every opportunity and had threatened him ample times to remove him from the park. They did not. Removing Treadwell from the park would have caused them more trouble in the present than it was worth worrying about what might happen in the future. But, he was making money for them and the community. That was never discussed. Had they been responsible (Leggitt-Superintendent at the time) they should have done the ethical thing and kept their word on their promise. Instead they caused him undue hassle and stress, which in turn, as always happens with these character types, promotes exactly what they were trying to avoid. Consider between the two, Treadwell, the Park Service. We say Treadwell is the one being ridiculous but the Park Service handling or Treadwell (professional people with a supposed aptitude on human condition) were just as ridiculous. A type of bullying game, this time, where both sides lose. Oh, except the Park Service in Katmai National Park has seen a huge influx of tourism there in the last 5 years. Imagine that.
    “Certainly, promoting bear awareness is well and good, but living with the bears, getting in their way, invading their space and generally acclimating them to human contact did them no service and was ultimately selfish.”
    Ah, here where you are way off base. The bears of Katmai National Park are the most habituated bears in the world. Myriads of folks are within an arms reach of those bears all Spring and Summer long. Films are shot, photos are taken, people are obliged by mother’s to watch their cubs for them while they fish. Biologists tranquilize, trap, tattoo, collar and pull their teeth with at least half of those going wrong (dead bear) within the park every year. Point is Treadwell didn’t do jack to those bears than any other Joe or Jill does that goes out there. As far as his promoting bear awareness and using those bears as his spring board, he sure did. They are the most acclimated bears and hand over the most opportunities to present power points, presentations, empathy to their plight (those in the lower 48) and to teach the future about their importance in nature.
    Coming down to brass tax, if you think that our National Parks wildlife are in their natural state, you have a lot of reading to do. Logging, development, mining and mismanagement (the people who are supposed to know what they are doing) have created HUGE migration, mortality and ethical issues for every animals territory within our National Parks. With that kind of attitude we would not preserve a thing. It’s not hypocritical, its desperation to preserve something that we ourselves find so late in the game to save.

  4. JT
    01/18/2009

    Okay, well I thought it was up for discussion. This could go on and on so I will stop. You don’t know enough about all the facets (you’ve joined the typical view, which is easiest) that isn’t a dig just an observation and I don’t think you really care enough to continue. That in itself is fine.
    Happy New Year! All my best to you and yours!

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