Reviews of movies, music, books and more by David Goody.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

DVD: Grizzly Man

Grizzly Man is billed as the tragic tale of a man competing with nature as he spent 13 summers camping close to wild bears before being killed by one. The film itself is more a battle between two men, failed actor Timothy Treadwell who re-invented himself as a protector of bears and Steve Austin style wild-man and notorious director Werner Herzog who fashions this documentary about Treadwell into his personal quest to understand the man.

The footage Treadwell shot in the wild is certainly impressive stuff, and as with anyone left alone for long periods of time with just a video camera for company he soon starts opening up and giving a glimpse into why he left a life waiting tables and narrowly missing out on the Woody Harrelson part in Cheers to spend time in an awe-inpsiring Alaskan national park. In fact, phrased like that why is he being painted as the crazy one? Oh yes, that will be because of the big old bears that eat people.

More disconcerting in terms of the film is Herzog's very personal voiceover as he strains to empathize with someone who has a totally different view of life. Where Treadwell sees peace and beauty, Herzog sees chaos and barely sustained rage. This tension gives the film a real edge and avoids any cute simplifications, but too often you feel the two men are competing for your attention. in one bizarre scene Herzog films himself listening to tape of Treadwell dying before boldly instructing a friend never to listen to it and then to destroy it. This serves only to place Herzog centre stage and to pull him into the narrative of events.

As well as Herzog's physical presence, the direction is strangely artificial, with the brief pauses and wandering pans during a number of the interviews giving the piece a Brechtian avant-garde nature. All this sums up to a documentary which is constantly challenging and intriguing, but often frustrating. One to watch in a group and discuss.