Grizzly Man20 Aug 2016
Grizzy Man is often listed among the best documentaries of all time. It absolutely deserves this accolade, in my opinion. The footage found (sent? bequeathed to?) by Werner Herzog and the subsequent journey he goes on to tell Treadwell’s story came together to create a cinematic experience for the ages. That this footage fell into Herzog’s hands is a small miracle. That he took this footage and created this piece of art is a testament to his artistry. Herzog has us in the palm of his hands the whole time, he is at his editing and directing peak here. You can read more about the technical and story telling achievements in other reviews of the film, I’m sure.
To me, though, an important and under-discussed aspect of the movie is Treadwell’s personality. Namely, the actor that blossomed inside of him. There’s a personality trait - we all know people like this - that is specific to actors. They crave attention. They turn “on” in front of people, or even more so in front of cameras. They seem to filter their behavior through some sort of lens when they know they’re being observed. Treadwell, it seems, displayed this personality type to a great extent. It is this personality type that probably caused him to capture 10s or 100s of hours of himself in the wilderness. Other wilderness stories, particularly in the American myth making machine, are about solitude and character building. Treadwell pinned his aspirations to this myth but he clearly had not solitude or character in mind but fame and feeling special. I felt, and feel, uneasy about this aspect of the film. About Treadwell achieving in death, that which he set out to accomplish in life, basically on his own terms, but at the cost of another person’s life.
Herzog is nihilistic, yes, but I think he truly wishes he wasn’t. He wouldn’t have made 4 decades worth of films if he truly thought life meant nothing. He is like a cancer patient, hell bent on finding a cure for himself. He’s perpetually in the laboratory, hard at work.