6 October 2008

Grizzly Man by Herzog, 2005

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 8:23 am

In honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, whose feast day was Saturday…



  1. The whole film is perhaps too close for comfort – for Herzog, I imagine. He seems to have found a person more than analogous to Herzog, even if we’ve been suspect of his talismanic abilities for quite some time: http://www.abctales.com/story/rokkitnite/werner-herzog-helped-joaquin-phoenix-from-a-car-wreck

    I haven’t seen or read Into the Wild, but the relatives and friends interviews remind me a lot of what I’ve heard about that film, especially the whole…trek to the heart of darkness was a rejection of a civilization he felt had failed him. (Yes, I know the whole second-family angle.)

    I think White Diamond’s better, though.


    Comment by Seyfried — 7 October 2008 @ 10:52 am

  2. Where the heck did you find this poem, Seyfried? Or is this required reading in college English classes these days?

    It’s hard to say how much Herzog identifies with the characters in his movies, all of whom share certain extreme characteristics. One of the curious features of this movie is that Herzog’s subject was himself a documentary filmmaker, and at times Herzog comments on Treadwell’s techniques. Treadwell staged certain scenes, varying how he himself appeared in them, but since he was alone in the wild most of the time there was no one other than himself to turn of the camera. So Herzog leaves in some of this after-the-cut footage, some of which is beautiful nature footage, some of it Treadwell ranting and baring his soul. Fascinating. In his own interviews Herzog emulates this style by keeping the camera running after the staged bit is over, and we watch the scene continue, transform, dissolve into something more like nature…

    This Timothy Treadwell was a real bear-hugger, seemed to want to be a bear himself. But you also get a persistent sense that he’s almost hoping a bear is going to eat him. Herzog says in the narration that he has a fundamentally different view of nature from Treadwell, that nature is violent and destructive and indifferent rather than something to achieve zen-like oneness with, that when he looks into the eyes of a bear he sees not a fellow creature returning his love but a bored alien lifeform that’s mostly looking for a good meal. I once asked Herzog a sort of lame question at a film showing, something along the lines of does he sense that these characters achieve superhuman feats of survival by becoming sort of subhuman. Herzog said he’s not interested in superhumans and moved on.

    I read Into the Wild, and there is a definite similarity in the story of guys putting themselves so much into harm’s way that their death seems nearly inevitable even to themselves, yet paradoxically they also convey a sense of their own invincibility. Incidentally, Krakauer, who wrote Into the Wild and Into Thin Air, is from here in Boulder.


    Comment by ktismatics — 7 October 2008 @ 9:20 pm

  3. I have to say that I found this film disturbing. Disturbing in the sense of Herzog’s eroticization of Treadwell’s footage, as if he sought to sculpt himself out of the Unconscious of another, an origami of self-revelation, but something Frankenstein about the project, where the corpse of the footage and the simplicity of the yearning made a suitable, controllable effigy, a blank enough slate to replace Kinski’s articulate and self-indulged incandescence. Herzog folds himself, insinuates himself into the solitude and near-banal spaces of Treadwell’s in-articulation, parasitic, and without risk. I’m sorry, I don’t see Assisi here. I see Herzog.

    Beautiful film nonetheless. Beautiful…but flawed.



    Comment by kvond — 16 October 2008 @ 9:43 pm

  4. I was being sarcastic about Assisi, noting the ironic temporal coincidence. I wondered whether Herzog’s editing of Treadwell’s videotapes is representative of the whole or very carefully selected to present this sort of ominous presaging of death or even suicide. The scene where we watch Herzog listening to the audio of the fatal encounter while Treadwell’s ex-girlfriend’s gaze remains transfixed on him, and then Herzog tells her to destroy the tape and never to listen to it, that it will haunt her forever — don’t you have a sense that, if she hasn’t already listened to it, she will almost certainly do so in the near future, perhaps repeatedly? And don’t you as the viewer really want to hear it too, resenting Herzog from keeping the climax of his snuff film to himself after teasing us for so long? Herzog sees in the bear not a fellow creature to love, as Treadwell presumably does, but a semi-bored and hungry man-eater. In making this film does Herzog identify more with Treadwell or with the bear?


    Comment by ktismatics — 16 October 2008 @ 10:05 pm

  5. Ktismatics. Glad to hear about the sarcasm. I suppose it takes a moment to feel the texture of humor. (Though Assisi does float somewhere in there.) And glad to hear that you too felt the selectedness of Herzog’s editing. Yes, the listening to the audio certainly struck me as a constructed moment, and really exposed the artifice as artifice for me. But it was another moment in the film that was even more subverting of Herzog’s project. I watched the film some time ago, so the reference cannot be precise, but there is a place in the film were Herzog tells us that he thinks that Treadwell REALLY was an artist, and then there is a haunting cut to a run of film that just catches grass being blown after Treadwell has left the frame. (The dear, sensitive acknowledgment of the paper bag of American Beauty I suppose.) There likely were hundreds of feet of such running “empty” frames in Treadwell’s footage, but here Herzog uses it, splices it (if I recall clearly) to invoke something. Now certainly there is a power effect to be achieved, but it is the ultimate peeping-Tom’s pleasure which constructs a feigned authenticity of witness. Herzog really strikes me as ultimately perverse without outright enacting his perversion. And he makes Treadwell a kind of co-conspirator. This categorical, yet repressed secondary distance turns the whole thing into one of those dramatic re-enactment shows, and artifice of violence, for me leaving the real blood on the hands of Herzog. As for who Herzog identifies with, perhaps he fantasizes himself to be a big, bored violence, which has only stumbled onto Treadwell footage, mawing it as he does. It seems that he is very happy to no longer have to contest with Kinski, whose bizarre sinewy strength defied his every insistence. Herzog here simply builds a cathedral to himself out of celluloid, an Assisi surrounded by mechanical birds. An inventor of the E. T. A. Hoffmann variety.


    Comment by kvond — 17 October 2008 @ 10:09 am

  6. I agree with your reading of this movie. I hadn’t thought about Herzog’s effort to escape Kinski, but we’ll be watching Fitzcarraldo tomorrow night so I’ll see if I detect the struggle of wills between filmmaker and star.


    Comment by ktismatics — 17 October 2008 @ 10:55 pm

  7. I look forward to any thoughts you might have. Have you seen Herzog’s “My Best Fiend”?


    Comment by kvond — 18 October 2008 @ 3:39 pm

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