Friday, April 21, 2006

#4 (Film in Review 2005)

Sometimes, in order to appreciate how good a film really is, you need to conceive of how bad it could have been had it fallen into lesser hands. In the case of Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man (#4), a documentary feature about the late nature and grizzly bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell, it is easy to imagine what a flipside of this brilliant masterpiece would look like. The grisly (pun unintended) and deeply ironic end that Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard met in the fall of 2003 would have provided any other filmmaker a chance to run amuck with the details and footage, dabbling in sensationalism and shock journalism. But what Herzog does instead with the subject matter is much more impressive and soulful. Grizzly Man is indeed about the bear-lover and his compelling personality from birth to death, but it is also a meditation on the age-old questions surrounding the human's place in - and his or her connection to - nature. The film looks at this eccentric personality from every possible perspective, refusing to settle on one quick-fix thesis ("He was just a crazy fucker" or "He is a martyr"). I appreciate Herzog's insistence on daring to undermine the man, even challenge him in this manner; it would be easy to define Treadwell one way or the other (I know I foolishly did, upon hearing what the film was about early on). But once I saw the film, I was gobsmacked, unable to come to a single conclusion that I was satisfied with (which is what I love about these kinds of documentaries - such as Capturing the Friedmans - that probe in place of moralizing). Was Treadwell a little crazy? Or was he simply operating on a level of passion for nature that very few of us will ever appreciate in our lives? Both? The genius of Herzog's Grizzly Man is that it posits all of these possibilities and dozens more.

EDIT: Oh, and just a sidenote - my selections for #3 and #1 are likely to piss a lot of people off. Well, maybe not that dramatically, but nonetheless... don't say I didn't warn you!

5 comments:

JavierAG said...

Obviously unexpected things are coming... I mean I thought you would either pick "New World" or "Grizzly Man" as 2005's crown jewel. Hmmm... bring on the next one already! I want to be shocked! ;)

Nick M. said...

I know two of the top three. Neither are (what I would consider) controversial.

Should I know the third? I ask because my thought process is not particularly sharp at the moment -- and any astuteness I usually possess is noticeably absent. I need sleep....

Ali said...

Ah Nick, I appreciate your discretion. I remember the unveiling of your 2004 list some time ago, when someone exposed your #1 selection early on. People can be such jerks...

Well, the selections for #1 and #3 are perhaps not controversial, but the love is spotty amongst some readers/critics I follow. And although my #1 was rapturously received upon its release, it seems as though it didn't settle well with viewers in the long run. Ah well.

JavierAG said...

I have no idea which films you're talking about. This will be great.

jesse said...

I saw this a few weeks ago and kept waiting for it to have some kind of impact and/or resonance. Never materialized, unfortunately.