9.03.2005

Girly Man

Grizzly Man is the documentary about Tim Treadwell, who spent summers camping among grizzly bears in Alaska and finally got eaten by one. The documentary is mostly his own footage that he shot over several summers.

I expected Treadwell to be a Grizzly Adams sort of mountain man. He is anything but. Treadwell is a cross between the blond guy from Queer Eye and a wanna-be Crocodile Hunter. Treadwell is a failed Hollywood actor who claimed to come in second in the tryouts to play Woody on Cheers. He is surprisingly effeminate and flamboyant for someone who spends summers in the Alaskan wilderness, and for someone who claims at length on camera to be heterosexual. He is clearly self-obsessed, and vainly preens on camera to no end.

The maker of the documentary is Werner Herzog, who is not content to let the film speak for itself. He breaks in repeatedly with blindingly obvious commentary and uncalled-for opinion in a thick German accent. The film is at times very funny: we're laughing at Treadwell, not with him. In this way, it's a lot like the brilliant documentary American Movie where the protagonist is the film's central running joke. In Grizzly Man, however, it seems that Herzog is not in on the joke. He's dead serious, and a parody of self-serious nihilistic Germans, when pontificating on his disagreements with Treadwell's philosophy of life.

In spite of Herzog, though, the film is a success. The heavy-handed narration doesn't kill the central joys of watching the beautiful grizzlies and the tragically funny Treadwell.

UPDATE: Radio reviewer Ken Chiampou came up with the same Queer Eye comparison (though he bred Queer Guy with Owen Wilson, not Steve Irwin) -- and had a similar take on the movie overall.

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