Friday, 4 January 2008

Two films about grizzly bears

I've been following director Werner Herzog's work for a while, ever since I watched 'Burden of Dreams'. His remake of his own documentary 'Little Dieter Needs To Fly', called 'Rescue Dawn', came out last year with Christian Bale. But probably his best work recently was 'Grizzly Man'.
The film tells the story of Timothy Treadwell, a cross between Keanu Reeves and that blond guy from 'Queer Eye', who lives part of each year among the grizzly bear population of Alaska. The footage is Treadwell's own. It is a strange, and ultimately tragic, tale of someone who has rejected human society in favour of a deluded connection with dangerous creatures.
The heart of the film is this connection, when he plays with foxes, speaks with bears, and talks at length about protecting and maintaining the population. What drives the plot along is the awareness that he meets a horrible fate at the paws of ursus arctos horribilis. The story arc, revealed by the talking heads of friends, relatives and Treadwell himself, is his slow spiralling away from the last vestiges of sanity and into obsession. The gently-paced and whimsical film is a paen to his peaceful existence with a dramatic counterpoint of ever-threatening doom.
You can watch the trailer for Grizzly Man here.

The second film is 'Project Grizzly' by director Peter Lynch. It, more than anything, reflects rural Canadian culture in pleasant and natural setting, insofar as a man building an exoskeleton to fight bears is pleasant and natural. Troy Hurtubise (sounds like "herd o' bees") is an outdoorsman/junkyard owner from the eastern province of Ontario who has an encounter with a grizzly bear one cold winter's day in the deep forest. He emerges unscathed but is determined to meet another grizzly bear in a somewhat better-prepared state. The movie follows his comical development (and--better--testing) of a titanium, rubber and chainmail suit of armour to withstand a sustained grizzly bear attack.
As Hurtubise and his posse test the suits in their various forms, the fool's errand becomes more foolish. Troy is battered with baseball bats; he is knocked down with swinging logs; he is hit with a three-ton truck; he is tossed down an embankment. His final creation stands seven feet tall and takes tiny, mincing steps while Troy, inside, uses martial-arts mind control to overcome his intense claustrophobia.
Hurtubise is a deluded figure, there can be no doubt. His obsession with the grizzly bear encounter, built up to the level of myth, has taken over his life, yet is strangely unexamined. At the end of the film when the group of men meet a grizzly, his lack of purpose, ludicrous planning, and single-minded blinkered thought is revealed for what it really is.
This period takes place in Banff National Park, not 100km from where I live. It was fascinating to see the bluff woodsmen posturing with rifles, shaving with Bowie knives and making notes about bear attacks a mere whisker away from where I call home.
See the early prototypes being tested here.


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