Wolf Song of Alaska News

Treadwell:  It's Not the Bears Acting Unnaturally

Hero or Moron

"8" / Anchorage Daily News / August 19, 2005

Finally, "Grizzly Man," Werner Herzog's documentary about the life, death and legacy of bear lover Timothy Treadwell, has made its way to Anchorage.

And if you have any doubt about whether Treadwell was a bear lover, just watch the film. He will tell you over and over again that he loves bears. In fact, he tells the grizzlies to their face that he loves them. Foxes too. It's all very disturbing.

Whichever side of the Treadwell debate you stand on -- hero or moron -- or even if you don't care at all, take two hours out of your day to see "Grizzly Man." It's not a great movie. I don't even know if I'd call it a good movie. But wow, what incredible footage.

Here's your spoiler alert. If you don't want details, stop reading now.

Herzog scored big when he garnered the rights to the tapes Treadwell made of himself during the 13 summers he lived in Katmai National Park before a bear made dinner out of him and his girlfriend in 2003. Whatever agreement he made with Jewel Palovak, who inherited Treadwell's tapes, paid off. At one point, Herzog calls Treadwell a "national celebrity." I would consider that an exaggeration, but Treadwell is definitely the star of this film (no matter how much Herzog and many others want to be). And without him (and by extension his incredible, close-up footage of bears and Katmai), the documentary wouldn't work on any level.

At some points, Treadwell is like a pre-teen, talking to bears as if they were his pet hamsters. At other times, he is all fury, unleashing profanity- laced rants against God and the National Park Service. At no point is he not crazy.


* He throws a hissy-fit when a fox steals a hat he left on the ground.

* He strips down to his underpants and jumps into a lake with a bear.

* He can't keep himself from touching a pile of fresh bear scat.

* And, let us not forget, he pets bears.

It would be difficult to comprehend who Treadwell was without seeing him for yourself. The auxiliary players are all fog and mirrors.

* Don't trust Palovak. She's almost as crazy as Treadwell, her ex-boyfriend, and has much invested in preserving Treadwell's legacy.

* Don't trust Herzog. He's gaga for Treadwell's amateur photography but decided not to (or maybe wasn't allowed to?) include the recorded audio of Treadwell's death in the film. He also tells Palovak (who has never listened to it) to destroy the tape so she can be at peace.

* Don't trust Alaska medical examiner Franc Fallico. Having never met Treadwell, he dramatically re-enacts how he thinks Treadwell's fatal bear encounter went. But it all looks a little too theatrical to be sincere.

* And when the three of them are together -- when Fallico gives to Palovak the watch taken from Treadwell's arm (IT'S STILL WORKING!) as Herzog films -- the scene rings false.

To recap:

Treadwell: Wacko.

Palovak: Loony.

Fallico: Possessed.

In fact, I'd say about 90 percent of the folks in the movie (including Herzog) are/were at least a little off their rockers.

But hey, that's what makes this story such a fascinating one.

Scott Johnson :: sjohnson@adn.com

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