Friday, November 04, 2005

TREADWELL, THE WRATH OF GOD. Finally got to see Grizzly Man. I used to be a big Herzogkopf, but I hadn't seen a Herzog movie since My Best Fiend (and before that, God's Angry Man). Now I want to go back and make up for lost time. Does Netflix stock his stuff?

Grizzly Man is awfully funny in the classic Herzog manner -- that is, it's often hard to tell whether he means the scenes to be funny or not, but they work whether you laugh or not. What's funny about Treadwell, the doomed ursophile, as he gibbers among his beloved killer beasts, is also what's terrible about him -- and Herzog is very clever about stringing out the details of Treadwell's inner life so that we perceive him as a clown reacting blissfully to nature long before we are encouraged to see him as a pathological case playing a mad game with death.

Other Herzog films kept coming to me as I watched. Treadwell might have been an amusing vignette in Fata Morgana; maybe some of the folks in Fata Morgana might have been Treadwells. The odd locals reminded me of the Americans in Stroszek, reacting uncomprehendingly to another incarnation of Bruno S. And Herzog goes out of his way to remind us of Klaus Kinski, and the agonized heroes Kinski played for him, when Treadwell curses out the Park Police and just about everyone else.

It's more me than the film, perhaps, but I thought that Grizzly Man was in part about loneliness. Treadwell's girlfriend manned the camera for him, but in the film at least that's all she is: a camera. When Herzog brings up the fictitiousness of Treadwell's solitude in the wilderness, he shows Treadwell insisting on it -- "Here I am, all alone" -- and he is still very convincing. His monologues have a Robinson Crusoe (via Buñuel) quality of desperate self-justification. Treadwell's history reveals many people who loved him, and suggests his inability to really love them back. (His friend's laconic reaction to the deceptions Treadwell practiced on him are in a way more chilling than the rage or hurt one might expect.) His professions of love to the beasts reminded me of Crusoe's greeting to the ants in the Buñuel version.

Various people in the film refer to Treadwell's death as a "tragedy"; others say he had it coming. Both may be right. We tend to talk about every untoward death as a tragedy, but this one, taken as an artistic construct, has the elements of tragedy -- hubris, hamartia, all that. I thought of Yeats' Cuchulain: the waves have mastered him.

(fixed reference to Arizona in Stroszek -- I was obviously thinking of those wistful shots of Bruno with "By The Time I Get to Phoenix" playing in the background)

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