The Legend of Pale Male: The Bird Is Us

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Director Frederic Lilien narrates The Legend of Pale Male with Werner Herzog–style grandiosity, setting a comically over-the-top tone in keeping with his fanatical tale about the titular red-tailed hawk that took up residence in Central Park. In Lilien’s view, Pale Male—like the Belgian filmmaker himself, who fled a law career—came to NYC “looking for something,” even though “he was no lost soul.” It’s a nonsensical claim the documentarian attempts to demonstrate by detailing the bird’s effect on many Manhattanites, who obsessively watched Pale Male and his mates at his 74th Street perch on a ritzy high-rise (four floors above Mary Tyler Moore’s apartment), and came to his defense when said nest was dismantled by a co-op board. The bird’s popularity resulted in national mini-celebrity and helped foster a sense of community among his admirers. Yet despite spending nearly 15 years documenting this phenomenon, Lilien proves wholly uninterested in investigating his human subjects’ habit of vigorously anthropomorphizing, and projecting their personal hopes, dreams, fears, and Daddy issues onto the striking hawk. Rather, his film merely celebrates their deification—Pale Male is posited as no less than a combination of Spartacus, an icon of fatherhood, and God.

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