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Front-loaded with multiple Best Doc awards, Werner Herzog’s bizarre and hypnotic film is actually the work of two men, two competing visions, two dialectical agendas: Herzog’s scrupulous, pragmatic love-hate for the unruly natural world, and the self-portrait of Timothy Treadwell, the amateur conservationist and budding tele-zoologist who was killed and eaten by a grizzly bear in 2003. A failed actor, ex-surfer, and soul-searching recovered drinker, Treadwell found meaning by installing himself as the “guardian” of Alaskan bears for 13 long summers in Katmai National Park. Videotaping the animals—and himself, for hundreds of hours talking to the camera as if he were in fact taping a television show—Treadwell is a bedazzling non-celebrity, but it’s not merely the disconnect between Treadwell’s Mutual of Omaha
naïveté and the potential for feral disaster that gains momentum as Herzog’s film progresses. It’s clear that Treadwell, self-sanctifying in the woods with only a lens to talk to, identified more with the bears than with the society that had exiled him, and his mission in the wilderness is persistently constructed as a Discovery Channel series that was never green-lit but got shot all the same. Grizzly Man is many things, including a much more resonant and complex portrait of TV-poisoned narcissism than Tarnation. The DVD comes only with a featurette about the music (by Richard Thompson)—the film is already its own Herzog audio track, one supposes—but in case the Herzog doc jones has got you good, New Yorker has released some of his short films to DVD, including his aghast mediation on Midwestern livestock auctioneers How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck (1976) and the legendary climb-up-an-active-volcano death wish La Soufriére (1977).