Milking a dead bear for all it’s worth, Animal Planet has been running an 8 episode series called “The Grizzly Man Diaries,” where we get to hear more about the crazy Timothy Treadwell but still are denied the gory tape of his final moments on the planet, getting ripped apart by a bear.
Here, Treadwell gives us the advice that ironically would have saved his life had he only followed it himself.
The continued mining of a story that is mostly interesting because it ended poorly is further proof that I was right when I criticized Werner Herzog’s documentary “Grizzly Man” for being marketed as an animal documentary when it’s really a partially scripted mockumentary about an absurd man with the animals as mere garnish.
Herzog fans railed against my criticism with “but it’s not Cinéma vérité, this is what Herzog does, it’s his style.” In my view, if you call it a documentary and a true story and you advertise it excessively and nearly exclusively on Animal Planet and National Geographic and Discovery, it should be Cinéma verite and not Cinéma papier-mâché! Herzog’s ethic of constructing a juicier story out of real life elements–he calls it the “ecstatic truth”–but still calling it a documentary is as dishonest as James Frey’s “memoir” A Million Little Pieces or Herman and Roma Rosenblat’s “memoir” Angel Girl.
The underlying stories aren’t good enough to pass as excellent fiction; if they were the authors could simply publish them as such, “based on a true story.” But with the added appeal of “this really happened,” the sales potential of the airbrushed memoirs skyrockets.
In some ways, the Diaries series tries to correct that criticism, treating Treadwell’s source material the way he eventually wanted it presented, as a show about the animals. They include voice overs of his written diaries and the plots are organized around the animals instead of around Treadwell’s troubled life and troubling end and some superimposed Sisyphus meets Bozo the Clown theme.
But the producers know that “Grizzly Man” is a brand and the key element of that brand is Treadwell’s eventual death. We are reminded at the conclusion of the mini-stories that this is the last footage treadwell shot of these given bears before he died and that their descendants are still running wild in the park where Treadwell and Huegenard were killed.
After seeing the footage again in a different light, I’m even more convinced that it’s not amazing that a man and woman were ripped to shreds by bears and it was caught on tape, it’s amazing that they got away with deluding themselves and tempting fate for 13 years before it finally happened.
* * *
Comments and disagreements are welcome, but be sure to read the Comment Policy. If this post made you think and you'd like to read more like it, consider a donation to my 4 Border Collies' Treat and Toy Fund. They'll be glad you did. You can subscribe to the feed or enter your e-mail in the field on the left to receive notice of new content. You can also like BorderWars on Facebook for more frequent musings and curiosities.
* * *