Saturday, February 04, 2006
"I Can Feel The Poop!"

Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man has been playing on the Discovery Channel for the last couple of nights. I originally had no intention of watching it -- I dunno, it just doesn't sound that interesting on the face of it -- but, typically for a weekend evening, there was exactly fuck-all else to do or watch. I hadn't seen any of this year's crop of docs, and it's gotten good notices, so what the hell, right?

Jesus H., am I glad I watched this film. I've watched it twice now; I can't stop watching it. I am compelled to watch it. Not because of its pathos, its tragedy, or its "wild adventure" (as the Discovery Channel so misguidedly describes it), but rather because... it's the funniest fucking thing I've seen in months.

I do feel a bit guilty saying that -- and I'm not prone to feelings of guilt, so that's saying something. It's not my intention to make light of work that was clearly so important to one person, or of the death of someone who was obviously loved. It's not intended as disrespect. To be sure, the film has its harrowing aspects, Treadwell's heart was in the right place, conservation is important work, you almost buy the premise the first time around, etc. etc. But seriously... this is a goddamn funny film. Admittedly it's the kind of humor that will most appeal to pretentious high-brows with a strong taste for McSweeney's and The Office -- this is sweet, dark existential slapstick. But if that's your thing, get all your Derrida-quoting, sick-fuck friends together and enjoy.

The requisite synopsis (spoiler alert, you wuss): Timothy Treadwell -- drug addict, alcoholic, and demon-haunted runner-up for the role of Woody on Cheers -- finds salvation among the bears of the Katmai National Park in Alaska. He eventually takes up seasonal residence among them, inflicts gross anthropomorphistic projection upon them, and is ultimately eaten by them. Along the way he records 100 hours of video footage in the Jeff Corwin mold (minus the charisma). German New Wave director Werner Herzog attempts to make sense of it all, in a typically German, New Wave kind of way. Naturally, the result defies easy description.

The comedic value is partly the product of Treadwell's own personality and (shall we say) intriguing thought processes. The guy is amusing to watch, in exactly the way that your closeted, awkward, un-self-aware teenage cousin is amusing to watch. He wanted to be some kind of ursine Jane Goodall -- the obvious flaw in this plan being that, as large and dangerous as gorillas can be, at least they're not two-ton carnivores sporting eight-inch claws and brains the size of walnuts. I'm not saying Treadwell was asking for his pathetically predictable fate... I'm just sayin'. And the juxtaposition of his happy-happy "I wuv you" baby talk on the one hand, and his obscenity-filled, borderline paranoid-psychotic ranting on the other is definite Must See TV.

It's also partly because of Herzog's eccentric brand of documentary filmmaking. This isn't a mockumentary, but it sure as hell feels like one. Full of awkward pauses, over-laden statements, faux-beatific communion with nature, and hyperbolic gravitas (the earnest bequeathal of Treadwell's super-chunky digital nerd watch is comedy gold), Herzog's approach brings out a deep, rich layer of black humor that Treadwell could never have managed on his own. Every scene, from the most light-hearted to the most tragic, contains at least one fantastic gag. I can't even begin to count them all -- we're talking wall-to-wall funny. It's better than Spinal Tap, I swear to god. And it's funny because it's true -- not in the cliche sense, but in the really-real sense. This is documentary. And that's the best joke of all. (Were it not for all the corroborating evidence that Timothy Treadwell did indeed exist, I'd be seriously inclined to think the whole thing is a hoax -- that the Grizzly Man is the product of some unnamed comedic genius, that the whole thing was scripted and carefully produced, that this is all an elaborate set-up. Can Treadwell's story possibly be real? Are we actually supposed to take him seriously?)

It begs for parody. I've got half an outline already worked out, and it would be a lot of fun to make, but I know in my heart that it's a fool's errand. There's no joke I could write that would be half as sublime as this film. Timothy Treadwell lived and died for this joke, and that's further than even Andy Kaufman dared venture.

Hindu Floaty Thing bless you, Timothy Treadwell. Thanks to you, we all feel the poop.
11:18 PM ::
Amy :: permalink