the Grizzly Man of cinema

The documentary, Grizzly Man opens in the UK today (no sign of an Irish release, alas). The film stitches together the hundred hours of recordings Timothy Treadwell made while out in Alaska frolicking, rather carelessly, with massive grizzly bears. Unfortunately, in 2003 Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed and devoured by a bear.

Enter the German director, Werner Herzog, whose previous films have often focused on obsessive men. He crafted the footage into the documentary that has riveted people around the world. I’ve been looking forward to seeing it since I first heard about the project.

Last night on the BBC’s Culture Show the British film critic, Mark Kermode, interviewed Herzog about his work on Grizzly Man. It should not come as any surprise that the interview was riveting, and was a fascinating insight into the conundrum that is Herzog.

First off, an extraordinary event occurred as Kermode met Herzog–someone shot and hit Herzog. Fortunately the sniper was using some type of BB gun, and Herzog brushed off Kermode’s bewildered shock at the assault with an embarrassed indifference. It is not an unusual event, it appears. One wonders where Klaus Kinski was at the time… Later, Herzog showed the bleeding pellet wound in his stomach at Kermode’s insistence. The director didn’t seem much bothered by the injury, and gently shrugged it off. If it was any other director I might have thought it was a prank, or even a publicity stunt, but this is Herzog… and thus it carries the mark of authenticity.

Herzog said a number of things in the interview that stuck in my mind, but one sentence shone because of its zen-like truth:

The poet must not avert his eyes.

At this point Herzog was speaking about the creative impulse, and the need to be steadfast, and courageous, when dealing with difficult subjects. He also remarked that he was “a soldier for cinema”, and stated that he was “fearless”.

Kermode questioned him on this, and Herzog said that he did not fear anything, and repeated this with an expression of calm assurance. That moment contained an indefinable frisson as the camera remained locked in an unflinching gaze upon Herzog’s face, as if it reflected back the film-maker’s iron resolve.

All hail Herzog! The fearless emperor of obsessive cinema.