I was not prepared to accept this comment from XE on first reading. It sat uncomfortably even as I know I can be fooled, and have been time and again.
I watched the movie Grizzly Man in 2005, and we met Timothy Treadwell at a lecture in either Bozeman or Billings, Montana. That created personal interest. What I wrote before was the result of twelve-year-old memories.
Back then I did not watch movies with a discerning eye. I still thought jets flew through buildings like a knife through butter. I thought that elections were real, that news was essentially a (distorted) reflection of reality, and that a movie labeled “documentary” by its makers would be an honest enterprise.
I had to watch the movie again, and did yesterday afternoon.
It is my opinion that the movie Grizzly man depicts a real event, that Timothy and Amie were really killed, and that Werner Herzog used his craft to make the event interesting and both visually and emotionally stirring.
- Timothy Dexter’s full name is Timothy William Winthorpe Dexter. His mother’s maiden name is Treadwell. That name is in ThePeerage.com. Though not a prominent name, I know from acquaintances that this line has been traced back to John Alden of the Mayflower.
- When Dexter was trying to get work as an actor, an agent advised him to use Treadwell instead of Dexter. Perhaps that agent knew something about The Peerage, and that he would stand a better chance of employment using that name, since the acting profession is composed entirely of people from the blood lines. (From this point forward I will refer to him as “Treadwell.”)
- Treadwell traveled about the country showing slides of his life with the brown bears* life of Alaska, mostly aimed at school children. I personally witnessed one of his presentations in Montana prior to 2003.
*Technically there are only two species of bears in North America, the “brown” and “black.” Because brown bears are large and dangerous, they have largely been killed off and are now confined to a few unsettled areas. The term “grizzly” was coined by Lewis and/or Clark.
- Treadwell used his slide shows to raise money, though I doubt he could have financed his trip to Montana with the slim offerings we gave him that night. His needs were simple but included travel, provisions, camping gear and clothing, video cameras with many, many batteries, and a satellite phone.
- The movie Grizzly Man has a lot of footage that places Treadwell in close proximity with those Alaskan brown bears, an extremely dangerous species. He did not know how much danger he was in. The camera is almost always stationary in these encounters. (He had two cameras and a tripod.)
- I saw no evidence of green-screening in the movie. The footage, all shot outdoors, shows blue skies and none of the halo lines seen when a person or object is placed in front of a screen.
- Many disinterested people, including friends, park rangers, film makers and an ex-girlfriend testify to Treadwell’s presence in Alaska and on Kodiak Island over a period of thirteen years. He only filmed his stay there over the last five.
- I questioned Treadwell’s ability to shoot such high quality footage, but indeed his cameras were, according to a discussion I read on-line, three-CCD cameras capable of shooting high quality video. His intent was to make a movie so he needed very good equipment. It was no accident.
- It could be that while his stays in Alaska were indeed real, for dramatic purposes his death was staged so it could be memorialized in a movie. I hold out that possibility, but think it unlikely.
- Those testifying to seeing the remains of both Treadwell and Amie Huguenard included several park rangers and bush pilot Willy Fulton. He is a real person, a real bush pilot, as testified by this video which would not have been made merely to support a hoax, in my opinion. He could well have been paid to lie, however. His testimony is critical. So I hold out that possibility.
- The coroner, Franc G. Fallico, struck me as an obvious actor. He was skilled on camera, emotive, and even a little overboard, as I viewed him. However, there was a man by that name who was the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Alaska. He died in 2008 at age 66 of lymphoma. Even if that death was fake (I doubt it), he has only this one movie to his IMDB credit, and he is listed as an Alaska official. So I accept him as real.
- The closing scenes of the movie have Treadwell walking off into the sunset with foxes trailing him. I thought that had to be Werner Herzog inspired footage, but indeed foxes appear throughout the movie. These are not game farm animals, but rough and ragged creatures as foxes tend to be in real life. Treadwell indeed befriended them, and in a most unethical way: He fed them.
- The other closing shot is of Treadwell on a beautiful stream bank walking away with two bears following him. This is indeed idyllic. If Treadwell shot this footage, he was fully aware that he was making a movie. And indeed he was. He knew that. That was his intention all along. The footage is beautifully composed and framed. The bears behave like tame animals.
All of this leads me to believe that Timothy Treadwell was a real man who really lived with bears in Alaska, and died there.
The usual narrative at this website is that I write about things that I can show to be fake. I cannot show this movie to be either real or fake. It is true that there is no evidence of death shown in the movie, but if Treadwell and Huguenard’s bodies were indeed eaten, leaving only fragments recovered from the stomach of a 1,000 pound creature, this is understandable. The lone proof-of-death then is the melodramatic testimony of the coroner, Franc G. Fallico. However, he was either a real person doing a real job, or he was paid to lie and this is a high-level hoax requiring participation of many parties. Everything is possible, but I think it unlikely.
In trying to understand this movie and this man, I came across interesting discussions of Treadwell and his delusions, one of which was that bears can emotionally bond to humans. I have also done some reading on Alaskan brown bears, not enough of course, but enough to understand that they are powerful and can be ferocious, and mostly fight among themselves for food, which is abundant in the salmon runs. They do not have sweet personalities, they cannot be tamed. They are solitary creatures and don’t even bond to one another – males will kill young cubs to allow the mother to stop producing milk so she can mate again. I doubt that cubs remember their mother on maturity – maybe just enough to avoid mating with her.
They do not hunt humans, but appear to be tolerant of us from a distance. We are not a food source.
Treadwell anthropomorphized them to a dangerous degree, a danger not only to himself, but to the thousands of kids who he lectured about their docility. Fortunately, they are far away in Alaska, and these children are not likely to visit them. The fact that Treadwell survived thirteen years with them (eschewing electric fencing and bear spray) is testimony to his good luck. It ran out.
Treadwell’s mother says that he took to drinking while in college, but his own testimony is that he used to get stinking drunk in high school, and had a severe alcohol dependency problem. In Los Angeles drugs got to him and he nearly died of an overdose. He sought, on advice of a friend, solace in Alaska. The bears then became his “AA,” his way of staying sober.
I just recently I met a man who in normal conversation let me know that he has been sober now for eighteen years. This is not a new experience. He was a compulsive talker and terrible listener, and I could not wait for the break. This compulsive nature seems part of addictive behavior. Thanks to our writer Steve Kelly, I read the book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Vancouver, B.C. physician Gabor Maté. It is a very sympathetic treatment of addiction and leads me to believe that those who can overcome it, as Treadwell did, often need to replace substance addiction with other compulsions. These manifest in other less suicidal ways. But Treadwell’s replacement compulsion indeed manifested in suicidal behavior.
Let’s not forget, however, that Treadwell was an actor. His onscreen persona was often exaggerated and girlish. He could have been the love child of John Denver and Church Lady. Denver struck me as a phony, the high-pitched laugh and “I love you’s” tossed out on stage mere affectations hiding a much darker person. Treadwell too had that dark side. (His hair also resembled Denver’s.) Church Lady was that hilarious and condescending bitch seen on Saturday Night Live, judgmental and quick with the put down.
But I have come full circle now, at first thinking the film real, then turning around and thinking it a hoax, and now again that it depicts a real event. It was a major motion picture, and needed some augmentation and editing to make it entertaining, but I don’t regard the augmentation – showcasing of the beautiful Alaskan landscape and the behavior Treadwell around the bears – as evidence of a hoax. It is just a slick movie, but not done to deceive.
Timothy Treadwell was an actor, but also a recovering alcoholic with compulsive tendencies. He was also a vulnerable, flawed, foolish, lucky, and is now, for real, dead human being.
If you disagree, if you think I am being hoaxed, I look forward to the discussion. No doubt I missed some things. I always do.