WERNOR HERZOG is a slighly lunatic genius. He is also Bavarian, but I don't think the two facts are related. In a recent interview with Mark Kermode for the BBC, random kids with rifles started taking pot shots at Herzog and hit one home. Kermode asked if they should stop shooting - Herzog said "it was not a significant event." So, already we know that Herzog is hard as nails. He thinks being shot at is just part of life. It is what it is.
Now, contrast that with another undoubted kook, THE GRIZZLY MAN himself, Timothy Treadwell. Timothy is an extremely camp, self-mythologising, recovering alcoholic and failed actor who has reinvented himself as an ecologist and "kind warrior". Timmy loves Alaskan grizzly bears and wants to protect them. Not for him pragmatic objections such as a) they are already protected in the National Park and b) they might eat you! He prides himself on the fact that no-one has lived longer in the wild and in close proximity to the bears than him. He hates ineffectual park authorites and obese air stewardesses and "the people world" generally. He really does love the bears and gives them cute names like "Mr Chocolate" and "Melissa" and "The Grinch". Treadwell spends thirteen years taking wonderful pictures of these bears and worrying about how his hair looks on film. In order to increase the mythologised picture of himself he pretends that he is camping all alone despite the fact that his girlfriend is filming him on hand held camera. The documentary footage of the bears is great, but not quite as great as the sheer comic brilliance of watching Treadwell ponce around the Alaskan forest like "Big Gay Al" with all his "super little animals." I laughed so hard watching this movie I cried.
In the screening I attended, one women walked out in disgust at the rest of the audience, shouting "It is NOT a comedy." Now, clearly that statement is just pure silliness. The whole point of a work of art is that each person can have their own emotional response to it and each response is equally valid. I laughed my ass off, so for me, clearly, it IS a comedy. Moreover, I would lay good money on the fact that WERNER HERZOG *intends* to take the piss out of Treadwell. While HERZOG no doubt sympathises with Treadwell's untimely end, he delights in pointing out the absurdity and ridiculousness of Treadwell's stance. He edits the 100 hours of Treadwell's footage to give us ample examples of Treadwell's narcissim, and belief that he, alone among all men, was "strong enough" not to get eaten alive. He openly mocks Treadwell's utopian belief that the fundamental state of nature is of harmony and balance. Not only does he interview lots of people who say "I told you so", but he explicitly states in a voice-over that he believes the fundamental state of the world is one of disharmony - of brutality - of violence. He believes that as much as we might find animals cute, animals will view us with at best indifference and at worst hunger. While it is sad when an idiot hippie gets eaten by a bear - it is his own sweet fault. Therein lies the rich seam of black humour in the movie and the source of its greatness.
GRIZZLY MAN premiered at Sundance 2005 and is still on limited release in France and the UK. There is, perhaps bizarrely, no scheduled release for Germany or Austria.