An Argument across Time and Space: Mediated Meetings in Grizzly Man
In Werner Herzog’s 2005 documentary Grizzly Man, charting the life and tragic death of grizzly bear protectionist Timothy Treadwell, the medium of documentary film becomes a place for the metaphysical meeting of two filmmakers otherwise separated by time and space. The film is structured as a kind of ‘argument’ between Herzog and Treadwell, reimagining the temporal divide of past and present through the technologies of documentary filmmaking. Herzog’s use of Treadwell’s archive of video footage highlights the complex status of the filmic trace in documentary film, and the possibilities of documentary traces to create distinct affective experiences of time. This paper focuses on how Treadwell is simultaneously present and absent in Grizzly Man, and how Herzog’s decision to structure the film as a ‘virtual argument’ with Treadwell also turns the film into a self-reflexive project in which Herzog reconsiders and re-presents his own image as a filmmaker. With reference to Herzog’s notion of the ‘ecstatic truth’ lying beneath the surface of what the documentary camera records, this article also considers the ethical implications of Herzog’s use of Treadwell’s archive material to both tell Treadwell’s story and work through his own authorial identity.