Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005) was a successful theatrically released documentary. It had the advantage of a well known director: Werner Herzog.
The film has two narratives. The first, and most prominent, is the narrative of Herzog who, in reflexive documentary style, is revealed to be making an expose about the life and death of Timothy Treadwell, who died in 2003.
However, we also see Treadwell’s footage – footage that Herzog himself admires. This footage is representative of direct cinema (observational documentary). Treadwell filmed his surroundings and nature as they transpired in front of him. In doing so, as Herzog admits, he gained some stunning insights into the natural world.
Despite Treadwell’s footage, we also see him as a performer in his own right. Doing more than one take – mainly because he plans to edit his footage into a larger presentation and, therefore, he wants to look good.
There is still evidence of manipulation even from Treadwell. As Herzog reveals, although Treadwell would portray himself as someone braving out the wilds of Alaska alone, his girlfriend filmed some of his footage – something he chose not to reveal (again, returning us to questions about whether documentary is ever anything but manipulative!)
Herzog also chooses what footage we are permitted to see and even listen to. For instance, the director opts not to let us hear the final moments of Treadwell’s death. There has been conjecture about why this decision was made.
Werner Herzog’s documentary style is derived from his experience of filmmaking. As a well-known film director, he has already composed his own film aesthetics and adopted them into documentary skilfully. He masters the camera use in regard of perspectives and composition.
For instance, in Grizzly Man, as Davidson (1986, p20) elaborated, “his camera pans with measured grace the vast stretches of” the snow-berg, in which, the illustration of the wild, tranquil but isolated landscape heavily indicates Timothy Treadwell’s inevitable lonesome and the soreness of his soul". The film language like this, combines the documented footage with iconic interference, which is commented by Steingrover (2012, p474) as “an affective experience for the spectator through carefully constructed characters that highlight the themes of mystery and tragedy.” It displays Herzog’s intention of “transforming things that are physically there into more intensified, elevated and stylized images” (Cronin, 2002, p301).