Video Picks & Passes

Grizzly Man: PASS


Dead Poets Society — Special Edition: PICK


The Magnificent Seven: PICK


Content advisory: Grizzly Man contains recurring obscenity, a campily syncretistic invocation of the divine, and a few sexual references, and is mature viewing. Dead Poets Society contains some crude language and a disturbing suicide, and could be appropriate for discerning teens. The Magnificent Seven contains much frontier violence and gunplay and some sexual innuendo, and is fine for teens and up.

Viktor Frankl argued that man’s most fundamental need is for meaning, for his life and actions to have purpose and worth. At turns fascinating and banal, Grizzly Man (now available on DVD) is acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog’s documentary attempt to find meaning in the life of Timothy Treadwell, who seems to have spent much of his life thrashing about in a quest for meaning, the last dozen or so of which were consumed with passion for Alaska’s brown bears — until one fateful fall day in 2003 when a hungry brown bear killed and partially ate him and his girlfriend.

A dippy, tree-hugging eccentric and a skilled, experienced woodsman, a dedicated public speaker and a shameless self-promoter, Treadwell was too complex and too contradictory to be captured either by the barbs of his critics or the accolades of his friends.

Herzog, working with hundreds of hours of Treadwell’s own video footage of himself and his bears as well as documentary footage of his own, tries gamely to make sense of Treadwell’s life, but his earnest, inadequate commentary adds too little light.

Obsessive, paranoid and manic-depressive, Treadwell’s autobiographical documentary footage is sometimes fascinating (his desperate pleas during a drought for rain, addressed to whatever heavenly powers he can think to call on) but some footage has been included that should have been left out (an obscenity-laden rant in which Treadwell seems not to be in control of himself). Grizzly Man is a fascinating failure, a film that raises troubling questions about the human condition that it is barely able to articulate, let alone address.

Wouldn’t academia be a better place if all teachers were like John Keating in Dead Poets Society, new this week in a special-edition DVD? If educators sought to inspire their students to live life to the fullest rather than merely drilling them in rote learning, to express their individuality rather than encouraging conformity, to challenge accepted thinking rather than accepting the status quo?

Actually, no, not really. There’s a lot to be said for rote learning and respect for accepted thinking; and, come to think of it, the teachers who most inspired me did so by actually teaching me something and forcing me to learn it, not by making me stand on my desk or rip pages out of textbooks. Still, Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society is an entertaining myth of what education is all about, even if it isn’t as profound as it thinks it is.

Also new on DVD is The Magnificent Seven, John Sturges’ Western remake of Kurosawa’s 1954 film The Seven Samurai, which was itself inspired by American Westerns, and which became a big hit in the United States and helped revitalize the Western genre in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Yul Brenner is the first of seven lone American gunslingers assembled by a small band of Mexican peasants in an effort to defend to their peaceful farming village from a horde of bandits two-score strong, led by fearsome desperado Eli Wallach. Though not as stylish as Kurosawa, The Magnificent Seven is still rousing action filmmaking in the grand Western style.