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'Grizzly Man Diaries' airs tonight

August 29, 2008 | 11:33 am

Grizzly_bearAnimal Planet airs its "The Grizzly Man Diaries" tonight at 9 and 9:30 p.m. The Times' Mary McNamara takes a look at a man who broke the bounds for society:

It isn't often you can say that a show on Animal Planet follows a great literary tradition, but "The Grizzly Man Diaries," which follows the adventures of Timothy Treadwell, echoes voices as disparate as Thoreau, Yeats and even Sam Gribley of "My Side of the Mountain." The desire to forsake the drudgery and pressures of civilization for the noble simplicity of the natural world has always tempted and tormented certain people.

But unlike Yeats, who never did arise and go to Innisfree, Treadwell did actually break the bounds of society and for 13 summers lived virtually alone among the grizzlies in Alaska's Katmai National Park -- that is, until he and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were killed in 2003 by a grizzly attack.

Treadwell's death got a lot of attention, partly because he had been a vocal, self-pronounced protector of the bears (despite the fact that the land he camped on was a federal reserve) and partly because his final minutes were recorded on the audio portion of a videotape. Although, mercifully, the tape was never released publicly -- it cannot be found on YouTube, thank heavens -- the sheer awfulness of its existence provided such a coda to Treadwell's life that many who never heard of him suddenly began praising or condemning his actions....

Filmmaker Werner Herzog was moved to document Treadwell's life; his award-winning documentary "Grizzly Man" portrayed a self-aggrandizing, troubled man who, unable to find a place for himself in society, created an alternative existence for himself among the bears.

While "Grizzly Man" is a conscious attempt by Herzog to unravel Treadwell's psyche, "The Grizzly Man Diaries" simply presents excerpts of the 100 hours of videotape Treadwell shot of the bears and himself during his 13 summers in Alaska. The footage is oftentimes astonishing, the bears ferociously beautiful, but still the show is less a treatise on grizzly habit than it is an exploration of a man trying to find a solid center for himself.

Photo: Timothy Treadwell

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