Project Grizzly (1996) dir. Peter Lynch
By Alan Bacchus
There’s something about grizzly bears that just make people go mad. Lynch’s masterpiece documentary, ‘Project Grizzly’ would make a good companion piece to Werner Herzog’s equally great though more well-known ‘Grizzly Man’. Both films tells stories of psychologically-challenged mad men, who, in the name of science, are as much in search of personal fame as they are the research they purport to be gathering.
Lynch’s hero is Troy Hurtubise, after a chance meeting in the woods with a grizzly bear, which left him mesmerized with the animal, took it upon himself to build a suit of armour impenetrable to bear attacks thus allowing him to study them up close. Lynch joins in Troy’s journey after 10 years of trial and error. In a riotously funny sequence of stock footage we see each of Troy’s previous attempts at making Grizzly armour (signified with a military-style numeral – Mark IV, Mark V, Mark VI etc) fail, and then get improved upon. Troy is a glutton for punishment having guns fired at him, logs dropped on him, even being through thrown down an escarpment – all in the name of science.
Or is it?
Troy is a character, a man with a persona, aware of the camera and people’s impression of him. Fashioning himself as a rugged mountaineer/cowboy/rebel, his attire includes a Davey Crocket buckskin jacket, two huge bowie knives strapped to his chest and leg, a red beret, and moccasins.
Troy talks with the confidence of a mythic wilderness hero, a John Wayne-like legend in his own time. Certainly in his own mind. What Lynch’s miraculously manages to discover, just by having his camera observe without prejudice is the damaged inner soul of Troy – a self-conscious regular Joe, with passive aggressive tendencies which manifest itself as severe delusions of grandeur.
Troy’s coterie of minions only feed his hunger for adulation. His brother and other Canadian hoser buddies idolize him with supreme reverence. As we watch the boys interact and talk tall tales in the local donut shop it might as well be the high school cafeteria, with Troy serving as the alpha-male leading the weaklings along in his travails.
His suit of armour, a mash-up of hockey equipment, scrap metal, and duct tape, stands beside him at all times, like a trophy for him and us to admire and perhaps distract from the inner sadness which quietly plagues him.
In discussing the film with Lynch at my most recent Canadian Cinema in Revue screening he confirms the finer and fascinating details of Troy’s personality. Peter admits he could have painted a portrait which would have made the audience hate the character. But, like all great documentaries, Lynch’s film is his impression of the man – not the full story, but one impression.
What we see is a man with hubris is as large as Captain Ahab, and perhaps with more perseverance. His journey, not unlike Moby Dick, at once admirably in his determination and guile, but sadly comes off as delusions of grandeur.