THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL
directed by Judy Irving
La marche de l'empereur
directed by Luc Jacquet
directed by Werner Herzog
by Walter Chaw Nature documentaries have been the non-fiction standby ever since Marlin Perkins began manipulating dramatic moments for the edification of horrified youngsters. (I used to play a game of imagining what a "Mutual of Omaha's" would be like if it were to focus on people and feature narration from, say, prairie chickens.) So with three high-profile nature documentaries hitting screens more or less simultaneously this summer, it's the perfect--well, inevitable--opportunity to compare how far some have come in resisting the urge to project human behaviour onto animals, and how unapologetic others are in indulging in the insanity of pretending that gophers are tiny, furry people. Understand that far from speaking to any overt insensitivity on my part, pretending animals are people, too, tends to put both the animal and human at risk. More than just pathetic, there's a moral repugnance to it. (Blame a country reared on a steady diet of Disney.) And though some--like Mark Bittner of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill--can't be blamed for the jackholes who acquire pets without a commensurate sense of obligation to them for the whole of their lives, others, like self-taught naturalist Timothy Treadwell (the subject of Werner Herzog's astounding Grizzly Man), really deserve to get pureed in Darwin's cosmic blender. The tricky thing is that I'm guessing most of the folks who love Animal Planet wouldn't love it as much if it were hammered home to them repeatedly that animals are alien entities without compassion--that given half the chance, many a critter wouldn't think twice (or at all) about eating your baby. (Something to ponder over a plate of veal sausage and scrambled eggs, maybe.) Acknowledging that animals are animals, after all, cuts too close to the bone of the startling revelation that humans are also animals, and the only inauthentic bullshit in this ever-lovin' world of ours is a product of our need to obsessively self-deceive.