Tuesday, July 7, 2009

ron lamothe's "the call of the wild"- the other chris mccandless documentary

"the call of the wild," title of the familiar jack london novel, is also the title of independent filmmaker ron lamothe's documentary on the tragic life of chris mccandless. yes, the same chris mccandless immortalized in the jon krakauer book "into the wild" and senn penn's docudrama of the same name. i caught lamothe's documentary last night on pbs - and it was fascinating for a couple of reason (not the least of which is it's relative obscurity in the shadow of penn's film).

after watching the "sean penn + jon krakauer" iconclast program last month, my interest in mccandless was reawakened - to the point of putting the book back on my reading list. last year i watched "into the wild" with mixed emotions - my feelings about him and his actions had changed in the dozen years since i had first read the book (thanks in no small part the intervention of fatherhood). amazingly, my now ambivalent feelings toward mccandless were perfectly mirrored in the lamothe documentary.

lamothe, who was a contemporary of mccandless, had the "idea" of his documentary gestate for a dozen years (with his own life story directly impacting his view of the material across the years). interesting, he shot the documentary at the same time penn filmed the hollywood version. the "interaction" between the vastly different filmmakers was captured, in part, during "the call of the wild" - and the hollywood crowd came off, predictably, as obnoxious and bullying - to the extent of barring folks for even talking to lamonthe at times!

regardless, lamothe's documentary is as much about ron lamothe as it is about chris mccandless. and lamonthe's persistence paid serious dividends in the facts he uncovered along the way. some of which were - or should have been - known by penn and krakauer yet never publicized. the most startling fact it the cut and dry determination that mccandless starved to death (not poisoned by mistakenly eating the wrong berries).

lamothe unearthed a couple of other fascinating details: apparently chris mccandless had identification cards and $300 stored in his knapsack (not that either the cards or money would have gotten him out of the wilderness), which weren't found by the police when the his body was discovered; and, that mccandless may have been involved in some minor vandalism of two nearby cabins (possible in a desperate search for food?).

none of the additional facts significantly changes the storyline (or mythology, for some). but the film is well-worth watching as a visual meditation on someone who trys to process the meaning of the chris mccandless story as it impacted his own life. while i wouldn't skip the book (essential reading), or sean penn film (riveting), "the call of the wild" is well-worth the trouble to track down as a supplement to the "conventional wisdom."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I watched "Call of the Wild," or most of it, last night and found it to be very intriguing. I had previously read about the film's disclosure of Forsberg's discovery of Chris' backpack and his wallet - the items the Alaska State troopers somehow missed after being summoned to the bus. The WHO body mass index information and lab analysis of wild potato and sweet pea seeds was good in that it undercuts the dramatic device for the Sean Penn film. Krakauer's revised book focuses on moldy seeds, which Call of the Wild doesn't address, but even Krakauer acknowledges the severity of McCandless' deteriorated condition prior to eating any seeds. And Chris' self portraits demonstrate his weakened condition. There's no mystery as to how he died.
I was both amused and annoyed by the "Darwinian" comments made by drunk Alaskan residents interviewed in a bar (as if any of these clowns would survive a week in the bush even with adequate preparations, assuming they'd stock more than a case of Jack Daniels or Busch Lite).
LaMothe includes many photos I'd not seen, and they provide a glimpse, albeit fleeting, of this young man's psyche. Most telling, though, is the "second" farewell photo of Chris waving goodbye and holding his note. The close up shows, to me at least, the sadness in Chris' eyes. This was someone's son and brother. To dismiss him as some kind of joke is beyond stupid. We take risks every day when we jump in our cars for our sedentary ventures in our fastfood, drive-through lives. The bar-stool sages in Alaska smirk and slurp, but what is the purpose with which they live? (and do they really live?).
LaMothe may correctly quibble with aspects of the more profitable versions of this story, but his conclusion about why McCandless lived the way he lived is much the same. It was far more about his reasons for going into the wild than why he didn't make it out.