"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."