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Alone in the Wilderness

Posted by martinteller on December 9, 2013

In 1968, 52-year-old retired mechanic Dick Proenneke spent over a year on his own in the wilds of Twin Lakes, Alaska.  With a camera and a tripod, he recorded his activities, fishing and building a log cabin and surviving without any modern comforts.  He went back home to Iowa for a brief time and then spent the next 30 years in his cabin, alone.  This film, produced for public television, presents the footage from that first year, with narration (read by producer Bob Swerer Jr.) from Proenneke’s journals.

As a lifelong city dweller (who hates camping), I wouldn’t have the slightest idea of how to do the things Proenneke does, but he’d be the guy I want with me if I ever got stuck in the wilderness.  The cabin is all kinds of impressive, with a Dutch door and a working fireplace and such careful measuring and planning.  This dude knows his shit.  The narration has a folksy, casual tone that oddly reminded me of The Endless Summer, sexist jokes and all.  Less surfer-dude in its vernacular, of course, but the tone is similar.  I also couldn’t help imagining an alternate narration by Werner Herzog, who would surely have more ominous things to say about the bears and wolverines lurking around.

It’s worth noting that there are a few “cheats” if you’re inclined to pick nits.  Proenneke periodically has supplies and sundries flown in to his location, making him not quite the lone warrior the title suggests.  But really, I would be dead within a week even if I had a guy bringing me cheeseburgers every morning, so I can hardly begrudge him the occasional bottle of corn syrup or what have you.  There are also at least two shots of Proenneke where the camera moves.  Either he trained a beaver to operate a camera, or someone was there with him at least part of the time.  But presumably the operator in these instances was the pilot (“Babe”), at least in the Wikipedia entry there’s nothing to suggest that anyone else was there.

Perhaps more egregious is that Swerer shot “additional footage” for the documentary.  There are shots where the film stock is notably sharper, usually inserts of critters.  While this isn’t a huge deal, it does in a way violate the spirit of the thing.  Okay, so Proenneke’s camerawork isn’t the greatest, but don’t pretty it up by adding new stuff.  Let it be what it is.

As I said, these are nitpicks.  If you want a larger complaint, I’d say that it’s a little too focused on the building of the cabin and could use more insight or tension.  Still, it’s fun.  Maybe not the most cinematically impressive of movies, but an enjoyable and informative one.  Rating: Good (72)


4 Responses to “Alone in the Wilderness”

  1. Are you sure the scenes in better quality isn’t shot by Proenneke himself? In one scene you can actually see him operating a 16mm camera (as opposed to the 8mm most of the movie was shot in), and that might very well account for the differences in quality, that he actually used at least two different cameras.

    • I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that Swerer added some of his own footage, but I don’t know who shot what. It’s been too long since I’ve seen the movie.

      • shadow1334 said

        Hey, I like sexist jokes. Fuck political-correctness.

      • Well, I hate sexist jokes. And I’m all for political correctness if that means taking other people’s feelings and struggles into consideration and trying not to be an asshole.

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