What an odd duck of a doc “Big Fur” is. But that just means director Dan Wayne has gotten damned close to his subject.
Alberta, Canada taxidermist, Roy Orbison impersonator and Bigfoot believer Ken Walker is a veritable rural Renaissance man.
Wayne’s film watches Walker, one of the world’s very best at taxidermy — he has the ribbons, trophies and absurdly lifelike menagerie to prove it — as Walker works his magic on his greatest “recreation,” bringing the Bigfoot of Myth, and 53 seconds of film footage to (still) life.
Walker’s work “has never been recognized by ‘the art crowd.'” There aren’t many scientists who’d stake their reputations on saying that “forest people,” “Sasquatch” or “Bigfoot” exist. And Walker confesses that taking on an “animal” for which he has no fur or skeleton to work with, which most don’t think actually exists, makes “people think I have lost my mind.”
But by the time “Big Fur” is done, your opinions on one or two of those three prejudices are sure to have changed.
“Big Fur” takes on the herculean task of rescuing the reputation of taxidermy, which city folk in particular regard as kind of ghoulish. Thank Norman Bates for that, Walker says. “Ever since ‘Psycho,’ taxidermists,” who used to garner a little respect thanks to the craft’s most famous practitioner, John James Audubon, “have been fighting that (murdered and stuffed his mommy) stereotype.”
That’s one of the few places in his movie that director Dan Wayne lets us in on a joke. He plays a little “Psycho” music as Walker carves away at styrofoam body structures, touches up glass eyes or paints the nails of this or that critter.
The rest of this quirky film is played deadpan straight — just a man, his art, his competitive streak, his “understanding” family and his obsession. Big. Foot.
Watching him study, frame-by-frame, the Zapruder Film of Bigfoot believers, the Patterson-Grimlin Film, less than a minute of a hulking, big-hairy-bosomed beast lumbering away and glancing over her shoulder (“Patsy” she is called, after Big Foot “researcher” Patterson) from 1967, you figure “Canadian dude’s been drinking the Kool-aid.”
But the back-and-forth over that movie’s authenticity has never conclusively settled on “hoax” or “the real deal,” although “hoax” still has the upper hand. “Big Fur” throws graphics up that tell us of the thousands of alleged “sightings” over the past 100 years of North American deforestation and population growth.
No, it’s not likely. That “film” has never been replicated, for starters. But as Ken Walker croons into the mike in a spot-on Roy Orbison impression, you concede that “In Dreams” might not be the only place Sasquatch stalks the dwindling forests.
And as Ken’s project nears completion, his fame growing as it does, his story takes a personal turn that’s kind of “on brand” for rural white North America, as well.
But conspiracies, killing critters, country music, and art? He’s got quite the task on his “magic hands,” changing the world’s mind about that last label.
“Taxidermy,” Ken says, regaling another competitor at a convention, “it’s all done by right wingers, who don’t BELIEVE in ‘art,’ and won’t call themselves ‘artists.'”
MPAA Rating: unrated
Cast: Ken Walker, Amy Carter, Ken Walker Sr., George Roof, Colette Walker, Chantelle Walker
Credits: Directed by Dan Wayne, script by George Langworthy. A 1091 release.