On the surface, Ken Walker, renowned taxidermist, is just your average guy and the focus of the new documentary BIG FUR. Sure, it takes a particular kind of person to fall into taxidermy, an oft-maligned and misunderstood art form. What kind of person, you might ask? Documentarian Dan Wayne, uses an interesting approach in covering his subject. By rarely wavering from Walker himself and allowing the periphery to come and go from the sidelines, we get a look at his singular pursuit of happiness however flawed they might be.
The doc starts by introducing us to Walker, his family, and his lifelong passion for the art of taxidermy. After a brief history, we next get an idea for his prowess, in winning multiple awards and constructing figures for the Smithsonian. Supporting him in his pursuits are his wife and two kids, each of whom got stuffed and posed wild felines for their respective birthdays.
Walker’s big dream project, however, is the construction of a life-size Sasquatch figure. A firm believer in the existence of this crypto-creature, Walker immerses himself in the famous Patterson-Gimlin footage and first-hand encounters to create the elusive beast. What I found fascinating at this point in the film is that Wayne holds a steady focus on Walker’s pursuits as we begin to see cracks in the firmament of Walker’s life. Little bits here and there begin to show and are quickly glossed over. While initially off-putting, the burying of the leads, so-to-speak, illustrates the subject’s myopic, albeit well-meaning pursuits. This approach is interesting but seems to rob us a bit of relishing in the absurd joys that Walker dives into. We are never truly convinced or won over by the outlandish idea of building a bigfoot in hopes of attracting other believers.
The Big Fur in the title is merely a metaphor. A reconstruction of an imagined figure and the pursuit of happiness that may or may not exist. Wayne uses a light touch and a humorous tone to cover his subjects and, to his credit, everyone is given the dignity and respect that they deserve, yet I wanted more. We are never given enough time to acknowledge the absurdities of figure reconstruction through the use of expired body parts, nor do we get enough of a feel for why the subject, in this case, Walker, pursues it as his ultimate zen.
Regardless of minor quibbles, Big Fur is still a fascinating documentary. This is a light-hearted look at the ways we find our happy place, be it through hunting, Roy Orbison Karaoke, or building creatures that dwell in the imagination. Dan Wayne has created a meditation of the pursuit of happiness and the costs along the way using a likable, yet eccentric everyman subject as his focus.
6 out of 10 stars
|Runtime:||1 hr 16 Mins.|