Big Fur is a weird yet endearing documentary but not in the way you’d think when promised 76 minutes of Sasquatch, taxidermy and Roy Orbinson.
Director Dan Wayne tells the story of Ken Walker, world renowned taxidermist and kooky Roy Orbinson impersonator, as he lovingly creates a life-size replica of Bigfoot. The Sasquatch, affectionately named Patty, is meticulously modelled on the infamous 1967 Patterson–Gimlin film which captured an alleged female Sasquatch on film, helping catapult the giant ape into Americana folklore. It seems like every culture has their own version of the Yeti. As I write this there has been a reported sighting of Bigfoot, this time in the form of grainy surveillance footage of a hairy stooped figure stalking along a Washington Highway. Ken appears earnest in his beliefs Bigfoot exists and delights in showing off his freezer bags full of ‘Sasquatch Scat’ multiple times on camera.
Framed by the urban legend, the documentary sets out to educate the viewer on the traditions of taxidermy, celebrating the artistry and attempting to end the ‘Norman Bates’ vibes often associated with taxidermists and their craft. Each stage of creating the Sasquatch is diligently mapped out from initial research to the surreal en-masse dying of goat pelts with Clairol home hair-dyes. Flurries of Styrofoam fill the screen as Walker skilfully carves out the creature’s form by eye. It really is a marvel to see as he hacks away at modelling clay to reveal Patty’s life-like features. With the euphoric culmination of the completion of the Bigfoot model comes Ken’s apparent alienation from his young family and relationship breakdown with his wife. But Walker seems to be more upset that Patty cannot be entered in a world taxidermy and he descends further into detachment from his family.
Wayne tries to tackle two new narratives towards the end of short documentary —an affair with a protégé taxidermist and destruction of industrialisation happening currently in Canada (and across the globe). Both deserve longer on screen, lesser so the uncomfortable fling. The later half of the documentary as a result feels hurried and does not have the same charm as the earlier footage of Walker and the skilful creation of Patty. Whilst Big Fur offers a captivating insight into the life and eccentricities of Ken Walker it fails to fully document the man, instead focusing on the myth.
Big Fur screened at Slamdance Film Festival on the 24th and 27th of January
by Casci Ritchie
Casci Ritchie (she/her) is an independent dress historian specialising in fashion, film and consumer cultures. Her true great loves – film and fashion – began when she watched her first film noir, The Big Sleep, as a teenager and fell in love Bacall and Bogie hook line and sinker. Some of her favourite films include Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Beetlejuice, Double Indemnity and Cry Baby. You can find her over on Twitter at @CasciTRitchie & her blog www.casciritchie.com.