[Public Domain Film- The Legend of Bigfoot (Special Edition) on Archive.org]*
(*Depictions of Hunting, Trapping, and Scenes of Nature Violence)
[There is a Collection of Twelve Stills I’ve captured digitally via the link above featured at the bottom of this review for your viewing and sharing pleasure]
I have a great love of films. There, I said it. And I’m not talking exclusively of Criterion level, Siskel and Ebert style “well-reviewed” films. I love when it’s shot on film; on tape; on an iPhone; shot in IMAX- it doesn’t even matter if there are physical cameras involved or not- I want to viddy it. Film, as an artistic medium, has a certain personal quality that is immediately detectable (or undetected) upon viewing, much like a well written piece of literature. That is to say:- when the people in every possible orientation in respect to the camera, be it in front or behind, care about what is being made the film will display the heart poured into its creation.
Two opposing titans of the internet-age B-movie mythos create a perfect contrast in my mind, those films being “Birdemic: Shock and Terror” and “Sharknado” (ignoring the sequels to both films). Birdemic feels very genuine in its lack of production quality, while Sharknado reeks of corporate cash-in, over-under-produced, snore-fest which starred a few big names from a decade (or more) before it was made. The gumption and go-get-em’-kid tenacity from Director James Nguyen comes through in Birdemic, despite the amateurish quality of the production. But, you know what? It’s alright to be an amateur. It’s good to be amateur. Nobody comes out hot to trot immediately when they pick up a camera for the first time; or anything else for that matter. You gotta cut your teeth and make what you want to make in whatever way you can with whatever you got as well as you can.
Sharknado, on the other hand, has good looking CG-I that is designed to look “bad”, which feels like punching down on people who may not have 18 Visual Effects Artists, 6 Stunt Coordinators, 14 Staff in the Art Department, and a seemingly infinite number of credited background actors. This is not a jab at any of the hard working people who got this film out the door; a film that is pretty well received by the general public that certainly met the goal of the project. My commentary is more aimed at the notion that these comparatively huge studios are aping off of the genuine success of a movie that was genuine and a real expression of a single artist’s (writer/director/cameraman/CGi department/etc. of Birdemic James Nguyen) vision. By the way—just between us, James Nguyen has a more recent film titled The Man with the Wooden Face (2017). Tell everyone you know.
This brings us, of course, to the film that you definitely just watched. You definitely stopped to watch The Legend of Bigfoot. I believe you. But, hey, don’t worry. I’m going to avoid major and specific spoilers and paint a picture of the film. So, no worries; consider this your life now and enjoy the ride.
The Legend of Bigfoot was directed by Harry Winer. Please do not laugh. Like a glass of wine-r. Wine-r. Not Wiener. Not Harry Wiener. Please do not laugh and do not call him Harry Wiener. Harry has 50 directorial attributions and is still involved in film production, in some capacity or another, to this day. Come to find out, The Legend of Bigfoot was his directorial debut. He co-wrote the film with Paula LaBrot I refrained from doing any research on the film before watching, as I think it should be. Unless there is an medical or other form of accessibility reason, you should try and go into a film as blind as walking into a movie theatre and picking your ticket by poster alone. That is, in my opinion. Speaking of—if you are uncomfortable with the filming of hunting and raw nature, some scenes may cause you discomfort. This, however, is intentional and thematically linked to the narrative, so I believe it is worth viewing.
The first impression this movie left on me was from its aesthetic and presentation. We’ll begin with the beginning, and when we get to the end, we’ll stop. The opening narration, delivered by our protagonist, Ivan Marx (who also serves as the film’s cinematographer), speaking as himself about the serious and true nature of what he is about to show. Little do we know (unless you heeded the disclaimer) he is not joking. I mean, he is joking, but also he is not joking. Films from this era have a certain rawness about them that I find almost addictive. And this rawness doesn’t always have to be intentionally over the top and shocking, like John’s Water’s 1972 porno sheik classic Pink Flamingos. The Legend of Bigfoot captures a beautiful landscape, filled with flora and fauna, of which our protagonist Ivan knows all about. Ivan is a Tracker by trade, and in his own words he tracks: “…renegades (referring to animals) killers of livestock, and sometimes people.” However, Ivan also confesses to not enjoy hunting for sport, as he finds it wasteful.
This introduces one of the large thematic webs of this film, and it’s an absolute classic; Man versus Nature (which is intertwined with Fate). Of the three archetypical stories, the others being: Man versus Man (which is intertwined with society) and Man versus Self. It’s the “Royal We”, humans of earth, so we’re talking about mankind. There are, of course, bleed over from the other archetypal stories as there so often are, but Nature is our true antagonist, if you can even call it that. Nature is more of an obstacle, but an also a relic of time long passed not to be trifled with. Ivan is respectful of nature, and it is clear that he, as a cinematographer, really loved nature. We get amazing wide shots, right alongside damn near, and sometimes better than, National Geographic quality reference footage of animals. Ivan Marx was a tracker himself, and we get the entire film through his lens, pun intended.
The narrative, which is about hunting Bigfoot (this is not a spoiler), is driven forward by narration by Ivan overtop the nature footage. They capture a lot of great nature ambience throughout, and made a smart decision to not try and record sound in the outdoors. The equipment would be too unwieldy for a relatively small team with a small budget. However, the score by Don Peake (Motown Guitarist, first white guitarist to play with the Ray Charles Orchestra, among many other accomplishments) really carries a lot of emotional weight throughout the film that silence, or just ambiance, wouldn’t not have held quite the same way. The Legend of Bigfoot had, depending on how they shot it, high single digit to low double digit numbers of people on set at any given time (in my rough estimation). We get amazing camerawork, presumably done largely by Ivan himself when not on camera. In many instances we get handheld shots that actually look quite nice and read perfectly well on the screen. That is a rare sight in a relatively unknown film from 1976.
Something that is not a rare sight in films from this era is footage of real animal deaths which, while disturbing and uncomfortable, are not exploitative in this film; this is no Cannibal Holocaust. The only fictitious element in this film is the monkey-costume wearing actors impersonating famed cryptid. The Legend of Bigfoot is not afraid to really show nature unreserved, much to the film’s benefit. I can understand why many would not want to witness this needlessly, but it is a sobering reminder that we are meat.
“The symbol of the race ought to be a human being carrying an ax, for every human being has one concealed about him somewhere, and is always seeking the opportunity to grind it.”
– Mark Twain, a Biography
This adventure brings us all around the North American Territories, from Wyoming, to The Yukon, and even the Arctic Circle. All shot on 16mm, printed on 35mm, and absolutely crunched down into a digital format. What I wouldn’t give to watch a true reel of this movie.Despite the somewhat rough state of the film, it is still a great filmmaking spectacle. The film maintains an unflinching documentary style as it progresses. The story beats are bridged by an excellent narration by Ivan Marx himself, which utilizes his inner-monologue to help us through his thought process and strategy for finding Bigfoot. And, in an absolutely stunning and smile-inducing move, Ivan is not looking to kill Bigfoot. The journey is purely of scientific and personal curiosity for Ivan. Well, okay, let’s talk about the monkey-costume’d man for a moment.
There is a fair bit of polarization from critics of this film, as Ivan treats what looks like intentionally faked and conveniently timed Bigfoot appearances throughout as gospel truth. Some agree with Ivan, and some don’t. I personally don’t think it matters when it comes to enjoying the film because it didn’t ever cross my mind that this may be real, even when it was said to me explicitly by the Protagonist/Cinematographer of the film who wants me to believe him. I do like the idea of a crowd full of unsure patrons leaving a theatre, not knowing if it was real or fake. This reminds me of Blair Witch and its viral ad campaign before that was really a thing for films. Blair Witch was a lot of firsts, and it’s a solid film, but it definitely befits from the extra dimension that the advertising adds to it.
There is a surprising amount of Bigfoot sightings in the film. Too many of these Bigfoot and other cryptozoological tales are too scarce on the sightings. Each one of the four major Bigfoot encounters play out differently enough to keep you thoroughly engaged during the brisk 1hr14m run time, or 1h24m Special Edition run time. Alongside Bigfoot, as there often is, lies many stories and myths within each narrative. You have to treat each Bigfoot film as its own universe, making its own rules that you must keep in mind for the duration of the film. Much like comparing the Universal Studio’s vampire classic with Bella Lugosi as Dracula in many motion pictures and the Hammer Films Christopher Lee Grindhouse Dracula Epic Saga; they may both be vampires, they might both be Dracula, but they sure ain’t the same Dracula. This is way more common than I think the general film-going audience is aware.
With the proper amount of buy-in and suspension of disbelief, The Legend of Bigfoot should be considered one of the best Bigfoot documentary films, if not for its statistic and scientific content, then for its beautiful wildlife cinematography and dedication to their goal of creating a convincingly real environment in which something as seemingly ridiculous as a Bigfoot, Samsquanch, whatever you want to call it—may live. The pace is brisk and I didn’t feel as if it dragged significantly in any unintended way. I haven’t mentioned Ivan’s wife Peggy, who plays herself, or the various unnamed compatriot trappers that Ivan is seen with at several points in the film. I really like the focus directly on the journey of Ivan. He feels like a folk hero by the end of the story and you really root for him the whole way through. Looked at through the hero narrative lens, Ivan has joined the ranks of Paul Bunyan and John Henry. At least, that is, for me. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and would absolutely recommend it to anyone who is willing to watch a Bigfoot movie from the 70’s, A.K.A. the only people I want to know.
-Brendan C. Bush, Co-Creator and Contributor at Heck Media