Bird Watcher's General Store

The Legend of Pale Male
07/02/10


Dear Bird Folks,

This is not really a question but rather a suggestion about something you and your readers may be interested in. Last March, at a local film festival, I saw a showing of The Legend of Pale Male. I really enjoyed this film and I think you might, too. Although Cape Cod probably doesn’t have its own film festival, you may be able to find this movie playing in Boston or Cambridge. It’s well worth seeking out.

– Brandon, Georgetown, Washington, DC.

What a minute, Brandon,

What do you mean, “Cape Cod probably doesn’t have its own film festival”? This is not Black Fly, Newfoundland, ya know. Cape Cod has everything you need and then some. We have at least three different film festivals, and some of them even show “talkies.” How about that, City Boy? The Provincetown Film Festival, for example, is a wonderful event for seeing new and unusual movies. Where else can you see a biopic about a dyslexic rooster or a documentary about the invention of coleslaw, with subtitles, all while eating Portuguese Fried Dough? In addition to all the fabulous movies, there is no shortage of celebrities to be seen at this festival. One year John Waters and Kathleen Turner had lunch at the table right next to mine. Unfortunately, some idiot kept winking and blowing kisses to Ms. Turner while she was trying to eat her lunch. He created such a scene that the restaurant owner had to come over and ask me to leave.

I attended this year’s Provincetown Film Festival and actually saw the film you suggested…although, I have to admit it wasn’t my first choice. I went to the festival with my friend, Olivia. In addition to being a good friend, she also edits this column for me every week. If you are able to make sense out of Ask The Bird Folks, you can thank Olivia. Without her help, this column would probably be moved to the word puzzle page of the newspaper, and no one would be able to solve it. As a reward for her hard work, I suggested she choose the movie we’d see. And wouldn’t you know it, she chose The Legend of Pale Male. I was not happy. Not only did I have my heart set on seeing the coleslaw film, but also I hate those sappy, anthropomorphic bird movies. I didn’t want to spend two hours watching a majestic bird of prey turned into a sentimental, romanticized figure. Well, as usual, I was wrong. The movie is awesome. A thousand times better than I thought it would be. For once I was happy to be wrong.

For anyone who doesn’t already know, Pale Male is the name given to a Red-tailed Hawk, the first red-tail to nest in NYC in nearly 100 years. However, this bird wasn’t about to build its nest in an isolated tree. He chose the ledge of an exclusive high-rise, a high-rise that overlooks Central Park. Throughout the movie we were treated to lots of amazing footage of this powerful raptor; but the movie has very little to with hawks, or any other birds for that matter. It’s all about nature…human nature. As the story unfolds, we meet an endless stream of characters who regularly came to watch this hawk. I know it sounds lame, but it’s not.

Pale Male’s nest is under constant surveillance by newbie hawk watchers, plus a conglomeration of freaks and weirdoes. Pale Male’s fans are the kind of people most of us would cross the street to avoid. But as the movie continues these same people slowly become less weird and far more charming. Eventually, instead wanting to avoid these folks, I found myself wanting to join them. They were dedicated, caring and completely supportive of each other. They met at the same bench - day in and day out, year in and year out, rain or shine - to monitor the activity around the bird’s nest. And almost none of them knew each other before Pale Male came to town.

Of course, a movie can’t be a movie without a bit of ugliness, and that ugliness was provided by the boneheads who live in the exclusive high-rise. After letting Pale Male and his assorted mates raise their chicks on the same ledge for ten years, the landlords, without warning, ripped the nest down. They claimed they were tired of all the attention their building was getting, plus they were afraid the hawks might eventually catch and eat Mayor Bloomberg. As you can imagine, their plan backfired. Their building received way more attention than it ever had, which forced the boneheads to begrudgingly reverse their decision. The nest was replaced, the hawks returned, and everyone cheered, even me. (Don’t tell anyone.)

Thanks for the film recommendation, Brandon. The Legend of Pale Male is totally not the sappy, anthropomorphic bird movie I was afraid it would be. It’s a bird movie…about people. Bird watching - like golf, dog walking, gardening and knitting - is just something that gets us up in the morning. Weirdoes who spend their day staring at a bird’s nest may seem like slackers to some, but I think they are merely doing what is meaningful to them and there’s nothing wrong with that. At least none of them were blowing kisses at Kathleen Turner. Only a real weirdo would do that.

FYI: The Legend of Pale Male will be in limited theatrical release this fall (2010). Look for it.




Artwork by Catherine Clark


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