Big Fur


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Big Fur
"There's so much fun stuff to include here that you sense Wayne couldn't bear to leave anything out."

The art of taxidermy alone is quirky enough as a subject for a documentary - and has been in the past in the likes of Lifelike - but Dan Wayne's debut film more than doubles down on eccentricity as it also includes an obsession with Sasquatch and some pretty nifty Roy Orbison impersonations courtesy of its main subject Ken Walker.

Walker is a man at the top of his game, having held world champion titles for his work. While there are plenty of voices raised against taxidermy, there's no doubting the skill involved in the pieces that Walker creates - not merely "stuffing" animals, but sculpting their attitude and the scene around them to make them appear alive. Taxidermy isn't just concerned with using dead animals as a framework either, Walker also "recreates" animals, such as pandas, using sculpted polyurethane foam and the pelt of another similar creatures - in this case a bear. It's also worth noting that the tiger we see early in the film died of natural causes (albeit in the less than natural setting of a zoo).

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There is a lot more to Wayne's documentary than a consideration of craft, however, as he takes a deep dive into Walker's life and work. Walker proves an excellent subject as, though he takes his work seriously and talks knowledgeably about it, his sense of fun is also evident throughout. Wayne also allows the taxidermist to expand on his near life-long obsession with all things Big Foot - with his attempts to "recreate" one shown here in detail.

Walker is a true believer in Sasquatch, regularly going out to try to spot one and at pains to talk to hunters who say they have. His freezer also holds bags of "Sasquatch scat". Wayne treats the subject as seriously as the other elements of the documentary, although he does include Sasquatch non-believers, including Wayne's wife Colette. Discussion of the creature's habits and habitat, however, allow the documentary gently expand into the area of environmentalism. While nothing is dwelt on for too long in this breezy film, Wayne still offers food for thought, particularly in the moments when some of the contributors consider the fact that (generally) right-wing hunters have a lot more in common with (generally) left-wing environmentalists in looking to maintain natural spaces than either party would care to admit, much to their cause's detriment.

There's so much fun stuff to include here that you sense Wayne couldn't bear to leave anything out. While that makes this a little bit overstuffed in places it also adds to the feeling of a more complete picture being created, as he makes time to include Walker's unlikely sideline as a Roy Orbison soundalike and takes a surprising excursion into some very personal territory in the final third - although a montage to Orbison's In Dreams pushes the absurdity a bit too far.

There are plenty of talking heads here but Wayne knows a good angle when he sees one and Walker's recollections of childhood are further enlivened by quirky claymation interludes from the wonderfully named Corky Quackenbush. Brad Cox's country-inflected score also lends the film enjoyable momentum. Whether you believe in Sasquatch or not, you're likely to be convinced of Walker's talent by the time you've watched him recreate one.

Reviewed on: 24 Jan 2020
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Consideration of the life, work and Big Foot obsession of world champion taxidermist Ken Walker.

Director: Dan Wayne

Writer: George Langworthy

Starring: Ken Walker

Year: 2019

Runtime: 76 minutes

Country: US


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