The Legend of Pale Male

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The Legend of Pale Male

A quintessential New York story about an outsider making a life for himself in the big city, this doc recounts how a majestic red-tailed hawk nested atop a tony Fifth Avenue co-op and became an international cause clbre. At the height of his popularity, Pale Male (along with a succession of feathered friends) provoked tabloid histrionics, late-night talk-show banter and even ornithological tourism. He also, alas, inspired one seriously clumsy, cloying hagiography.

Having followed this fowl for more than a decade, Belgian director Frederic Lilien isn't content to simply anthropomorphize the bird; he strains to give it a godlike omnimpotence. "I began to see the full extent of Pale Male's plan," he tells us, projecting a young man's pseudo-mystical search for meaning onto a squirrel-devouring predator. We also meet a motley crew of Gotham characters who peer at the hawk from a Central Park bench and protest after co-op workers dismantle his beloved nest. But even these scenes are marred by an oddly festering partisanship, asserting that the very soul of the city had been at stake---Humpty Dumpty is gravely invoked---while painting sympathetic resident Mary Tyler Moore as the patron saint of winged squatters. Lilien certainly captures Pale Male's wild animal beauty in loving close-up. What his film needs, however, is distance.

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By: Eric Hynes

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