Movin’ on up

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Casey Sanchez The New Mex­i­can

IThe Leg­end of Pale Male, ur­ban rap­tor doc, not rated, CCA Cine­math­eque, 3 chiles That old ca­nard — if you can make it in New York, you can make it any­where — goes dou­ble if you’re a red-tail hawk in Cen­tral Park. Pale Male, as the fair-col­ored rap­tor is known, has made a base for him­self on the Up­per East Side since the early 1990s. Ur­ban hawks are ex­ceed­ingly rare, much less so in the world’s most well-known me­trop­o­lis.

In this 2009 doc­u­men­tary by Fred­eric Lilien, we fol­low Pale Male, his mates, and their brood as they soar over New York City. Like any am­bi­tious ar­riv­iste in the Big Ap­ple, Pale lives by his wits and dar­ing. He catches and shreds pi­geons in midair, de­lights hun­dreds of binoc­u­lar-tot­ing fol­low­ers in Cen­tral Park, and makes his nest on a ledge 12 floors up at 927 Fifth Av­enue, near the pent­house bal­cony of Woody Allen’s apart­ment.

But the build­ing’s much-feared co-op board frets over the hordes of peo­ple in Cen­tral Park with tele­scopes aimed squarely at the win­dows of their res­i­dents’ tony apart­ments, which come with the prom­ise of se­cu­rity and anonymity. In 2004, the build­ing man­agers dis­man­tle Pale Male’s siz­able nest in the mid­dle of the night. In re­sponse, the out­raged bird watch­ers band to­gether, en­list­ing the aid of the Audubon So­ci­ety and Mary Tyler Moore, one of the build­ing’s res­i­dents, to their cause.

Soon, the Pale Male story be­came na­tional news and night­time com­edy fod­der. Daunted by the me­dia pres­sure and the ra­bid crowds of side­walk pro­test­ers, the co-op board re­lents, build­ing a high-tech frame for the birds to nest on. Mayor Michael Bloomberg fast-tracks all the build­ing per­mits. Slowly, Pale Male and Lola, his fe­male hawk com­pan­ion, be­gin re­build­ing their home, twig by twig.

The real drama of this film lies not only with Pale Male but also with the hun­dreds of hu­mans who while away years of their free time watch­ing him. Lilien, the filmmaker, has been fol­low­ing Pale Male with few breaks since 1993. The as­pir­ing filmmaker said he came to New York from Bel­gium to “es­cape” a nar­row life in his fam­ily’s multi­gen­er­a­tional law prac­tice. Jump­ing from waiter jobs to hair-sa­lon man­ag­ing gigs, Lilien said he was search­ing for mean­ing in the big city when he hap­pened upon Pale Male. The next day, he picked up a video cam­era. He had at one point thought of be­com­ing a wilder­ness pho­tog­ra­pher. While that goal never panned out, he did be­come an able and in­vet­er­ate chron­i­cler of Pale Male’s world, whether feed­ing his chicks or ex­e­cut­ing soar­ing fly­ing ma­neu­vers to fend off a pack of crows.

The viewer soon re­al­izes that Pale Male’s charisma, at least for his fol­low­ers, lies in the hawk’s per­ceived abil­ity to salve the wounds of the past. One woman in the film talks about how Pale Male helped her process the parental ne­glect she ex­pe­ri­enced as a child. She came to see the hawk’s con­stant feed­ing and guard­ing of his brood as some­thing both heroic and re­demp­tive. Near the end of the film, Lilien talks about how watch­ing Pale Male for two decades pre­pared him to be­come a fa­ther.

As you might guess, the film’s voice-over nar­ra­tion never finds a cliché too shame­ful to use. But there’s some­thing about Lilien’s ac­cented de­liv­ery and his per­pet­u­ally naive, awe-struck new­comer per­son­al­ity that makes many of the film’s hoari­est lines tol­er­a­ble, if not up­lift­ing.

This ur­ban na­ture doc un­abashedly in­dulges its an­thro­po­mor­phism, and we root for Pale Male as a plucky, up-by-his-boot­straps New Yorker fend­ing off both gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and the city’s ter­rors to keep his mates and brood alive. His first mate — unimag­i­na­tively dubbed First Love by his fol­low­ers — meets her end af­ter con­sum­ing a poi­soned pi­geon. His sec­ond paramour, Choco­late, winds up struck by a car on the New Jersey Turn­pike, while his mate Blue is omi­nously never seen again af­ter Sept. 11, 2001. By the time Pale Male and his fifth mate en­dure evic­tion at the hands of the co-op board, it’s hard not to see the film as a naked para­ble of New York­ers of a cer­tain age — scarred by se­rial dat­ing and the col­lapse of rent con­trol.

Us­ing a high-pow­ered zoom lens, Lilien cap­tures won­der­ful footage of the chicks, be­set by fear and ec­stasy, as they at­tempt their first flights from a 12th-floor ledge atop Fifth Av­enue. It turns out the kids are all right. They not only take flight but es­tab­lish ur­ban broods of their own. One takes up res­i­dence in a comely stone build­ing on the cam­pus of Ford­ham Uni­ver­sity. An­other moves up­town, wing­ing among the re­li­gious stat­u­ary of the Cathe­dral of St. John the Di­vine. Still oth­ers es­tab­lish nests in ac­tual trees. Pale Male has ef­fec­tively rein­tro­duced the red-tailed hawk to Gotham. To date, 26 hawks have been seen fly­ing over Man­hat­tan air space, the ex­act same num­ber he is known to have fa­thered.

He’s go­ing to make it af­ter all: Pale Male

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.