In the annals of the metaphorical conflict between wilderness and civilization, The Legend of Pale Male will be remembered as a victory on the side of all things wild.
The film is primarily the work of amateur filmmaker Frederic Lilien, who left his home country of Belgium for Manhattan at the age of 23. After three years in a less-than-fulfilling job as manager of a hair salon, Lilien is inspired to make a nature film by a random encounter with a red-tailed hawk.
Lilien spends the next 17 years of his life filming the hawk, dubbed Pale Male by author Marie Winn, in and around Central Park. He also meets a number of interesting people along the way. That is the film in a nutshell.
At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss The Legend of Pale Male as a shoddily made wildlife documentary. It would be just as easy to point out the somewhat inconsistent narrative, or the director’s missed opportunity to delve into the fascinating minds of the film’s various human characters.
That would be missing the point, though. That would be looking at the film in terms of its human value. The crux of this particular story pivots solely on its significance for the natural world.
One must be careful not to anthropomorphize too much here.
Pale Male is never going to watch this film. He isn't concerned with what authors such as Marie Winn or Jeanette Winter have written about him. Nor is he thinking about the neighborhood when he builds his nest on the same posh Fifth Avenue building that Mary Tyler Moore calls home.
This resourceful red-tailed hawk just wants to survive. He is adapting to the challenges of a world that is dramatically distinct from the one his ancestors knew.
The island of Manhattan was a very different place 400 years ago. A red-tailed hawk would likely have been a common sight. Whereas, today, Pale Male is the first such bird seen in Central Park for nearly 100 years.
Pale Male’s story is engaging precisely because his world, his very existence, seems so foreign to us now.
The star of the film is little concerned with impressing anyone though. As the crowd of bird aficionados and random passers-by grows, Pale Male simply continues to realize the burdens of his design. He mates, mates again and he breeds.
By the time the film draws to a close, in 2010, Pale Male has sired at least 26 offspring. Not an easy task under normal conditions, let alone in an ecosphere of concrete and steel.
Like any good story, there is conflict in the film. Halfway through, the destruction of Pale Male’s well-established nest by a building co-op board turns the attention onto a few human heroes for a while. Still, the wilderness has re-iterated some small hold on human kind's vast dominion.
One red-tailed hawk randomly made his home at one of the premier addresses overlooking Central Park, and in doing so became a champion for all the savage and unpredictable aspects of the natural world.
The Legend of Pale Male
1050 Old Pecos Trail