OPENING MONTAGE – The Danish Royal Bear Cavalry in procession; Rembrandt=s famous >Ragnarok= featuring Norse Gods mounted on Bears, black and white footage of bear cavalry circa 1914 moving jerkily, a series of impressionistic paintings, Teddy Roosevelt riding a bear up San Juan Hill, Vikings on Bears, clips of mounted Bear Brawls, the animals rearing up to club each other, faux woodcuts of Vikings riding bears fighting horse mounted nights.
ROBIN PRUFROCK – VOICE OVER – Is there anything more awesome than Bear Cavalry_ I think I was nine years old when I watched Teddy Roosevelt charge up San Juan Hill on a giant Grizzly Bear on our new colour TV.
INSERT – John Bodine, Director of ‘The Roughriders, The Teddy Roosevelt Story’ …this wasn’t in the script at all. In real life, it was a straightforward cavalry charge, he was riding a horse. But the word came down from the studio heads “Make it Bigger, he should be riding a Bull Moose!” Well, we managed to get a bull moose, but no one could get near the damned thing despite it being supposedly tamed. So there we were, a week behind schedule, shooting everything else but the scene and trying to figure out how to dress up a horse to look like a moose, when one of the P.A.=s, some Icelandic girl, she said >Why don=t you get a bear? We ride them all the time back home.= Well, it turned out that the Danish Bear Guard was in Canada, by coincidence… And that was it, the rest is history. I think that=s the most famous scene I ever shot…
INSERT FILM CLIP OF THE ROUGHRIDERS – The actor playing Teddy Roosevelt leaps atop an obviously stuffed Grizzly bear, followed by shots of a stuntman riding a bear up the hill, and close ups of the actor rocking back and forth on the stuffed bear, waving a cavalry saber.
CUT BACK TO – Interview with Bodine, AThat wasn=t John of course. Can you imagine what the studio would have done if we=d let our star get near a bear. We didn=t use our own stuntman, we had one of the Danes do it, dressed him up to look like John. I remember, he was a small man, maybe five feet. It made the bear look positively gigantic. We had to be really careful, no explosions, no gunshots, not even horses… they would just panic. But we got the shot, and it looked damned good!@
INSERT BRIEF CLIP of the actor playing Teddy Roosevelt giving a Rebel Yell.
CUT TO PRUFROCK – We all grew up on this stuff. Vikings and Bears. I mean, you had to be tough to ride a bear, right?
MONTAGE – Gary Larson cartoons, Tom of Finland drawings of leather men on Bears, excerpt from >Blazing Saddles= of Mongo riding a Bear into down, excerpts from the sword-and-sandals flick >Hercules and the Vikings= etc. Mounted bears rearing and grappling, while their riders punched and swung at each other. Home movie footage of younger children riding piggyback on older children, grappling. B-movie and documentary footage.
ROBIN PRUFROCK VOICE OVER – Bear cavalry, bear riders, Vikings and bears, the knights on horses versus bears and Vikings, it was a part of our culture=s visual language. I remember my little brother riding on my back, holding on, while we played >Viking Battles.= Then, I don=t know… We all kind of grow up and move on. Bears are cool, but it doesn=t matter much when you=ve got a nine to five. These days, we all drive cars. And as it turns out a lot of this stuff was… shall we say… exaggerated.
CUT TO: Wilfred Hyde Pierce, Historian, Middle Ages – Vikings versus Knights? (Chuckles) That never happened. Yes, there were Vikings and Norsemen, and yes, some of them rode bears. And yes, there were certainly knights. And during the Norse invasions, yes, there was certainly a lot of fighting. But you absolutely never ever saw a confrontation between a mounted knight on a horse and a Norseman on a bear. (Chuckles again) A bear Do you see one of them sitting still for the long sea voyage to France on a Viking long ship. I should say not. This is just the movies, and while movies are noted for their historical accuracy, in this case they=ve got it wrong…. mostly….
CUT TO ROBIN PRUFROCK: No San Juan hill, no Vikings versus Knights. Bummer. Was there anything to it at all? Was it just some great big cultural hoax? Actually, there=s a real story, a remarkable story. We start with the Vikings….
CLOSE UP OF PRUFROCK GRINNING – From the very beginning, the Vikings were into bears.
CUT TO – A gay disco, huge, fat, grinning, hirsute, long haired, bearded men wearing leather vests and thongs are dancing. One wearing a horned helmet, and holding an improbably huge stein of beer looks directly at the camera, flashes an even bigger smile, and gives a thumbs up.
VO PRUFROCK – Not that kind of Bear_ Well, that too, I suppose. But mainly….
CUT TO: CLOSE UP – URSUS HORRIBILIS – A GIANT GRIZZLY BEAR REARS ON ITS HIND LEGS AND ROARS AT THE CAMERA.
PRUFROCK (VOICE OVER) – This kind.
INTERVIEW SHOT, PRUFROCK AND TOM HAGGERTY, ANTHROPOLOGIST (NAME IN SUBTITLES) – TOM HAGGERTY- It was about the environment. The Norse occupied Scandinavia. There wasn=t a lot in the way of big predators up there. Down in southern regions, you had tigers in Asia, lions in the middle east and Africa, leopards, crocodiles. Most of these animals were not native to Europe, but only known through trade, Europeans had a pretty good idea of what they were and what they represented. There was a lot of symbolism, a lot of baggage, which accumulates around Lions for instance, to the point where German or English Lords in countries which weren=t within a thousand miles of lions had them on the heraldry.But Scandinavia was something of a backwater. It was so remote that lions and tigers really didn=t have much of an impact. They weren=t even folklore. Instead, when the Norse were looking around for something big and dangerous, well, they naturally turned to the European Brown Bear, the biggest, baddest most dangerous animal in its environment, much larger and stronger than wolves….
PRUFROCK – But it goes back even further than that, doesn=t it?
MONTAGE – Excepts from B&W >One Million BC=, primitive ape men fighting cave bears. Clips of Bear skinned shamans dancing around a fire. Shots of the Lascoux cave paintings. Museum exhibits of cave bears.
TOM HAGGERTY, VOICE OVER – Certainly, Bear worship and veneration in Europe probably goes all the way back to the neanderthal, and the battles with cave bears. Bears have always symbolized power and strength. They are immensely strong animals, they can stand upright like we do, they have a similar diet to us, and they liked to shelter in the same caves we wanted. There wasn=t that much distance separating early man from early bears, except that bears were bigger, stronger and hairier.
QUICK SHOT – Gay >bear= in thong and Viking helmet grins and >thumbs up= the camera.
TOM HAGGERTY – Any society which found itself living actively in close quarters with bears was going to venerate them. Certainly the Native Americans did. And the Norse were no different.You have to remember, that the Norse prior to 800 CE were really a marginal European culture. They were living in an area where agriculture was fairly borderline, there was a lot of difficult geography, hills, fjords, you couldn=t go in and clear-cut it for fields. You were farming, you were herding, you were doing hunting and fishing. It was untamed land, and untameable land, and it was definitely bear country. This countryside offered a lot of shelter for bears, a lot of hunting and fishing opportunities. So you had the Norse living side by side with bears in a way that just wasn=t happening anywhere else in Europe.
PRUFROCK – Side by side, eh?
TOM HAGGERTY – (laughs) Not peaceably, god no! You basically have two species occupying the same territories and they=re both big adaptable predators. A lot of bears got killed by Vikings. A lot of Vikings got eaten by bears. Sometimes they left each other alone, or kept out of each others ways, but when they didn=t…..
TOM HAGGERTY – Anyway, Bears acquired this mystique for Norse, for power and ferocity. Something that they were encountering first hand. This is where you got Berserkers. Literally – it means >Bear Shirt= – These were men who would literally channel the ferocious fighting spirit and strength of Bears, originally, putting on Bear skin or Bear shirt as a kind of totemic magic.
PRUFROCK – I thought they were just battle crazed fighters.
TOM – Definitely, they were that. But I think its pretty clear that the earliest incarnations were shamanic conjurers. They were literally becoming bears, letting the spirit of bears fill them. Over time of course it just generalizes to battle ferocity. But even then, there is a direct reference to the Bear as the inspiration. They fight like bears, they are as strong as a bear. The Bear as an iconic symbol really gets entrenched in Norse culture.
PRUFROCK – They even made pets of them.
TOM HAGGERTY – Indeed yes, there was a time during the Viking age when Bears as pets were almost common. It was a huge status symbol for a chieftain or a lord or a king to keep a bear as a pet. It was common enough that in Scandinavia jurisdictions passed laws basically prohibiting people from antagonizing pet bears or their owners.
PRUFROCK – Excuse me. I think if someone owns a bear for a pet, the last thing you=d want to do is antagonize them. It=s a bear. It stands upright seven feet tall. It can take the head off a bull with one swipe. Poodles are nasty enough to antagonize, but bears? What are they thinking?
TOM HAGGERTY – Mostly (chuckles) they weren=t thinking I suppose. This is a culture which thought having brown bears as pets was a good idea. Let=s take it for granted that there was a lot of bad judgement going around.
PRUFROCK – But these weren=t domesticated yet, were they?
TOM HAGGERTY – Correct. Brown bears were never domesticated, they were tamed. There=s a big difference between domesticated and tame, between dogs and wolves. These were wild bears, raised as cubs and tamed. That=s what the Norse did. They would take cubs and raise them up.
PRUFROCK – Did that work?
TOM HAGGERTY – To an extent. Cubs were always fun, playful. There=s a lot of reports everywhere of people raising bear cubs. The Indians did it, the British did it…. that=s where Winnie the Pooh comes from, an actual bear cub raised by an army unit. That=s where we get Smokey the Bear, again a bear cub rescued after a forest fire.
PRUFROCK – Sure, everyone loves the cubs, they=re easy to handle, they=re fun to have around. But then they grow up…
TOM HAGGERTY – Yes, they grow up.
PRUFROCK – What happens then?
TOM HAGGERTY – Well, they reach sexual maturity, become sexually active, they get older, wild instincts reassert, they get more dangerous. Adolescent bears are okay. Even young bears are okay. But some of them, as they get older and crankier, they get more dangerous. Even mild mannered, they=re dangerous, they=re immensely strong animals, and they have huge claws. They can do damage without meaning to. And if they intend to do damage, watch out…
PRUFROCK – That doesn=t sound good.
TOM HAGGERTY – We don=t have a lot of records as to the outcomes with bears raised as pets, but I would venture that they probably aren=t good. Some of them probably returned to the wild. Some probably ended up causing a lot of death and damage or needing to be put down. A lot probably ended up in cages or chained up. And they got expensive, this is a seven hundred pound meat eater after all….
PRUFROCK – That=s a lot of hamburger.
TOM HAGGERTY – Certainly.
PRUFROCK – So the whole pet bear thing, it was basically on its way to being just a fad…
TOM HAGGERTY – Precisely.
CUT TO MONTAGE – Black and white clips, hula hoops, sock hops, exotic flying machines….
PRUFROCK – So what happened?
CUT TO A MAP OF EUROPE, CENTERED ON SCANDINAVIA – ANIMATIONWILFRED HYDE WHITE – VOICE OVER – The Viking Age