“I think Bigfoot is blurry, that’s the problem. It’s not the photographer’s fault.”—Mitch Hedburg
Most of you have probably seen the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot video. You might not know that this is what it’s called, but you’ve seen it. I first saw it when I was seven, and it was one of the things that spurred my interest in the paranormal from such an early age. In fact, it was the most influential because something that you can actually see with your own two eyes is far more convincing than anything that you read or have been told. I still believed in Santa Claus at the time (and still do), so the reality of this thing which had been captured on film was something that I never doubted. I was too young and naïve to even consider the possibility that it could be a fraud. Adults weren’t supposed to lie. Now that I am an adult, I’m not entirely convinced.
Some of you probably believe that it’s real, maybe just because you want to. Others just assume it’s a hoax because they’ve already decided that this creature doesn’t exist, so that’s all that it possibly could be. It’s been nearly 50 years since its release, so one might think that by now its authenticity would have been proved or disproved, particularly with all of the advancements in computer analysis that have been made during this time, but the reality is that the debate goes on. Some claim that its fraudulence has been proven, but that depends on what you’re willing to accept as evidence. For some, the unverifiable claims of persons who say that they were involved in the hoax in one way or another is proof enough. Others maintain that such unsubstantiated testimony by those who can’t conclusively prove their involvement or the accuracy of their statements would never be allowed in a court of law. (The frequent use of jailhouse snitches as witnesses would seem to contradict this, but that’s a matter for attorneys to debate.) In reality, the authenticity of the film can probably never be proven to everyone’s satisfaction. No matter what experts might come out in support of it, there will always be those who maintain that you can’t have authentic footage of a thing which doesn’t exist. Until one of these creatures is killed or captured (highly unlikely in my estimation), they won’t accept anything as incontrovertible evidence, and they do have a point.
Rather than having just stumbled upon a Sasquatch while they were camping or hunting, Patterson and Gimlin were actively searching for the creature. Some critics find this to be highly suspect. They went looking for Bigfoot and, lo and behold, they just happen to find one. How convenient. Taken without any sort of logical consideration, this might seem to the casual observer to be a valid argument for a fraud, but when critical thought is applied to the situation, it reveals the sort of catch-22 that paranormal investigators face at the hands of the skeptics. If you find what you’re looking for, then they claim that this raises an enormous red flag of suspicion. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, they say that it’s because no such thing exists. In any case, you’re either a fraud or a kook. And it should be pointed out that the whole reason that they were in the Bluff Creek area to begin with was that there had been a number of recent Bigfoot sightings in that region. If you’re looking for something, then going to where others have seen it recently would seem like a reasonable course of action. On the other hand, it’s not like these people would accept this film as being legitimate if it had been made by a pair of birdwatchers or a couple out for a weekend hike.
According to Patterson and Gimlin, in the early afternoon of October 20, 1967, they were riding along Bluff Creek on horseback when they came upon a large, uprooted tree that had fallen at a bend in the creek. As they rounded the tree, they first saw the creature kneeling by the creek. They estimated it to be about 25 feet away from them. Patterson said that it took him about 20 seconds to dismount and retrieve the camera from his saddlebag. By this time, the creature had moved to about 120 feet away, and Patterson began chasing after it, filming the whole time. He stopped when he got around 80 feet away, which is when the film gets good because until then you really can’t see much. The thing can clearly be seen turning its head to look back at Patterson over its shoulder at this point. Its expression was one that Patterson later described as being that of “contempt and disgust.” I mention this primarily because I think it’s an interesting detail, although I seem to be the only one. Why would this creature have reacted to them in that way? It sounds like a celebrity showing her disdain for members of the paparazzi. If the story was made up, why would Patterson have chosen to include such an inexplicable detail?
During the time Patterson was filmong, Gimlin rode across the creek with rifle in hand and followed behind the creature for a short time before dismounting in order to get a more steady shot at the thing if it turned to attack them. He remained there until it disappeared into the trees. Both men later said that they wished that they had shot it in order to prove that their story was true. Hardly a noble sentiment in my opinion, but I doubt that it would have mattered. Plenty of people have fired at lots of different paranormal beasties over the years. So far, it doesn’t seem to have done any of them any harm. (Rubber chickens and dog whistles are far more effective forms of self-defense in these situations.)
After it was gone, Gimlin helped Patterson retrieve his horse, which had run off during the encounter. They then tracked the unidentified biped (aka Bigfoot) for about three miles before losing its trail. Then they returned to the original site of the incident, made two plaster molds of the best prints and measured the length of its stride. Later that day, they met Batman and the Tooth Fairy for lunch to discuss what they had seen.
Contrary to what one might think, the footage received almost no interest from the scientific community, even though it got quite a bit from the general public. Patterson appeared as a guest on two nationally broadcast talk shows and made a number of other appearances to promote the film. Gimlin preferred to keep a low profile, making only a few public appearances, most of them after Patterson’s death in 1972. Despite the fact that there seems to have been some hard feelings between the two (over money, naturally), both men are/were unwavering in their claim that this was not a hoax.
Another analysis was done by anthropologist Grover Krantz in 1972. He also concluded that the creature’s unusually wide shoulders could not be faked using some sort of padding without altering the natural range of motion shown in the film. In addition, he noted that the creature’s ankles were set further forward from the heel than a human’s, and that the distinctly visible musculature would be very difficult to fake. He interviewed Patterson and came to the conclusion that he lacked the skill and knowledge to have produced such a convincing hoax.
Dmitri Donskoy, Chief of Biomechanics at the USSR Central Institute of Physical Culture, stated that the movements of the figure shown in the film indicated that it was much heavier and stronger than a man and walked at a greater speed. Based on this, he concluded that “such a walk as demonstrated by the creature in the film is absolutely non-typical of man.” He considered the unusual gait to be authentic due to the fact that it was fluid, consistent and well-coordinated with natural arm motions.
A fourth early analysis, this one by Geoffrey Bourne, Director of the Yerkes Regional Primate Center at Emory University in Atlanta, resulted in some very different conclusions. Bourne thought that the figure’s gait was very similar to that of a human. He also noted that it had characteristics of both male and female primates, most notably a sagittal crest at the back of its head (most pronounced in male gorillas) and “pendulous” breasts. The breasts were also covered with fur, while female primate breasts are bare or only sparsely covered. Breasts that were covered with fur would make feeding a harried process.†
Over the years, computer enhancements, most notably those made by confessed Bigfoot enthusiast M.K. Davis,º have given us a much higher quality version of the film for analysis. I have so far assumed that it goes without saying that the skeptics claim that the creature in question is just a man in a gorilla suit. What these computer enhancements have allowed us to see with much greater clarity is just how well-defined the musculature of this creature really is. Such detail would be hard to fake with nothing but a handheld camera and no access to computer technology, as was the case in 1967. They didn’t even have Photoshop back then. Also, none of the “man in a gorilla suit” crowd have offered any opinions that I can find as to why Patterson and Gimlin would have added “pendulous breasts” to the suit. They certainly don’t sell them that way at any reputable costume shop.
What cannot be ethically swept under the carpet is that Roger Patterson was planning to make a pseudo-documentary about the creature which would include reenactments of various Bigfoot encounters. To do this, he would naturally have had to acquire some sort of ape-like costume, and that’s something which should concern all honest seekers after truth. So did he ever get his hands on such a costume? The fact that this scheme never got beyond the planning stage (basically meaning that he couldn’t find any donors to bankroll the project) could be taken as an indication that it’s unlikely, but that’s a matter of some debate.
I’ll be returning to this point in my next installment, but before I go I feel that I must point out something that I find striking, but which no one else seems to think is important: the creature’s face. Even at its blurriest and most pixelated, this face doesn’t look like any gorilla mask that I’ve ever seen. If this is a fake, then either Patterson or Gimlin or someone else who was involved must have been a special effects makeup artist (and some say that one of them was, and a famous one at that: stay tuned). One detail that has been consistently repeated by alleged witnesses who have reported seeing Bigfoot at close range is how oddly human its face is, even while it is so obviously not human. Looking at closeups from the Patterson-Gimlin film, I’m struck by the same thing, albeit I’m certain to a much lesser degree. I can’t profess to knowing anything about the intricacies of film speed or primate locomotor characteristics, but I do know a face when I see one. And this one, by the way, doesn’t look anything like the guy who later claimed to be the one in the “gorilla suit,” but we’ll get to that next week.
*How many frames per second the film was shot at is a major concern for many analysts. Even Patterson didn’t seem to know for sure at what setting he had the camera at the time. I don’t go into this much because it means nothing to me and probably not to most of you either. I don’t doubt that it’s important; it’s just that I have no idea why.
†For the sake of what small semblance of professionalism that I occasionally pretend to try to maintain, I shall refrain from making any comments about man-boobs. What I shan’t keep quiet about is the fact that Bourne’s assessment of the figure in the film was based entirely on its lack of similarities to known primates. That is, of course, his area of expertise and his right.
ºJust under a year ago, M.K. Davis made an announcement that he had been able to stabilize and enhance frame 61 of the film enough to make out toes on the bottom of one of the creature’s feet. While this discovery doesn’t conclusively prove anything, it would, if valid, cast further doubt on the gorilla suit theory. Very few costumes of any kind are so detailed as to include individual toes.