Patterson Gimlin/ a look at debunking paranormal footage
I’m a sceptic of the paranormal. I want to justify what exactly mean by that. I’m open minded to compelling evidence of the paranormal, but I don’t outright believe in it through either my own experiences, my own faith in it, or any evidence I have seen. If someone can show me any footage which is entirely impossible to debunk, or from an experience which I have which I cannot objectively disprove. Even here there are problems, but we’ll get back to that later. What I am not is cynical. It may seem to be a synonym of sceptical, but the difference lies in the intent. A sceptical person sets out to question a piece of evidence to come to a conclusion as to its authenticity. A cynical person will set out to disprove a piece of evidence, in line with their own world views. Without wading into the “is impartiality real” debate, I would suggest that striving to be as near to it as possible in relevant situations isn’t a bad aim.
When I look at paranormal videos, there are several things I look for, which i’ve mentioned on here before, but I'll summarise them here to show you how i’ll be looking at the Patterson Gimlin film later on.
The context of the video can be just as important as what we see. It’s quite easy to spot when a narrative has been constructed to justify the films existence, but it can be just as suspicious if there is no narrative to the piece whatsoever.
Context also extends to where a video is published, who filmed it, and what agenda and biases they may have.
Construction is what we actually see and hear in a piece of footage. From framing to choices of technology, there are many clues which can give away a hoax, or many psychological tricks which can make it look like a paranormal critter is on the prowl.
My final point before we wade into some famous video clips is that I hate that so many people are unwilling to call “hoax” to pieces of footage. If such a video has iffy credentials, a dodgy looking spectre in the background, and some jarring cuts, then I don’t think we should be afraid to push our chips onto the hoax space as we spin the roulette wheel.
We’ll start with a piece of footage which I would argue is one of the most famous pieces of video that exists, full stop; the Paterson/Gimlin film. The 1967 film shot in California supposedly shows a female bigfoot as she walks through a clearing. The creature seems to clock the stumbling Roger Patterson as he runs down to get a better shot of the creature, posing for the now famous shot in frame 352.
The context presents a significant redflag to me, this being that Patterson and Gimlin both set out to film a bigfoot. Sure, that may seem like you’re increasing your chances of seeing a bigfoot since you’re actively taking steps to look for it, but there are so many people that go out of their way to seek bigfoot and find nothing, that it conversely seems rather difficult to believe that someone actually returned with something. Patterson and Gimlin’s objective was to make a documentary on bigfoot, or a docudrama at the very least. For this, Patterson used several volunteers and, critically, would have required a bigfoot costume.
Let’s talk motive. Roger Patterson was a rather unsuccessful author, a former rodeo rider, with aspirations of being a filmmaker. It seems on the surface that Patterson would have much to gain from the fame that a fake bigfoot may have gifted. Although, we now know that Patterson died of cancer at the age of 39, with very little money to his name. It remains easy to believe though that Patterson could have had fame in mind with the Patterson film. Indeed, after the films release, Patterson’s book, also about bigfoot, saw a huge spike in sales.
Shaky is a word you’ll often hear used to describe the piece of footage, but low quality may be another adequate term. Shot on a Cine Kodak K-100 handheld camera, many have questioned the choice in camera, and how that may affect the credibility of the piece of footage. This debate largely revolves around the frame rate of the footage, and whether the video is at 16,18, or 24 fps, all of which mean that the creatures gait is either possible or indeed impossible by a human being. Late anthropologist Grover Krantz claimed that the film was filmed at 18 fps, making it difficult for a human to replicate the gait seen by the creature, whilst primatologist John Napier has stated that , if filmed at 24 fps, the walk of the creature would be “indistinguishable from a human”. Patterson was rather vague about what speed he filmed at, allowing the possibility to exist that Napier’s view is in fact correct.
Because the film is such low quality and so shaky, it’s difficult to say whether Patterson’s intent was to make it as much so as possible. Would he, or indeed anyone else have imagined how easily a piece of footage can be stabalised in the present day? Probably not. Rather than speculate on this intent though, let’s look at what the footage did leave us when it’s enhanced by today’s technology. This fantastic video by Bigfoot Al on Youtube is the Patterson Gimlin film stablised, giving us a clear view of the creature itself.
Many have noted the creatures proportions, breasts, movements, and lack of zipper as reasons why it’s real, but I have my doubts. Many of these questions are answered by it being a costume. People claim that costumes couldn’t possibly be so advanced as the one seen in the Patterson Gimlin film, and indeed this would seem compelling given that a mere three years after the film was shot, indie film producers were seemingly only able to produce suits like this from the 1970 film Bigfoot. Still, I must point in the direction of the British film industry at that time, specifically Hammer Horror. These films were not high budget, but still were able to create some rather interesting looking costumes. For example, six years prior to the PG film, The Curse of the Werewolf came out. Starring Oliver Reed as the out of control, disruptive, unpleasant monster, which perhaps foreshadowed his later life. The costume he wears as the werewolf is perhaps not as bulky as the PG bigfoot, but if you applied the same distance, low quality of footage, and shakiness to it, Patterson could have easily claimed to have seen a werewolf in that clearing in Bluff Creek instead. Some may then point to the 1967 film Hillbilly’s in a Haunted House, which featured a gorilla character, as showing that costumes weren’t as advanced as would be required for the beast seen in the PG film, but many of these issues could again be overcome by distance and the quality of the footage. Even still, we’re still looking at a relatively low budget film, if Patterson had had access to a higher brand of gorilla suit, it’s difficult to say that it wouldn’t be possible. As an aside, this blog called Hollywood Gorilla Men has some great examples of what suits have been possible throughout the ages, and some interesting behind the scenes looks at the people behind the gorilla suit.
I want to talk about one detail specifically, which I’ve heard mentioned several times; the right leg of the bigfoot. Some have said that the slight deformation to it as the creature moves is likely to be a large muscle protruding as it takes the weight of the monster, but to me this has always looked like the folding of a costume that is just a little bit too large for the person inside, it seems to fold and crease much more than it bulges and flexes.
All in all, I believe as I always have with the PG film, that it’s too convenient, too low quality, and more possible than many would claim. The potential benefits to Patterson were significant, even though it didn’t work out that way, and the positioning on the monster is just too perfect to seem genuine. The quality appears to be an insurance policy to hide the potential imperfections that the suit may have. In all honesty, I would have to claim the PG film a hoax, and one to which I don’t necessarily believe Bob Gimlin was aware of, as he himself has stated more recently.