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Incident at Loch Ness

The bad news about "Incident at Loch Ness" (link warn: sound plays) is that it is something of an inside joke. The good news is that (a) it is only something of an inside joke, (b) achieving insider status in this instance is pretty easy and certainly rewarding in its own right, and (c) the film is pretty damned funny.

Yes, it's true I'm on something of a Werner Herzog kick. This is due in part to the fact that I'm actually on something of a DVD kick lately, induced by the recent addition of an HDTV to my Home, er, I mean, Small Apartment Theater System. In fact, I've descended into an orgy of video rentals. Herzog just happened to be standing nearby and so got dragged into the mess. Hmm… Not unlike what happens to him in this movie about Nessie, come to think of it.

But I have to take a moment and explain something here. See, the first joke in this movie was on me, but it requires a little bit of set-up for you to get why.

You may have noticed that I've started a "Film & DVD" category here at The Corpuscle. I am not an expert on the cinema. I'm not even a film student, though I did take a Film Studies elective in high school. And I wrote a screenplay once that made it to the quarterfinals in "The Nicholl Fellowship" competition, but that was a few years ago, and anyway, as we all know, writing a screenplay doesn't mean you know anything about film.

No, I'm just a guy who has an artsy video store near where he lives, and who loves interesting movies that try to do stuff he hasn't seen before. I love pretty pictures, interesting sounds, and characters that intrigue me and so I end up doing a lot of exploring of the shelves in my artsy video store. I neither know nor care much about The History of the Cinema, or The Art of the Cinema, or The Auteur Theory, or anything like that. I'm just a guy who likes to look at what's in front of him, respond to it more or less directly in terms of what it either is or seems to be doing. That's my starting and ending point, really. My theory of film is: "Well, I certainly haven't seen that done before. I like (and/or hate) it." If I write about a film, I mostly write about what it made me think or feel, or what it suggested to me about my own life, or the lives of people I know, or life in general. I am not a Perfessor of Moobies, so if you are going to become a regular visitor to my "Film & DVD" section, come here in search of stuff that might, in my opinion, be worth your time (assuming you haven't already seen it yourself, of course). That's all it's intended to be. It doesn't (I fervently hope) pretend to be anything else.

All of which brings me back to the notion of the first joke being on me. I suppose if I was up on all this film stuff, I would have known what I was getting when I rented this DVD. But the thing is, even if you go to the movie's website and watch the trailer you'll see that they actually go to some lengths to make you think it's what you are expecting it to be. It's all a lie, but I'm glad of it. The joke is worth it.

How to Become an Insider to the Movie's Joke.

The DVD of Herzog's "Grizzly Man" (link warn: sound plays) was released some weeks ago so I picked it up and found it well worth watching for a number of reasons. I may write about it at some point, but not now. Suffice it to say that if you rent the DVD, be sure to watch the documentary included on the DVD about the making of the soundtrack. I liked it even more than "Grizzly Man" itself.

So anyways... after "Grizzly Man" I picked up "The White Diamond" (previously refooed by me here). Two is a crowd and also, as far as I'm concerned, a bona fide kick so I soon returned to the artsy video store to look for another Herzog. "Loch Ness" was filed in the Herzog section (it being an artsy store, you generally find your vids filed by directors). It looked like just the ticket -- lots of spectacular Scottish scenery to show off my new HDTV, Herzog exploring belief in monsters. I was psyched.

So I get home, put the DVD in and this ... thing ... starts. It looks like a documentary on the making of a Herzog film called "Enigma at Loch Ness". I'm like, "Did I accidentally select the Added Features thing? What the hell is this?" I stopped the DVD, poked around the disc menu a bit and finally determined that, sure enough, this thing was the main feature. So... back to the "Play" button...

The thing starts off convincingly enough. We meet Herzog coming out the front door of what appears to be his home, a bungalow-slash-small-house apparently located on a street in Los Angeles called "Wonderland". He's hosting a dinner party that evening for the production crew of the film on Nessie he's about to start shooting. Screenwriter Zak Penn ("Last Action Hero", "Inspector Gadget", "X2") shows up with wife and child in tow. We learn he is a tremendous admirer of Herzog and has somehow convinced the World Famous Director of Art Films to let someone else (namely, Penn), for the first time ever, produce one of his films. But Penn is a little disconcerted by the presence of the film crew filming the documentary about the filming of the Nessie film.

As well he should be.

Others of the crew show up, including world-famous feature film cinematographer Gabriel Beristain and Academy Award winning sound engineer Russell Williams. I'd say "both playing themselves" only… well, it's unclear whether I actually should say that. But anyway. Oh, and Jeff Goldblum shows up too. For the eats and the conversation, I guess.

Okay, so anyways... slowly but surely you begin to feel that there's something rotten going on here. Beristain pulls Herzog aside to discuss the concerns he has with the proposed "lighting package". Herzog is confused -- he shoots all his film using natural light. There's no need for a "lighting package". Beristain says he needs the package for the planned "re-creations". Penn tries to pull them back into the dinner party and away from what appears to be a very dangerous confusion.

Yeah, dangerous confusion. That's a good way to put it, if I do say so. And you know what? That's about all I'm going to tell you about this thing on account of you need to see it yourself. But before you do... if you haven't seen them already you need to rent and watch "Grizzly Man" (and the accompanying soundtrack documentary) and "The White Diamond".

Why? Because the joke of "Incident at Loch Ness" works best if you have a sense of what Herzog is like when he is working on one of his documentaries. He appears in all of the aforementioned, doing his Herzog-thing, and he appears in "Loch Ness", doing his Herzog-thing as well, and in the latter, he is very, very funny. Assuming you know what I mean by "doing his Herzog-thing", of course. Which is why you need to watch the other movies first if you haven't already seen them.

This guy is a riot. If his sense of humor was any drier, you'd have to put it on a map and call it Death Valley. Really, I never would have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. My favorite moment: Herzog on the bow of the boat intently scanning the waves for a sign of Nessie, oblivious to all else.

The DVD has a commentary track that, more or less, strives to preserve the joke's fiction. The first 15 minutes of it features Penn and Herzog, um, reviewing their experiences working on the film. Once you've seen the movie itself, you can imagine the comic possibilities of this set-up so you'll probably want to give the commentary track a try. The commentary shtick stays pretty funny for a while, certainly while Herzog is there, but I have to admit I gave up on it after a while. The joke gets thinner and thinner, but maybe it has a Big Finish or something. I'll leave it to you adventurers out there to discover that for yourselves.

The joke of the movie does have a few flaws in it, maybe even a hole big enough to drive a plesiosaur through, but it's worth it to let all that go. Sometimes it pays to let yourself not be smarter than the movie.

And finally, again, welcome to my new "Film & DVD" section. I call these entries "refoos" because they aren't really reviews, as you can probably tell by now. They're more like... well, I made the word up out of "foobar", if that helps you any.

[Netflix, B & N, ]


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