Friday, February 17, 2006

Camera Obscura - Loch Ness Meets Herzog

Do people have a true physical or psychological need to invent, to create realities that might or even might never exist? And if so, why? Now let's add some more to that mysterious question - what if the act of faking realities were to become a multi-national business? These are just some of the questions raised in a very odd and very, very funny Mock-umentary from the enigmatic filmmaker Werner Herzog called "Incident at Loch Ness."

Herzog has been working in the fields of deciphering realities through his long film career as writer, director and producer. He almost always presents stunning images and compelling stories and also has become something of a myth himself for all his mythmaking. "Fitzcarraldo", based on a true story, is an astounding study of the urge to create Art at any cost, and likewise "Aguirre: The Wrath of God" details the madness of exploration.

But the topic here today is the utterly hilarious fake documentary of his quest to make a film about the fabled Nessie. If you liked "This Is Spinal Tap" or were intrigued by "The Blair Witch Project", you'll truly enjoy Herzog's wild and mad quest. I'd bet cash money that the makers of "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" took much inspiration from Herzog's crazy adventure.

Herzog plays the role of himself with such sincere and earnest character, it's almost easy to be fooled by what you see. Make no mistake, he loves playing his part and playing the joke on you. He and writer Zak Penn (whose screenwriting credits include "S.W.A.T." and "X-Men 2" and "Elektra") co-wrote this comedy and Penn nearly steals the movie as the bizarre producer of the Nessie movie who dares to hold a gun to Herzog's head to get the movie he wants (which is from Herzog's myth, that he allegedly pointed a gun at actor Klaus Kinski's head during a movie shoot). But in what could be a scary moment, Herzog just laughs at Penn: "It's not even a real gun, it's a flare gun and it's not loaded."

Penn and Herzog are supposed to make a movie about the myths and fantasies about the Loch Ness Monster, and fortunately, as this begins, another film crew is at Herzog's home to film a documentary about Herzog. The two fake projects eventually overlap into a maze of madness, a madness called Hollywood.

Penn gets the crew to Scotland, and wants everyone to wear special "expedition outfits" to give legitimacy to the Nessie project - though the word "expedition" is misspelled on the outfits. He also recruits a cryptozoologist to explain the Loch Ness mythos - a fake scientist, in other words. He also brings aboard the boat a drop-dead gorgeous former Playboy model as the Sonar Expert, but he is constantly trying to get shots of her in a g-string bikini, and we find out eventually he is dating her.

On the second day aboard the boat searching for Nessie, Penn hauls up a badly made paper mache Nessie floating head and throws it overboard demanding the crew film it. Herzog storms away and by day three, the cinematographer and the sound man go back to America. So that leaves Penn, Herzog, the fake scientist and the fake sonar expert to forge ahead with their movie.

And that's when something happens.

Somehow, their sonar equipment picks up a massive unknown object. Their boat is "attacked" and one by one, those on board the boat fall off into the icy waters of Loch Ness. Will anyone survive?

Herzog's fame for being eccentric and demanding become the joke here, and the madness of a Hollywood producer who constantly lies all add layers of fake realities and the movie is a marvel of comedy and oddity. It's not to be missed.


  1. Just watched Grizzly Man recently.
    Herzog intrigues me. He is convinced of his own importance, but in many ways is very dismissive of it at the same time.
    I will say Klaus Kinski in a Herzog film always weirded me out, but I could not look away.

  2. The Herzog in "Loch Ness" is a total comedian - also makes me realize how much of an actor he has always been!

    Herzog's film bio of Kinski, "My Best Fiend" is a catalog of their weird relationship.

    I should also mention the documentary about the making of "Ftizcarraldo" called "Burden of Dreams" which takes a serious look at Herzog's five-year effort in South America to get that movie made. He is no comedian there, but he is obsessed to near madness.

  3. "My Best Friend" was really good but their love/hate relationship was a times uncomfortable yet always riveting.
    I also liked "Burden of Dreams" as well, although he really doesn, and I agree with you, come off madder than a hatter in that one.

  4. I love Werner Herzog! "Invincible" broke my heart. For an old man he is not slowing down a bit. He has another movie coming out this year called "Rescue Dawn" with my boyfriend Christian Bale (no, Christian doesn't know he is my boyfriend. That is irrelevant.) So yeah. Yay Werner Herzog! He is an inspiration to every aspiring filmmaker.