Tue, Aug 10, 2004 - Page 16 News List

One sneaky Loch Ness movie

Critics are torn over whether the new movie is a mockumentary about Werner Herzog,or a documentary about a documentary about the filming of a film

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , Los Angeles

Zak Penn, left, and Werner Herzog are shown in Los Angeles. Herzog appears in Penn's directorial debut, Incident at Loch Ness.

PHOTO: NY TIMES

As the director Jean-Luc Godard once wrote, "Reality is too complex," especially these days, when entertainment purports to be a blend of fact and fiction.

More and more, from Steven Soderbergh's 2002 film-and-video feature Full Frontal to reality television like Survivor to the Sci-Fi Channel's mockumentary The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan, it is hard to tell what you're watching.

Is the new thriller Open Water a documentary? No, it is a fictional scripted film, shot like a documentary and loosely based on a true story. On the other hand Touching the Void, released in January, is a docudrama that slavishly recreates what really happened to two British climbers in the Peruvian Andes.

And then there is Incident at Loch Ness, the directorial debut of Zak Penn, a stocky young Hollywood screenwriter whose credits include Antz and X-Men 2. Loch Ness revolves around the legendary monster said to lurk near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands.

"Are there people here confused about what they saw?" he asked an audience in June at the Seattle International Film Festival after unveiling the film, which later shared the festival's New American Cinema prize. Quite a few hands shot up.

The Internet is already buzzing about the movie, which is making the rounds of film festivals and will have an early Los Angeles premiere today at the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theater. "Is this a film about a documentary or a documentary about a film?" asks KRr at www.aint-it-cool-news.com, "Or a documentary about a documentary about a film?"

AlienBoy responded, "I'm 99 percent sure it's a mockumentary starring Werner Herzog as himself trying to shoot a film about the Loch Ness monster, and everything goes horribly and hilariously wrong. Heard it was pretty damn funny."

On thetruthaboutlochness.com, Greg Atkins, who is identified as a fired prop man from a Herzog documentary called Enigma at Loch Ness, writes that Penn is trying to put over a hoax on Herzog. (This site is a promotional vehicle for the film.)

"I do get e-mails from people who want to defend me against Zak Penn and do battle shoulder to shoulder," Herzog said during a recent telephone interview between trips to Guyana and Alaska from his base here. "This is an interesting exercise in truth interacting with facts."

Herzog's negative views about cinema verite are well documented; as a director he is known for fiddling with truth in films like Fitzcarraldo, from 1982, about an obsessed opera lover. In his 1999 manifesto, Minnesota Declaration, Herzog wrote: "There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization."

That perspective is useful to keep in mind when trying to interpret an interview that Herzog gave to The Scotsman newspaper in June 2003. Talking in Inverness about his film search for the Loch Ness monster, he said, "Even better than getting it on film would be capturing it and having it as an exhibit at San Diego Sea World and charge a 50-bucks entrance fee."

The interviewer, Brian Pendreigh, observed, "Herzog's apparent vagueness on his subject matter makes it likely an air of mystery will surround the film until its premiere."

Read on only if you are interested in clearing up the mystery.

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