Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Incident at Loch Nes



USA 2003 : Zak PENN : 94 mins

The first film to be directed by prolific Hollywood screenwriter (and rewriter) Penn – whose credits include X-Men 2, The Last Action Hero and Behind Enemy Lines – is an engagingly odd kind of cinematic beastie, part straightfaced-spoof documentary in the Christopher Guest improvisation tradition, part Charlie Kaufman-ish exercise in post-modern movie-within-movie cleverness. Specifically, it’s a distant cousin of Kaufman’s Being John Malkovich in that it crucially depends on the participation of real-life legend of cinema, willing to play himself and thus simultaneously lampoon and embellish his own mythos.

In this instance, that means veteran maverick Werner Herzog whose latest far-fetched project, we’re told, involves trekking to chilly Scotland (where he expects to find “urchins in cellars”) in search of the fabled Loch Ness Monster. To say any more would spoil the fun – but the laugh-count is at least as high as in anything Mr Guest has come up with lately (ie A Mighty Wind, Best In Show), and as a satire of movie-making dynamics and creative tensions this is much more likeable than, say, David Mamet’s State & Main.Loch'd after dark...

Trump-card Herzog, meanwhile, is typically good value in front of the camera – a role he’s previously occupied in “straighter” documentaries like Burden of Dreams and his own My Best Fiend. It’s entirely appropriate, of course, that Herzog should find himself roped into such an unlikely enterprise – he’s always delighted in muddying the waters between fiction and documentary, rejecting “authenticity” in search of “ecstatic truth.” His own results have been somewhat mixed – see Land of Silence and Darkness for how this approach can get out of hand.

Incident of Loch Ness aims rather lower, however, with more pleasing results. That said, the levels of humour and invention do tend to diminish in the second half, with Penn going overboard (ahem) a little in his attempts to pad the material out feature length. But it’s very hard to dislike any film which has the flair to give Crispin Glover, of all people, what may amount to the most fleeting cameo in cinema history.

6th September, 2004
(seen 25th August : Cameo Edinburgh : press show – Edinburgh Film Festival)

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by Neil Young