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'Ken Burns Meets Spinal Tap' War Mockumentary to Debut in Village

By Andrea Swalec | February 28, 2013 8:39am

MANHATTAN — "There is something horribly objectionable about the cut of Major Hale's trousers. A gentleman's trousers ought not enswathe so flawlessly. At the very least, one gentleman's trousers ought not compel another gentleman to repeatedly appraise them."

So begins a lusty yet restrained fake letter read in "The Battle of Pussy Willow Creek," a Civil War mockumentary that will make its debut at the Quad Cinema on Friday.

Told in the authoritative style of public television documentaries, the new satirical comedy tells the story of a misfit regiment that prevents an army 50 times its size from seizing Washington, skewering the historical documentary genre in the process. 

"It's like Ken Burns meets 'This Is Spinal Tap,'" writer and director Wendy Jo Cohen said Wednesday, referencing the popular documentarian who made "The Civil War" and "The Central Park Five," as well as the cult 1984 movie about a fictional metal band.

Cohen, an East Village resident, and a team of colleagues made the film by mixing real archival photographs with new footage shot using period costumes.

"If you watched it with the sound off, you might think it's a real documentary," she said.

Cohen, 49, said she was afraid to show Burns the film, but was surprised to hear the master of the genre loved it.

"An incredibly wonderful and funny film," Burns said in a blurb he provided to the filmmakers.

Cohen, who previously produced TV documentaries, said she started thinking about the film in 2002.

"It occurred to me that talking-head experts and archival evidence of things are really simple elements," she said. "You could just make up a story and tell it that way."

One of the takeaways of "Pussy Willow Creek," she hopes, is a reminder to be leery of so-called experts.

As for the film's name, Cohen said she selected it partially because it sounds like a real skirmish named after its location.

"It sounds like a Civil War name but it also implies something a little outré," she said.

"The Battle of Pussy Willow Creek" will show at the Quad Cinema at 34 W. 13th St. Friday, March 1 through Thursday, March 7. Information on showtimes is available on the theater's website. Depending on interest, the film may show elsewhere in the city and nationally.