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Plaza series puts artistic inspiration in deep focus (1)

A mutated catfish man has been swimming through R. Land’s psyche since he was 8 years old.

The popular Atlanta painter grew up in Jacksonville, where he was tantalized by trailers for a movie with the inexplicable title Zaat. Director Don Barton filmed Zaat in neighboring locales such as Marineland, Silver Springs and Switzerland, Fla., so young Land had already picked up on the film.

“The trailers made it seem so real, almost like it was a newscast. The Legend of Boggy Creek came out around that same time, but that was even more of a pseudo-documentary. I remember thinking that Zaat had the potential to be the next Creature from the Black Lagoon,” Land says.

Released in the South in 1971, Zaat depicts a German scientist who, in a well-thought-out plan, decides to prove his outlandish theories and seek revenge on his naysayers by turning himself into a bipedal catfish monster — with, admittedly, little actual resemblance to a catfish. Zaat's combination of amphibious stalkers, bathing beauties and local landmarks seized young Land’s imagination. To this day, he’s still fascinated by the film’s “fever dream” quality, with long scenes of no dialogue, just ambient electronic music and many shots of a guy in a monster suit who carries a spray bottle and spins a zodiac wheel to make his sinister decisions.

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(Image courtesy R. Land)