director Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog may now be a national treasure (he lives here so he’s ours, right?), and he’s still churning out films, fiction and documentary, like a machine. But what cemented Herzog as an important figure in cinema was his early works, radical, weird, profound, and often “out there”.
While I’ve seen several of his early fiction films, Fata Morgana is the earliest of his documentaries I’ve managed to see. The title refers to mirages, optical illusions of distant objects, and the film opens with a series of airplane landings followed by long tracking shots of desert landscapes. The soundtrack starts with a strange melange of things, I think from the Third Ear band, along with a version of the Mayan creation myth.
It’s the kind of ethereal, meditative stuff that could really aid insomniacs. Though it is also interesting and contemplative.
But the film shifts gears and moves away from landscapes to the people of the landscapes, from group shots to live portraiture, eventually into moments of discussion where a German naturalist describes the life of a desert-dwelling lizard. And then Leonard Cohen music. And this strange two-piece band. And suddenly you’re kind of on the other side of things, wondering how this all fits together. With chapter titles like “Creation”, “Paradise”, and “The Golden Age” you can draw your own conclusions about implied meanings.
For my money, it was interesting, starting out sort of like Koyaanisqatsi (1982) but venturing into unexplained weirdnesses with people and animals and goggles. Where the weird meets the sublime.