Thursday, February 9, 2012

Filming the Non-existence

Amos Vogel calls Werner Herzog's Fata Morgana "a cosmic pun on cinéma vérité." Cinéma vérité or a LSD film, Fata Morgana is a masterpiece of unconscious images streaming out of a man's mind who knows how everything about the cinema is unreal and dream-like, sometime even making the film itself. Fata Morgana is born out of a madness. Its aim is to shoot mirages in the deserts of Africa. A mirage, cinema, should have capture another mirage.

"Maybe more than any other films I have made Fata Morgana is one that needs to be completed by the audience, which means all feelings, thoughts and interpretations are welcome. Today, forty years later, the film is very much alive to audiences. It is like nothing they have ever seen before, and I think everyone comes away with their own understanding of the film.

But immediately after making it I felt that people would ridicule the film. I felt Fata Morgana was very frail - like a cobweb - and I did not consider it a robust piece of work that could be released. I kept the film for almost two years without showing it, and then I was deviously tricked by my friends Lotte Eisner and Henri Langlois who borrowed a print and gave it to the Cannes Film Festival. When it was finally released it was a big success with young people who had taken various drugs and was seen as one of the first European art-house psychedelic films, which of course it has no connection with at all.

'Fata morgana' means mirage. The first scene of the film is made up of eight shots of eight different airplanes landing one after the other. I had the feeling that audiences who were still watching by the sixth or seventh landing would stay to the end. This opening scene sorts out the audiences; it is a kind of test. As the day grows hotter and hotter and the air becomes drier and drier, so the images get more and more blurred, more impalpable. Something visionary sets in - something like fever dreams - that remains with us for the entire length of the film. This was the motif of Fata Morgana: to capture things that are not real, not even actually there.

In the desert you can actually film mirages. Of course, you cannot film hallucinations which appear only inside your own mind, but mirages are something completely different. A mirage is a mirror reflection of an object that does actually exist and that you can see, even though you cannot actually touch it. It is a similar effect to when you take a photograph of yourself in the bathroom mirror. You are not really there in the reflection but you can still photograph yourself. The best example I can give you is the sequences we shot of the bus on the horizon. It is a strange image; the bus seems to be almost floating on water and the people seem to be just gliding along, not really walking. The heat that day was beyond belief. We were so thirsty and we knew that some of the buses had supplies of ice on board so right after we stopped the camera we rushed over there. But we could not find a single trace of anything. No tire tracks, no tracks at all. There was just nothing there, nor had there ever been anything there, and yet we had been able to film it. So there must have been a bus somewhere - maybe 10 or 100 or 300 miles away - which was visible to us because of the heated strata of air that reflected the real existing image.

Today Fata Morgana seems very frenzied to me, as if a major catastrophe is round the corner of every scene."

From Herzog on Herzog.

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