Fata Morgana/ Koyaanisqatsi




Fata Morgana


Werner Herzog's Fata Morgana begins with a scene similar to one in Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi. Aeroplanes ripple into landing, shimmering like fish. Both films deny us a conventional narrative, instead collaging images from the Sahara, or America, into a mesmerising aggregate. Reggio's message is clear, and perhaps suffers a little from its didacticism. The title is the Hopi word for  life out of balance, and the film progresses from images of natural and unpeopled landscapes, through industrial dams, airports and power stations, into the terrifying heart of the metropolis. The ancient Welsh verse prophesying apocalypse  comes to mind:
Poni welwch-chwi hynt y gwynt a’r glaw?
Poni welwch-chwi'r deri’n ymdaraw?
Poni welwch-chwi'r mo^r yn merwinaw’r tir?
Poni welwch-chwi'r gwir yn ymgweiriaw?
Poni welwch-chwi'r haul yn hwylaw’r awyr?
Poni welwch-chwi'r sy^r wedi’r syrthiaw?
Poni welwch-chwi dduw, ddyniadon ynfyd?
Poni welwch-chwi'r byd wedi’r bydiaw?

Do you not see the path of the wind and rain?
(Do you not see) the oaks beating together?
the sea scouring the land?
the truth preparing itself?
the sun sailing the heavens?
the stars fallen?
believe in God, simple men?
see that the world has ended? 

– Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch’s 1282 elegy for Llywelyn Olaf. 


Herzog is more opaque. His film is divided into three chapters, Creation, Paradise, and The Golden Age, which might initially suggest a rational narrative, but this does not come. People, industry, animals and the Saharan landscape are treated as one. A Mayan creation myth is read, interspersed with Mozart and Leonard Cohen, yet Creation is a montage of ruined vehicles and remorselessly arid sand. Paradise is a Dantesque hell of heat and mirage that only lizards and a few, peculiar men, can withstand. Lime dust and sand corrode their skin. Lizards burrow underground and men wear black flying-goggles. The Golden Age is an equally dark formation of scenes, mainly of a concert in which we only see a dumpy, upright pianist and a highly unskilled singer/ drummer perform joylessly. 
Both films' beauty lies in the absurdity of their scenes: the extreme nature of the places' heat or speed or congestion. They are collages of natural and man-made sublime. 
Planned demolitions of sky-scrapers feature in Koyaanisqatsi, beautiful as they turn to powder and puff to the ground. Philip Glass' score crescendoes and then drops into an ellipsis of sound. The scenes almost lose their associative value, becoming as dehumanised as the film's opening ones of the Badlands, yet our minds are never quite free from feelings of responsibility. The collapsing buildings are as beautiful as waterfalls, yet their environmental and terrorist implications linger. 
After an almost unbearable crescendo of sped-up traffic and rhythmic sound, the camera suddenly uncoils upwards, the sound cuts off, and we glide above the city in deafness. De Certeau's point about altitude removing one from the city's activity never feels more true than now. From above, the city becomes abstract yet comprehendible, its grid mapping it out. 
Likewise, the speeding-up or slowing-down of film removes us slightly, foregrounding the absurdly ant-like repetition of factories or rush-hour. Slowing-down is a type of enjambement that contrasts surrounding staccato scenes, and isolates individual yet universal gestures – a hand reaching out for another, for example. In this way, the everyday becomes monumental. The converse is also achieved in the juxtaposition of the spectacular with the mundane.  Collage and repetition fuse everything together. 
Whereas Koyaanisqatsi uses a smooth and omniscient camera, combined with its grand musical score, Fata Morgana employs a low-resolution, hand held aesthetic and musical compilation. While the former is impressive, overpowering and magnificent, Herzog's technique has a power of its own, and emphases the idiosyncrasy of life in such an extreme environment. The collage of such diverse music complements the aesthetic of the film too, and highlights Herzog's refusal to deliver a lesson or moral. This is a slice of the desert, he says, in all its shimmering peculiarity. 



Koyaanisqatsi