Tuesday, Herzog's Fata Morgana. The plane descends seven, eight times and I know I am going to like this film. It comes down like a cloud and the air shifts beneath it. In some takes the birds are indifferent. In one, they fly across the sky as if they were released at the right time. This is Herzog: I wouldn't be surprised if they had been.
A few minutes into the film, in one of those times between the narration (Lotte Eisner's voice in Part 1) I listen to the music and watch the dunes and my mind starts to wander. This is where it goes.
What if the music slipped a few frames? Or if the editor had deliberately moved it by a second or two? Would Herzog know? Would he have come in to watch the edit one day and realised that the editor had shifted the music, perhaps a shot or two to create a slightly different film? How much could one get away with? How many changes, too small in themselves, would one have to make before a film like this becomes a film not like this?
There's an abandoned WWII plane in the sand, crashed and broken. I know, because I've read about it somewhere. It could be any military plane from any-time but what are the odds? There are shelters - what else to call something that bubbles out of the sand, only slightly less temporary and yet much more impermanent than the sand?
There are people who have been rehearsed, people who laugh, who have one gesture, as if they were rudimentary toys.
Why is this a documentary? (Why does it matter what we call it?) With its soundtrack, its imposed narrative of Mayan creation myths spoken in German over visuals of the Sahara, the film resists not only categorisation, but easy interpretation: I am back in the editing room, wondering how the director and the editor communicate what the purpose of the film is and how that shape is to be achieved. The possibilities are endless and every film that did not emerge was once valid.
What is Leonard Cohen doing here?
The first thing I think of when I see the shivering sky from which the plane lands is: this is what the world looked like the year I was born. I have never thought this before while watching a film. That sky, that sand, that plane, those birds, would be exactly as old as I am now.
No, that's not right, is it?
Even the film that I am watching is as old and not as old. If I was looking at the world as it was that year, this is not how it looked. In all this time, the blue in the film is less blue, the red more red, and the occasional vertical dances across the frame tell me that the film has aged along with me and nothing has been preserved exactly as it was. Every record is less than whole.
Somewhere towards the end, before the turtle is released into the water, there are holes in the ground and adults and children are trying to scramble out of them. This is, the section title says, The Golden Age. The voice over, as a child tries to squirm out of his father's hands: "That's enough, even one of these thoughts would have done."
Maybe so. But since we can never know what any one thought could have or would have done, and because we are used to guarding against a drought, we put in more than we need. We put in everything we have, every time. Sometimes, there's something left to be taken, even decades afterwards, something left after every time.
PS: The Herzog documentary weekend begins this evening at the Goethe Zentrum.
Today's screening begins at 6pm. Sat & Sun screenings begin at 3pm, two films a day.
No charge, anyone can attend.
The Goethe Zentrum is on Hill Fort Road, opposite Kalanjali, near the Public Gardens in Hyderabad. See you there!