Planet Surfer: Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Encounters at the End of the World, Fata Morgana, Lessons of Darkness, Grizzly Man

Werner Herzog filmed his travels to the far outposts of a “forbidding world”, where he sought out and unearthed oddities both hidden and mysterious. And he revels in that strangeness. He fills the frames of his many documentaries with mischievous and murderous landscapes: the horizontal limbs and torsos of the Sahara Desert in Fata Morgana, the Hothian island of Antartica with its own nomad culture in Encounters at the End of the World, the hellish post-Gulf War Kuwait oil fields in Lessons of Darkness. Herzog maintains his sense of fascination by taking the point of view of an alien, newly arrived on our planet, awed and perplexed by the details in the surroundings and humanoids he meets. Like Malick, Herzog builds Wagnerian-size worlds from his captured visuals, spoken texts and soundtracks. Like Bunuel’s Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Panhe, Herzog searches for opportunities to misinterpret. As an oil well firefighter, silhouetted against an inferno in Lessons of Darkness, pantomimes inscrutable directions, the director narrates “White mountain ranges, clouds, a land shrouded in mist. The first creature we encountered tried to communicate something to us.” The alien is also enthralled with mirages in Fata Morgana, capturing the reflections or refractions bounced into one environment from somewhere else miles away through temperature transference, perhaps reflected multiple times to arrive in the filmed location. The “heated strata of air that function like a mirror” puts a science to ghosts, ghosts manufactured by a planetary machine. Epitomized in Grizzly Man and Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the alien seeks wanderers, the lost, transient artifacts, experimental juxtapositions, and harsh environments threatening untimely death. He braves both extreme elements and dialogues with potentially unhinged subjects, and most importantly abstains from judgement. The world feels too small in his confident body of work, too limited by classical physics. If Herzog had the means for interstellar travel, he’d be the Silver Surfer, due to a penchant for slow fly-overs of insane landscapes, of course, but also a similar morose and ultimately doomed nature. More: Ecstatic Truth: ‘Ferocious Reality’ Dissects Herzog’s Doc Aesthetic, J. Hoberman: Werner Herzog’s New Direction

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