With its barren appearance that gives absence a concrete form, the desert has long been a site for contemplation. It appeals not only to prophets and hermits, but also to filmmakers. This poetic video essay compiles some fascinating examples of the audiovisual representation of the desert, and ponders the way that representation relates to the essence of cinema itself.
Gala Hernández uses a straightforward strategy, juxtaposing three or four excerpts at a time in a side-by-side arrangement. The scenes echo each other’s visuals, but also their poetic power and even their philosophical endeavours. The isolation of human silhouettes in the deserts of Freedom (Sharunas Bartas), Gerry (Gus Van Sant) and El Cant dels Ocells (Albert Serra). The disorienting effect of the barren wastelands in La Région Centrale (Michael Snow), Proximity (Inger Lise Hansen), Cobra Mist (Emily Richardson) and BNSF (James Benning). How the desert heat haze reminds us of the optical trickery of film itself in Fata Morgana (Werner Herzog), Desert (Stan Brakhage) and Chott-el-Djerid: a portrait in light and heat (Bill Viola).
The power of this video essay is similar to the power of the desert itself. Its unhurried pace, parched images and elemental soundtrack are, dare I say, a video essay equivalent to slow cinema. Time and contemplation are of the essence in understanding the point this video is making. Like they are for prophets in the desert.