Björk Takes You on a Journey into the Vast Kingdom of Mushrooms with the New Documentary Fungi: Web of Life

As far as nar­ra­tors of doc­u­men­taries that offer a hyp­not­i­cal­ly close view of nature, David Atten­bor­ough has long stood unop­posed. But just this year, a rel­a­tive­ly young chal­lenger has emerged: the Ice­landic musi­cian-actress Björk Guð­munds­dót­tir, much bet­ter known by her giv­en name alone. “The liv­ing world is con­nect­ed by a vast king­dom of life we are only just begin­ning to dis­cov­er,” she says, her dis­tinc­tive accent and cadence rec­og­niz­able at once, in the trail­er above for the doc­u­men­tary Fun­gi: Web of Life. And she empha­sizes that fun­gi — known or unknown, preva­lent or at risk of van­ish­ing alto­geth­er — are so much more than mush­rooms.”

Nature doc­u­men­taries exist in part to cor­rect just such care­less con­fla­tions, and oth­er mis­con­cep­tions besides. But Fun­gi: Web of Life has larg­er ambi­tions, fol­low­ing biol­o­gist Mer­lin Shel­drake “as he embarks on a jour­ney through the ancient Tarkine rain­for­est of Tas­ma­nia,” writes Colos­sal’s Kate Moth­es. “Time­lapse cin­e­matog­ra­phy reveals up-close details of rarely seen fun­gal phe­nom­e­na, from the dis­per­sion of spores to vast sub­ter­ranean net­works known fond­ly as the ‘wood wide web.’ ” Shel­drake “vis­its sci­en­tists and design­ers at the fore­front of their fields, dis­cov­er­ing nev­er-before-seen species and learn­ing from myceli­um to cre­ate new, sus­tain­able prod­ucts and envi­ron­men­tal solu­tions.”

The young, fun­gi-ded­i­cat­ed Shel­drake is the kind of pro­tag­o­nist for whom doc­u­men­tar­i­ans hope. And the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Björk in a project like this isn’t as much of a fluke as some may assume, giv­en the pres­ence of a stand­out track called “Fun­gal City” on her most recent album, Fos­so­ra. Its visu­als, writes Ryan Wad­doups at Sur­face, “paint a hyper-vivid por­trait of Björk ful­ly immersed in her mush­room era,” which began when “she returned to her home­town Reyk­javik to record dur­ing lock­down” in the time of COVID. “To dis­tract her­self, she watched nature doc­u­men­taries like Netflix’s Fan­tas­tic Fun­gi, becom­ing enam­ored with its mag­i­cal time lapse footage of mush­rooms slow­ly over­tak­ing their sur­round­ings” — not that she’s the first musi­cian with avant-garde asso­ci­a­tions to devel­op such inter­ests.

Björk’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in Fun­gi: Web of Life may also bring to mind that of Ste­vie Won­der in the now-obscure 1979 doc­u­men­tary The Secret Life of Plants. But Won­der pro­vid­ed only music to that film, not nar­ra­tion, while Björk seems to have done the oppo­site. It may be that her songs, which tend to have a cer­tain psy­che­del­ic effect in them­selves, would have dis­tract­ed from the won­ders of the fun­gal realm on dis­play. If you seek admis­sion to that realm, Moth­es notes that “Fun­gi: Web of Life is cur­rent­ly show­ing in five the­aters across North Amer­i­ca, includ­ing IMAX Vic­to­ria at the Roy­al B.C. Muse­um, with numer­ous releas­es sched­uled across the U.S. and the U.K. next year.” You can find a screen­ing at the film’s web site — and why not sched­ule a din­ner of champignons à la provençale there­after?

Bonus: Below you can watch biol­o­gist Mer­lin Shel­drake eat mush­rooms sprout­ing from his book, Entan­gled Life. Enjoy.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Mush­room Time-Laps­es Are Filmed: A Glimpse Into the Pio­neer­ing Time-Lapse Cin­e­matog­ra­phy Behind the Net­flix Doc­u­men­tary Fan­tas­tic Fun­gi

A Young Björk Decon­structs (Phys­i­cal­ly & The­o­ret­i­cal­ly) a Tele­vi­sion in a Delight­ful Retro Video

Death-Cap Mush­rooms are Ter­ri­fy­ing and Unstop­pable: A Wild Ani­ma­tion

Hear 11-Year-Old Björk Sing “I Love to Love”: Her First Record­ed Song (1976)

The Beau­ti­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed Atlas of Mush­rooms: Edi­ble, Sus­pect and Poi­so­nous (1827)

Watch Björk, Age 11, Read a Christ­mas Nativ­i­ty Sto­ry on an Ice­landic TV Spe­cial (1976)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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