Fata Morgana

Director: Werner Herzog
West Germany / 1971 / 79 min
In German with English subtitles

Last streamed on Tue, Jun 22

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One of Herzog’s first feature-length documentaries, and one of his most experimental works, presents the Sahara and Sahel Deserts as a mesmerizing cacophony of long tracking shots of planes, sumptuous sand dunes, and, more ominously, animal remains, set to music by Mozart, Handel, Couperin… and Leonard Cohen, whose songs appear prominently in the later part of the film. Fata Morgana (an Italian term named for the sorceress Morgana Le Fay and meaning witchcraft-invoked mirages intended to lure sailors to their deaths) also introduces us to people native to the areas of Africa where Herzog and frequent DP Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein filmed for over a year. In what Herzog calls “a science-fiction elegy of dead or demented colonialism,” the story of Mayan creation (the Popol Vuh), as interpreted by the director, is told through the narration of German-French writer Lotte H. Eisner. Pieces of the beautiful imagery captured for this film pop up in some of his later works. Restoration courtesy of Shout! Factory and the American Genre Film Archive.