The film was shot sporadically over a 13 month period from November 1968 to December 1969. Most of the footage was shot in Africa with little notion as to how it would eventually be used. A concept and structure for the film was invented by Herzog only after filming was completed. Post production extended into 1970 as the director concentrated on completing his Even Dwarfs Started Small for its May premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
Much of the film's footage consists of long tracking shots filmed by cameraman Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein from the top of a Volkswagen camper van with Herzog driving. The crew smoothed out the road themselves to prepare the shots.
Herzog and the crew encountered many problems during the filming, most notably in Cameroon being imprisoned because cameraman Schmidt-Reitwein's name was similar to the name of a German mercenary who was hiding from the authorities and had recently been sentenced to death in absentia. The director and his small crew also encountered sandstorms and floods. Filming eventually came to a halt when they were forced to abandon their truck and all equipment at a border crossing. Herzog said of the arduous filming conditions "It forces real life, genuine life into the film". During the course of filming, Herzog himself was thrown into a rat-infested jail where he was beaten, and contracted the parasitic blood disease bilharzia.
The film was initially intended to be presented with a science fiction narrative, casting the images as landscapes of a dying planet. This concept was abandoned as soon as filming began, but was realized in Herzog's later films Lessons of Darkness and The Wild Blue Yonder. Herzog has said of the film that it takes place "on the planet Uxmal, which is discovered by creatures from the Andromeda nebula, who make a film report about it." The images and narration are combined with an eclectic soundtrack which features works by Handel, Mozart and Couperin, as well as Blind Faith, Leonard Cohen and the British Third Ear Band.
The film is partitioned into three parts: Part I - Creation, Part II - Paradise and Part III - The Golden Age. In the first part Creation, a version of Popol Vuh the creation myth of the Mayan people, written by Herzog, is narrated by Lotte H. Eisner. Eisner, author of the book on German cinema The Haunted Screen, had praised Herzog's first film Signs of Life (1968). By casting Eisner as narrator Herzog was offering a small tribute to the woman he once called his "most important inner support".
The film was premiered at the 1970 Cannes Festival. Herzog himself has stated that upon its first release, the film was greeted with hostility "almost everywhere". It was released commercially, by the Werner Herzog Filmproduktion, on 19 April 1971. Herzog said "...when [Fata Morgana] was finally released, it was a big success with young people who had taken various drugs and was seen as one the first European art-house psychedelic films, which of course it has no connection with at all."
Many of the images used in Fata Morgana would appear in Herzog's later work: the vehicle aimlessly turning circles recurs in Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) and Stroszek (1977); the decaying animal carcasses reappear in Cobra Verde (1987); the welding goggles are worn by the two blind inmates in Even Dwarfs Started Small; and the image of the temple in the desert is used in Kaspar's dream of the Caucasus in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. Herzog himself described the film as "an hallucination".
Fata Morgana has been seen as a key picture in Herzog's filmography, providing insight into many of his subsequent works. It has also been regarded as "one of modern cinema's key films." Its influence has lasted and the 1997 film Gummo by Harmony Korine, which was similarly received, may be seen as a "direct descendant" of Fata Morgana. The influence of the film may also be seen in the recent work of such directors as Terrence Malick and Claire Denis.
In December 2013 the film was screened by West Hollywood's Cinefamily with a live performance by American drone metal band Earth.
- Part One: Creation
- Desert Landscapes
- Plane Wreck
- Civilization in the Desert
- Boy with Desert Animal
- City in the Hills
- Part Two: Paradise
- Scientist with Monitor Lizard
- Sea Turtle
- The 'Blitzkrieg' is Insanity
- Part Three: The Golden Age
- What can we learn from the turtle
source:"Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye" - Leonard Cohen
"Suzanne" - Leonard Cohen
"So Long, Marianne" - Leonard Cohen
"Sea of Joy" - Blind Faith
"Sweet Potato" (Booker T. Jones) - John Renbourn