Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nosferatu - Symphony of Horrors [F.W. Murnau]

Murnau's vampire classic certainly has its numerous good points but to my view it is, for the current day, a bit long in the tooth. An adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, which for reasons of copyright and pacing makes changes in the characters of the original work, Murnau's version suffers from the limitations of what was possible with a still camera and mostly stage-bound locations. Hence it does not have a very consistent cinematic quality. Some of the dialog can be unintentionally hilarious. Also the use of a constant musical background as was prevalent in the days of the silent film, dissipates some of the eerie atmosphere the film is trying to raise. My personal preference for a vampire film made in this era is Carl Dreyer's Vampyr, which scores higher on the surreal and eerie aspect and has some groundbreaking visuals. To Murnau's credit, he does the best within his possibilities and in the light of its good parts Nosferatu is doubtless an interesting and highly influential piece of film history.


 

The best parts of Nosferatu of course are the ones featuring Max Schreck as the evil Count Orlok. Schreck looks genuinely scary and evil, and Murnau pulls out some of his best visual tricks towards the depiction of the vampire; for instance the shadow shots showing the vampire's silhouette towering over Hutter/Harker, his hand moving across Ellen/Mina's heart. There are some other very well-captured episodes like the arrival of the ship of death and the funereal march in the plague-ridden town of Wisborg. Many such scenes were lovingly recreated by Werner Herzog in his atmospheric 1979 tribute/remake Nosferatu - The Vampyre, often using similar props and camera angles. I must here also commend screenplay writer Henrik Galeen's intelligent paring down of Bram Stoker's sprawling adventure with its bevy of characters into a much more intimate and sepulchral piece; virtually the same sequence of events is used by Herzog in his version.

Watching Max Schreck's portrayal of Count Orlok also makes one realize what a brilliant note perfect imitation was done by the underrated Willem Dafoe in Shadow of The Vampire where he played Orlok as a genuine vampire.

Youtube link to entire film

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