Greta Garbo and Victor Sjostrom

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Scott Lord Silent Film: Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)

The film adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's account of Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde directed by F.W. Murnau during 1920 is presumed lost, with no known existing copies of the film. "The Head of Janus" (Der Janus Kopf, Love's Mockery) had starred Conrad Veidt amd Bela Lugosi and is credited with having been one of the first films to include the use of the moving-camera shot. F.W. Murnau made 21 feature films, 8 of which are presumed lost, with no surviving copies. Included among them is the 1920 horror film "The Hunchback and the Dancer" (Der Bucklige und die Tanzerin) photographed by Karl Freund.

Lotte H. Eisner, in his biography titled Murnau, looks at a scene change to the shooting script of "Nosferatu" written by Henrik Galeen made by the director, F.W. Murnau, but adds that few additons and revisions to the original script were made by Murnau. "Sometimes the film is different than the scenario though Murnau had not indicated any change in the script...But there is a suprising sequence in which nearly twelve pages (thirteen sequences) have been rewritten by Murnau."

Lotte H. Eisner analyzes the film "Nosferatu" in his companion volume to his biography of Murnau, The Haunted Screen. "Nature participates in the action. Sensitive editing makes the bounding waves foretell the approach of the vampire." Eisner later adds, "Murnau was one of the few German film-directors to have the innate love of the landscape more typical of the Swedes (Arthur von Gerlach, creator of Die Chronik von Grieshums, was another) and hes was always reluctant to resort to artifice." Murnau had visited Sweden where the cameras being used were made of metal rather than wood, which aquainted him with techniques that were in fact more modern. Author Lotte H Eisner, in his volume Murnau writes of F.W. Murnau viewing the films of Victor Sjostrom and Mauritz Stiller "when he made 'Nosferatu', the idea of using negative for the phantom forest came from Sjostrom's 'Phantom Carriage', which had been made in 1920. Above all, he had a love-hatred for Mauritz Stiller, whose 'Herre Arne's Treasure' he couldn't stop admiring."

Not only can we look at Murnau's film to compare and contrast its use of landscape and location to that of Swedish Silent Films, but the Wisconsin Film Society during 1960 pointed out that its narrative was situated in a different century. "Murnau probably felt that by transferring the action to the year 1838 he would have an atmosphere more condusive to the supernatural. Because of the distance in time, an audience is perhaps more willing to employ its 'suspension of disbelief'." The Film Society mentions F.W. Murnau having filmed the Vampire's carriage in fast-motion for effect, an effect which it felt had been lost on the audiences of 1960. It conceded that shooting on location brought the film "far from the studio atmosphere", but hesitated, "Although frequently careless in technical details (camerwork, exposure, lighting, composition, and actor direction) it had variety and pace."

Lotte H. Eisner, in her volume Murnau, writes, "As always, Murnau found visual means of suggesting unreality". Professor David Thorburn, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, expresses aprreciation and gratitude for the author's writings pointing out that "her arguments in The Haunted Screen are still widely accepted." In regard to the expression of unreality, David Thorburn sees Expressionism as having been typified by "distortion and surreal exaggation" as well as having been "interested in finding equivalents for he inner life, dramatizing not the external world, but the world within us." If not the first horror film, Thorburn delegates "Nosferatu" to being an "origin film" and as "the film in which we can see Murnau freeing the one had ever used the camera outdoors more effectively up to this time than Murnau". Lotte H Eisner, in The Haunted Screen writes, "The landscape and views of the little town and the castle in Nosferatu were filmed on location...Murnau, however, making Nosferatu with a minimum of resourses saw all that nature had to offer in the way of fine images...Nature participates in the action."

Close-up magazine during 1929 reviewed the film, unaware that the Wisconsin Film Society would later favor the 1931 Tod Browning version, "The film opens with beautifully composed shots typical of Murnau (one spotlight on the hair, now turn the face slightly, and another spotlight)....It is unquestionably a faithful transcription of the book.

During 1926, when Murnau was readying to come to American, the periodical Moving Picture World interviewed his assistant, Hermann Bing, "Murnau's intention is to try to make pictures which will please the American theatre patrons- commercial successes because of their artistry....Murnau's object will be not to describe but to depict the relentless march of realities not for the objective, but from a subjective viewpoint." This almost seems like a nod to Carl Th. Dreyer's later film "Vampyr", other than that Dreyer's film had been made during the advent of sound film while Murnau was in America, shortly before Murnau's death. Fox Film publicity happenned to announce F.W. Murnau's coming to America by withholding the title of his debut American fim, giving the name of the dramatist that wrote its photoplay as Dr. Karl Mayer. "Theater Audiences Everywhere Are Waiting For This Creation".

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< Faust (F.W. Murnau, 1926)

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