Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922)

Dir: F.W. Murnau (Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, Phantom)
Source Material: The book "Dracula" by Bram Stoker (unauthorized)
Germany, 1922

Max Schreck as Count Orlok (Dracula), the vampire
Alexander Granach as Renfield
Gustav von Wangenheim as Jonathan Harker
Greta Schroeder as Nina
G.H. Schell as Westenra

Seen: April 10, 2009 & August 2, 2009 via Google Video (Public Domain)

Reason to Review: Vampathon: Vampire Film Marathon * and on 101 Films to See list

Kicking off the Vampathon with Nosferatu was a perfect idea, but when I got right down to it I remembered that watching silent film can be like using muscles you forget you have, it takes a bit to get used to it. But, I love the over dramatic nature of silent film and this film has beautiful expressionist moments. I'm thankful I had the chance to watch this twice before reviewing as the story and characters were a lot clearer on the second viewing.

I wonder what it would have been like to watch this before seeing and being so aware of the structure of a vampire tale. The horror of the idea of a vampire, to see this before it has been redone, rehashed, revisioned and parodied. All the major players are here which we will see in Dracula films to come, and even at these humble beginnings I still enjoy the same ones and dislike others. Top of the list goes to Dracula himself, in this case played by Max Schreck in a delightfully bizarre performance. Bottom of this list goes to the character of Jonathan, whom is how we meet Dracula but always feels rather useless and naive overall. His wife, Nina in this one did surprize me as a strong woman which was awesome. Van Helsing (or Bulwer) is also in the film, but not enough to get a strong impression of him. It will be interesting to see if the impressions persist through the films.

Watching Nosferatu I was stuck with an idea about vampires that I had never thought of before. In this version, Dracula (or Orlok) is a very small, thin and rather odd man yet he retains formidable powers. He has the ability to control people from a distance, to allure those who are initially repelled by him. Are we dealing with fantasy, as opposed to horror? Or possibly, both?

The strength in the film, past the landmark vampire film, is the visuals. It is amazing that it holds its own even though we have had 86 years of film making since its release. There are images and moments that are so vivid, so perfect that they can send chills right through you. Even though most are highly recognizable, they work extremely well giving a sense of the supernatural nature of the Dracula character with his every encounter. The use of shadows works particularly well. There are some glorious shadows in this film. High contrasts, odd shapes, bizarre perspectives - I loved all of those moments.

There are some moments where you have give way to the for film being 'of it's time', like being unable to tell visually if outdoor moments were day or night, but you have infer this by what is said as opposed to what you are seeing. I also had a giggle when realizing all the hand written notes in the same script, regardless of which character wrote them.

Overall, Nosferatu sets the groundwork for vampire films and successfully brings the unique horror story to light with an intensity and mystery that will bring us back for more. And more. And more. And then even some more.

Shannon's Overall View:
I enjoyed it
I'd watch it again, and would love to see it with live musical accompaniment
I'd recommend it to fans expressionistic, classic and/or vampire films

Return to Film Reviews, See all Vampire Film Reviews

© Shannon Ridler, 2009

* Vampathon is a 16 week marathon explore vampire films from Nosferatu (1922) up to the upcoming release of The Twilight Saga: New Moon

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