Showing posts with label german expressionism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label german expressionism. Show all posts

18 November 2013

Master Of Expressionism - F.W Murnau

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F.W Murnau along with Fritz Lang were THE German Expressionist filmmakers of the 1920s. Murnau made such films as Nosferatu, Faust and later in the United States Sunrise. His films often at considered some of the finest ever made.

Murnau was born Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe in 1888. Not surprisingly he started in theatre but he was also a devout student of art history and literature. Murnau joined the airforce and survived 8 crashes. He was interned in Switzerland but he actually won an award for a play he staged in interment camp. It’s commonly believed Murnau was gay and his first true love was killed during World War 1 and this had a serious psychological impact on the young Murnau.

After the war finishes he quickly starts a film company with Conrad Veidt (Cesare in Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). They made quite a few films together but sadly not uncommon with silent films almost all of those are lost and most sadly their version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It was an unauthorized adaptation but no legal action was taken unlike the case of Nosferatu.

During the first half of the 1920s he could average about 3 films a year. The earliest surviving film of Murnau’s is Journey into the Night and the surviving prints were only found this year. The first film of his which is widely available in Schloß Vogelöd that is rather spooky chamber drama with mystery elements. Murnau followed it with Marizza (only a fragment remains) and The Burning Spoil, which Eric Rohmer assisted in its restoration, but there is no home video release sadly.

Nosferatu is unarguably his most well known film and possibly his masterpiece, even though the case has been made for the later Sunrise. The production of Nosferatu is almost as interesting as the film itself; so much so a largely fictionalised take on it was made as Shadow of the Vampire. It’s the only and one film made by Prana film that was created by Enrico Dieckmann and occultist Albin Grau who was also a member of Fraternitas Saturni, a magical order in German.

Prana film was meant to specialize in occult theme films but due to the lawsuit that Bram Stoker’s wife filed due to the unauthorized adaption of Dracula it went bankrupt. Nosferatu in many ways is not a Murnau film because it was very much Albin Grau’s baby. The idea of doing a vampire film came out of his war experience of hearing a Serbian farmer telling him how his father was a vampire.

Nosferatu came out to relatively lukewarm reviews. The French surrealists really loved the film so much so that in one of André Breton’s books he recites a dream he had of a neck tie that became the likeness of Nosferatu and the intertitle “We he crossed the bridge, the phantom came to greet him” inspired him greatly. Nosferatu has probably inspired more people than any other silent film from everyone from Werner Herzog with his wonderful re-imagining to Abel Ferrara’s vampire film The Addiction.

The film was basically pulled from circulation due to Bram Stoker’s widow suing the filmmakers for the unauthorized adapted of his husband’s novel and won. The filmmakers were forced burn all the negatives but luckily one got all the way to the United States. The many prints over the years were made from this single negative even though they vary in many lengths. The film could have easily been lost like many of Murnau’s other films and has since become one of the most consistently screened silent films.

Phantom was Murnau’s follow up to Nosferatu, which is a very dreamy film that is about a young man who becomes obsessed with this girl and will do anything to find her again. It was considered lost for many years but it was found and restored and eventually came out on dvd by Eureka. Muranu’s next key film is The Last Laugh that is one of his chamber dramas and interestingly enough has barely any intertitles and no intertitles that are dialogue. It was a big success and he was able to Tartuffe and Faust both were made with a much larger budget.

Faust is obviously the old German tale of Faust who sells his soul to the devil. Faust is a special effects spectacular in the vein of Metropolis due to its scale at times. Universum Film AG put Faust into production and until Metropolis the year after was it’s biggest budget film. It’s by far his 2nd most widely seen German silent after Nosferatu. It’s remains one of the finest adaptations of Faust to date and is still a truly stunning film to watch today.

Murnau was already shooting his next film Sunrise in the United States for 20th Century Fox when Faust premiered in Germany. Many critics consider Sunrise his crowning achievement it’s a German expressionist film by a Hollywood Studio and is a beautiful love story. It would later win the “Unique and Artistic Production” at the first Academy Awards which was kind of like the equivalent to best film today. He continued making more films in America till he died tragically of complications because of a car crash. It was a week before his final film Tabu.

Murnau to this day remains one of the most innovative directors in the history of film. Nosferatu and Sunrise will be what he is remembered for but there are plenty of other great German expressionist films he made in the 20s. We can all hope some of his lost films get found some day. Eureka under their masters of Cinema imprint has released the majority of his available German and American films including a beautifully restored blu-ray of his Gothic masterpiece Nosferatu.

Ian Schultz


Nosferatu is now available in a new fully restored version available Monday 25th November on [Blu-ray]and [DVD]. Read our recent cinema release review.