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Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror

nosferatu

The heritage of movies is a great fascination of mine, as anyone who has been in the unfortunate position of being cornered by me, and subsequently endured a barrage of movie related drivel, will no doubt tell you. It disappoints me greatly that so many movie-goers allow some great films to pass them by, purely because of their age. I’m not suggesting that people stock their shelves with black and white movies, or anything that extreme. However, during a time when, more so than ever before, we’re being bombarded with remake after remake, I honestly believe that revisiting the original versions of some of these films gives a greater insight into the where a lot of modern cinema gets it’s origins.

This isn’t hollow rhetoric either, more and more I find myself hunting up older, classic films. And more and more I’m finding that much of what modern film makers are presenting on the screen, in new releases, owes much more than I’d ever imagined to the masters of film making who’ve come before them. Nosferatu is possibly the oldest movie I’ve ever watched, and I’m utterly blown away by how much of it still resonates in the films being released some eighty six years later.

In a gushy, self-important, movie-nerd, kinda way, I feel extremely privileged to have been able to sit down and view this movie. Because, to be honest — despite my earlier hot-air, and despite knowing the legendary place that Nosferatu has in cinema history — of my own accord I’d probably never have seen this film. Seriously, to audiences accustom to high-definition this, and THX / Surround Sound that, the idea of a grainy, black and white, silent movie is an extremely hard sell.

The reality is that the very fact that any copies of this movie have survived is amazing, considering that the widow of Bram Stoker won a suite against the film’s makers and all copies of the negatives were ordered destroyed. Ironically, it’s this 1922 version, even with all the character names changed, which is probably the closest adaptation to Stoker’s novel, Dracula.

The restoration which has been performed on this film is itself a work of art. Thanks to the abundance of extras which accompany the feature on this 2 disc ‘Directors Suite’ we’re given the opportunity to see just how deteriorated the surviving footage had become, before it was painstakingly restored. The score too, was completely re-recorded and is presented in Dolby 5.1 surround sound.

Thankfully, in the almost ninety years which have passed since the making of Nosferatu, film making techniques, technology, and the expectations of movie audiences have become more sophisticated. The end result is that, as a modern movie fan, it’s virtually impossible to watch this film and not be struck by the bold, over the top, performances which were part and parcel of the German Impressionistic style in which this film was made. Most will probably find the performances in this film to be rather ridiculous and laughable, but much of the enjoyment derived from this film comes from the sense that you are looking back through time and gaining an understanding of what audiences in the 1920’s found entertaining, and terrifying.

Today though, you’re hardly going to jump from your seat or claw at the arm of your chair in fear, as you watch this film. But, if you look past the technical limitations you’ll see that Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s direction, and Albin Grau’s production design, truly deserves the recognition of their brilliance. Without question, the work of Murnau, Grau, and the performance by Max Schreck as Count Orlok (Dracula) — who, despite only being on screen for 10 minutes worth of the movie manages to define the image of the creepy, rat-like, vampire — are still influencing modern film-makers, whether they know it or not!

If you consider yourself a fan, not just of the horror genre, but of film in general, then you really owe it to yourself to get your hands on this lovingly restored masterpiece. [source]

©2007 Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, Wiesbaden
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4 Comments

    Wow nice one, where’d you pick this up? I’ve had one eye out looking for this (among many others) for a while now.

    After watching Metropolis a few years back, I must say my hunger for older movies has increased – probably starting from my trip to Hearst Castle in California.

    I found Metropolis very interesting to watch, not just because of the film itself, but also the mysteries/stories around it.

    Anyway sounds like Nosferatu might not be making a visit to my local store, shame. I don’t know if I’m big enough of a film buff to nab it!

  • Metropolis is high on my list, especially now that I’ve popped my silent-movie cherry… oh, and because of the fact that they’ve just found a bunch of new scenes that had been long thought lost.

    Nosferatu has some great stories around it too Rom, that’s one of the great things about the special features on the DVD, they get right into the production of the film and even go into the occult connections of some of the people involved.

    As for this version of Nosferatu, the Madman guys have released it here in Australia. Just hit the [source] link at the end of the post.

  • After seeing Nosferatu, check out “Shadow of a Vampire” (2000, John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe)… It follows some of the mystery surrounding the orginal “Nosferatu” and takes it well into fantasy.

    It’s like a documentary of “Nosferatu” if Max Schreck actually was a real vampire. Quite enjoyable, and watching both films enables you to appreciate the other even more. As much as a fanciful documentary can… I guess.

  • Nosferatu and Metropolis are great movies. Not necessarily because they fall into every nerds favourite genre, but because the medium itself lends itself to so many subtleties of story-telling that have been lost due to HD this and THS surround sound that.
    If you get the chance, see if you can get your hands some of Charlie Chaplin’s movies. Not the ones he starred in but the ones he directed. The art of a subtle shoulder shrug portray so much more than they do now.
    Watch ‘The Kid’ or ‘The Great Dictator’.
    Unmissable viewing if you want to see how it was really done.
    What an artist!!