Cinema of Silence A Lunch community devoted to classic silent films. <![CDATA[ The emotionally inanimate sleepwalker.]]>
I'm not one to judge a film solely for its place in history, or its influence on the many motion pictures that may have followed. Quality, above all, certainly means a lot to me; and it should. One should critique, or appreciate, a film based on both personal taste and the overall observation of how good, how bad, or how "meh" a movie is. I thought it appropriate to say this now, as I review "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", because it's films like this one which are often (unfairly) bombarded with harsh criticism from the beloved audience members of the modern age. It's a horror film released in 1920, so there's no blood, gore, sex, violence, or profanity; and the horror fanatics of today might not be able to fathom that. But I'm not here to offer a critique of our times and how unlucky I feel to be a part of them; I am here to tell you why I think the film is deserving of its landmark status.

In my opinion, one of the most frightening things on earth would be the inability to control our bodily functions; our bones, our movements, what we say, and everything else beyond. The story of the film deals with this theme, this fear; in the form of a rather unfortunate fellow named Cesare, who lives in a cabinet, awakened only by his master by the name of Caligari, who has enslaved his mind and body. Cesare is what one would call a somnambulist; and Caligari advertises his tragic "gift" as a carnival attraction. Caligari comes into town a stranger; but leaves behind him a legend. You'll find out what I mean in just a bit.

Most of the story is told in a flashback; that of a man who appears in the beginning - and in the end - of the film, where he looks back on his experiences and encounters with the Doctor and his psychological slave. We see a woman, who he claims to be his fiancé, wandering about the premises where he and a much older man sit, under a great old tree, and talk of the matters at hand. By the end of the film, much has been revealed, with the aid of a fantastic and unpredictable twist ending that most people - not even the movie-goers of today - will not see coming. It's the rare movie twist where nothing is spelled out for us beforehand. There are red herrings, and perhaps there are even minor clues; but they are mostly irrelevant, and besides, they go fairly unnoticed.

Coming back to the flashback segment of the story (which is most of the movie, to be completely honest); Caligari is not often seen at night. This is mysterious, given that a series of brutal murders (mostly stabbings and the like) has erupted, seemingly out of nowhere. Since I wouldn't consider it much of a spoiler to say so; I'll just come out and say it. Caligari is technically the person responsible for the murders; although his ability to take over the mind and body of Cesare allows him to force the poor, inanimate man to spring to life and commit the deadly deeds that come from the highly disturbed and perverse man's darkest dreams. At one moment, Cesare seems to regain his consciousness when he is about to murder a woman; although he is captivated by her beauty, and refuses to carry out the action. Such scenes, and such realizations in regards to the overall situation, give the film an extra layer of sadness and resonance.

The look of the film is interesting, to say the least. Done almost entirely in a Mise en scène visual style; the film often feels more like a play than like a movie. Perhaps this is because the Mise en scène originates from theatrical productions; although it's since been carried into the world of cinema, and one could say that the profilic paper-cut-out architecture and distinctive lighting of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" have popularized the style for future reference. Modern manipulators of the style are few; although those who do choose to take it upon themselves to make use of it are rewarded with footage of great and raw beauty. The simplicity of the production design, combined with the sinister lighting and the blue/yellow color schemes makes for a unique, almost dream-like viewing experience. The film is like an onslaught of nightmarish imagery and butt-naked surrealism; it's simple, but it's undeniably effective, and it really sticks with you.

It isn't often that I resonate with a horror movie as much as I did with this one; but this must indicate that it possesses something special, something seemingly otherworldly in the motion picture business of today, and it does. "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" manages to emotionally engage the audience with images that are striking and characters that are - at least by the end - somewhat sympathetic. It's a film that deals heavily with mental illness, enslavement, and a general loss of free will. Once the premise and the film's central ideas are taken into thought; I found it both touching and genuinely scary. Simply put, it's a treat.

One of the few horror classics of the 1920's - going into the 30's and 40's - that was not based on some famous (or infamous) horror novel, this Gothic expressionist import from Germany proved that when trying to make the audience feel - and truly connect with - the atmosphere that has been built up from the start, silence is absolutely golden. I suppose it wouldn't be incredibly difficult to imagine somebody remaking the film in hopes of giving it just a little more, I don't know, depth. To me, that would be taking away the horror and most of the emotions that I felt when I watched this movie, but I don't know; it could add more layers than there ever were before. It could really go either way. "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" succeeds because it does not characterize its characters (and yet they are so memorable), or over-complicate its murder mystery plot. It's intriguing and consistently arresting; with plenty of assistance from the little things in-between. To me, those are all qualities of a great horror flick; although to others, it might mean something different all-together. If you want a creepy, atmospheric horror film rather than one drenched in tasteless bloodshed; all I can say is that this might just be the film for you.]]> Thu, 1 Mar 2012 22:21:02 +0000
<![CDATA[ Haunting horror classic.]]>
The 1922 Gothic masterpiece of horror "Nosferatu" is a production of sweeping beauty and spectacle, lively performances and intense atmospheric touches, and pure directorial brilliance. It is fantastically well-crafted; a creepy, ominous horror movie; it feels real and authentic just about every moment when it wants to be. As a vampire film - and I'm sure you knew that it was one - it was influential to the many films that followed; many which attempted to imitate the film (and failed), while some of the further entries proved successful in what they took out of the film that essentially started a new generation of terror. This may just be one of the best horror films I have seen; scary, crafty, and unforgettable. Here you shall find images of horror, situations of horror, and the aftermath of horror. It is a film so good that - if we allow it to - it can make us paranoid and frightened for a good time afterwards. It's impossible not to admire that, since true horror makes us think about it both before and after the film has ended. And "Nosferatu" is without-a-doubt what I'd consider to fit the bill when it comes to being "true".

Using a simplistic but symbolic and meaningful story, the film is able to focus on how it affects our main senses; one of which is sight. The titular vampire of the story is a repulsive sight; a disgusting, hideous creature who resides in the darkness and is seldom discovered, and when someone does seek him and his evil ways out, he gets rid of them as fast and as soon as he possibly can. The story being told is based off of Bram Stoker's famous novel "Dracula", although names of characters were changed since the filmmakers could not get the rights to the book at the time. One such name is the word "vampire" itself, which as you can see, was changed to the film's title: Nosferatu.

Thomas Hutter is a happily married man with a nice life laid out for him, as it would appear. He is employed, and when his boss asks him to go visit a client in a faraway land, he is overjoyed and immediately sends himself to that place. The client's name is Count Orlok; and he resides in the Carpathian Mountains. Once he arrives, Hutter faces locals who fear Orlok is a man of danger and mystery; they urge him not to pay him a visit, but the hero must keep going and achieve the goal of meeting the client and ultimately selling him a house. He goes to Orlok's castle and meets the man, who doesn't exactly make the best of impressions when dinner comes around, but still proves himself to be quite the host indeed. Hutter rests at Orlok's castle for the night, and awakens slightly disoriented the next morning; a time in which he discovers things that he was never meant to see.

Such sights he sees; Orlok sleeping in a coffin, a bite-mark on his very own precious neck, and coffins being transported by-raft to a schooner. It becomes clear that Orlok is, indeed, a "nosferatu"; a blood sucker, a vampire. Whatever you wish to call him, either way, he has taken a bite out of Hutter, and in this particular tale, that means that perhaps the once great and happy man has lost his life over-night to someone far more skillful and cunning.

Orlok stows away on a ship back to Hutter's home-land in order to move in to the new home that he had purchased. While on the ship, many of the passengers begin to disappear through death; and since Orlok is able to make himself appear non-existent and invisible, the deaths are blamed on a plague caused by rats that have also hitched a ride on the vessel, much like Orlok. Before the remaining members of the crew can take further action, Orlok shows himself and controls the captain; taking charge of the ship for the time being, sailing it safely to shore, where he docks, and finally makes way to his house.

"Nosferatu" can be seen from multiple angles; in several different ways. On the surface, it is a masterpiece of Gothic atmosphere and horror; a film that I can gladly call "scary", whatever that means. However, there's always something deeper lurking beneath the surface, which elevates it from merely being a "good chiller" to a "great genre picture". Consider the fact that the paranoid citizens of the fictional German city of Wisbord (where the Count's new home resides) accuse Hutter's employer of being the sole cause of the plague and the misfortune that it has left in its past. They don't know what to think, and they really don't know who to blame, but hey: they saw him acting strange on occasion, and after all, he has recently been committed to a psychiatric hospital, so why not bring him to his end?

The film opens as it ends; a competent film, and even more, thus, even better. It has a wonderfully ghastly score, flawless and haunting cinematography, as well as some of the creepiest images every filmed. Orlok is played by Max Schrek, who plays the part delicately, even if our main fixation is the complex make-up that he wears. It's all so admirable, and there's a lot going on in "Nosferatu", so I don't want to spoil it. I have said enough; and I will recap my main points yet again. I loved every moment of this silent horror classic; which shall soon have a spot within my collection of iconic landmarks in horror cinema. It is definitive of why I love and trust this genre so much even in days as dark as this. Films such as "Nosferatu" serve as light in such eternal darkness. And we all need a little bit of light; there's no denying that.]]> Wed, 19 Oct 2011 21:51:04 +0000
<![CDATA[Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis (Kino Classics Special Edition) Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> Kino International, this is the most controversial restoration of Fritz Lang's 1927 sci-fi epic Metropolis. Released in 1984, the Moroder Version, as it has come to be known, takes the classic silent film and gives it a new look and sound by making major alterations such as color tinting the film, adding subtitles rather than the traditional intertitles used in silent films, and most radically, by giving the film a modern pop rock soundtrack. Equally reviled and revered by silent film buffs and lovers of '80s music and still a source of controversy and debate among film restorers and historians, the restoration has become rather infamous and for many it was the first introduction to silent films.
As I've not yet seen this version, but have been wanting to for years, it should prove interesting to see what this generation makes of Moroder's Metropolis, especially after Kino has already released two excellent restorations of the film that are faithful to the original version. What's exciting is that it will include the original score and soundtrack (which won a 1985 Razzie Award) featuring songs by Freddie Mercury of Queen, Pat Benetar, and many others.
We shall see how it holds up 27 years later...
]]> Fri, 19 Aug 2011 19:23:19 +0000
<![CDATA[Oswald the Lucky Rabbit Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> Walt Disney's and Ub Iwerks' earlier success, the Alice Cartoons, which featured a live-action girl named Alice (based loosely on Lewis Carroll's classic character) who was caught up in various cartoon adventures. Oswald was a huge success in the silent film era of cartoons and his popularity even rivaled that of Fritz the Cat, but due to a poor business arrangement and a deceptive contract, Disney lost the rights to the character, which then became the sole property of Universal Pictures.
Oswald's look and characteristics would be revamped numerous times after he was taken over by the creative team at Universal. In some ways, Oswald is probably best known as the precursor to Mickey Mouse, as when Disney lost the rights to the rabbit character to Universal, he and Ub Iwerks set about creating a new animal cartoon character to replace him and the result was Mickey Mouse (who many people have pointed out looks rather similar to Oswald only with rounded ears and a short bunny tail).
Oswald is perhaps most famous today amongst film historians and film students who are fascinated by early animation during the silent era and the history of the Walt Disney Company.
Today, the Walt Disney Company once again owns the rights to the Oswald cartoons since they re-acquired them in 2006 when Disney-owned ABC traded sports newscaster Al Michaels to Universal-owned NBC for the rights to the character and the original 26 animated short films. It was jokingly said that it was the first time a network had traded one of their top sportscasters for a cartoon.

Sure, Oswald doesn't get the same kind of press that Mickey does, nor is he as iconic as the famed cartoon mouse, but I seem to be part of the minority who prefers this earlier Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks creation of the silent film era.
One of the things I love is that Oswald's animated shorts are non-stop slapstick action and comedy. Since the characters have no voices, there's a lot of focus on developing expressions and performing physical comedy gags. Plus, let's face it, he's just a cute, mischievous, little character like Charlie Chaplin in cartoon rabbit form.

What's not to love?!]]> Fri, 19 Aug 2011 17:37:43 +0000
<![CDATA[He Who Gets Slapped Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> Lon Chaney films, He Who Gets Slapped is a comical tragedy or a tragical comedy about a man destined to succeed only at failure... even as a clown. The film, which came out in 1924,  was directed by legendary Swedish actor and director Victor Sjöström (credited as Victor Seastrom) and was based on a Russian play.
As a film, He Who Gets Slapped is a superb silent melodrama examining an audience's need for violent spectacle and their sadistic enjoyment of watching other people experience misfortune, in this case a clown who is constantly slapped and ridiculed while trying to expound up his ideas and feelings. The clown of course is played by Lon Chaney (who would later play a similar role as tragic clown in Laugh, Clown, Laugh). The rest of the cast is filled out by screen starlet Norma Shearer and John Gilbert.

The story follows Paul Beaumont, a scientist who has been obsessed with his radical theories which he intends to present to his fellow scientists. After years of studious work and devotion, his idea is stolen from him by the nefarious Baron Regnard, his own patron and supporter. In outrage, he stands up before the scientific academy, but they only laugh at him and to compound things, the Baron slaps him condescendingly. Afterward, Beaumont is further disgraced when he discovers that his wife is and the Baron are having an affair.
In despair and self-loathing and now ridiculed by the scientific community, Beaumont takes a job in the circus, where he indulges his masochism for the entertainment of the audience, as a clown known as He Who Gets Slapped. As part of his act, he begins a serious speech either announcing an idea or expressing his own feelings, but nobody listens and instead he is slapped repeatedly by other clowns. The act proves to be very popular and Beaumont, now simply referred to as He, becomes a comedic celebrity. All the while Beaumont's true nature and sadness is hidden behind his painted on clown's smile.
Beaumont falls in love with Consuelo, the circus owner's daughter, but she is in love with the young and dashing Bezano, a horseback stunt rider. For years, Beaumont labors at the circus, hopelessly in love.
One night, Beaumont sees Baron Regnard in the audience laughing uproariously with the rest of the crowd at He Who Gets Slapped. Then the Baron and the circus owner have a discussion, during which Beaumont listens in. To his horror he discovers that the circus owner plans to offer up his daughter's hand to the Baron in exchange for money. Horrified, Beaumont goes to Consuelo to tell her everything.
When Beaumont tries tell Consuelo how he feels about her and the depth of his passion and commitment, Consuelo mistakes his sincerity for part of his act and playfully slaps him in jest. Beaumont is even more heartbroken and finds only one reason left to live... revenge.
In one final confrontation, Beaumont manages to trap the circus owner and the Baron in a room backstage before letting a lion loose on them. In the process, however, Beaumont himself is mortally wounded by the circus owner. When he goes on stage for the last time, he tries to explain the lengths to which a clown will go to entertain the audience, but he is only slapped until he collapses and dies leaving the rest of the circus and the audience stunned and filled with guilt.

The film is without a doubt one of the most poignant films Chaney made and it certainly follows the pattern of his other films in which a character encounters tragedy, then attempts to overcome it only to fall hopelessly in love, to be rejected, and then to seek revenge upon the world. Many of Chaney's films featured this formula, but this one is even more appealing in that it has something rather unflattering to say about the whole human race: we live vicariously through the suffering and humiliation of others.
It's certainly not a message which is delivered with a great deal of subtlety and some of the visual metaphors, such as the heart-shaped handkerchief that Beaumont keeps with him when he is a clown, might seem a bit silly and over-the-top today, but all in all the film is one of the most powerful that Chaney starred in.
Another aspect of the film that makes it quite memorable is its visual style and atmosphere, which can be attributed to the director who had made numerous expressionistic films in Sweden before coming to the United States. Sjöström employs a number of visual tricks, such as double exposures, complex transitions, and some nifty editing, to make the story more engaging. He captures the chaos and celebratory mayhem of the circus, although there are few scenes of the rest of the circus show other than those in the main tent where the clowns, acrobats, horse riders, and dancers perform.

Oh, and just as a bit of trivia, Victor Sjöström was the mentor of fellow Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, and Bergman gave Sjöström the lead role in the classic drama Wild Strawberries.]]> Mon, 15 Aug 2011 17:15:38 +0000
<![CDATA[ This bizarre experimental crap will eventuall drive me insane, but at least I'll enjoy it.]]>
"Brand Upon the Brain", the most recent Guy Maddin feature to be labeled as a silent psychodrama, is an ambitious film that honestly does offer up something new for curious, adventurous movie-goers. It exists in a world of its own, is a true original, and engulfs itself in a mysterious, but intriguing sort of cinematic fog. This is what I'm talking about.

Alas, I'll try as hard as I can - and I mean that - to summarize the experience of watching Maddin's film. Films can simply be films; they don't have to be moving stories of heroism, comedy, or whatever. "Brand Upon the Brain" is bizarre, and takes most of its influence from Silent Films (and as you can see, it is a Silent Film itself; making it a sort of clever "homage" to the era when these films were at their prime). This does not mean that the film lacks the qualities of movies we are used to; but even being accustomed to the rules of comedy, tragedy, adventure - all things we're familiar with by now - cannot prepare us for such an experience as this. But that's what I love about it.

A character named after Guy Maddin (the director behind the film) is asked to paint his mother's lighthouse. Almost instantly, Guy recalls his ill-fated and unfortunately conflicted childhood, in which he lived, loved, and lost. But I suppose this is how life is supposed to be experienced; and Guy's outlook on it was not cynical in spite of the troubles that he faced, or rather, the troubles that faced him.

He lived on an island, along with his sister and many other orphans, under the care and ever-so-watchful eye of his mother. Guy's father works as a secluded scientist shrouded in mystery; although a kid-detective, Wendy Hale, seems to have her eyes on him when it comes to exposing just what he does. Let's just say that Guy's father's business is often tormented and ugly.

Guy's sister becomes a big central character a little ways into the film. After a game of spin-the-bottle, "Sis" develops feelings toward Wendy. She disguises herself as Chance, a fake brother of Guy, in order to successfully and happily be with the young teen detective. Mother is angered and sexually jealous through realizing this. Things get weird when family tension arises, but oh, don't let me spoil it for you.

The film was originally screened with live-audio performances and narration by stars such as Crispin Glover and Isabella Rossellini. It was meant to be some sort of Rocky Horror-esque "event movie". It hasn't garnered such a cult quite yet, but if they bring back such special screenings, and I believe they should, then this might become an even bigger hit than it already is. This is a film that deserves to be seen if only for its intent; to be strange, weird, outlandish, and out-of-this-word odd.

Perhaps the magic of "Brand Upon the Brain" is in its style, and only its style. Here is a movie that tells its delicate and compelling little narrative through images that move by so fast and abruptly that you'd think this was the work of a master music video director. However, it isn't; and Guy Maddin is much more accomplished. He is a filmmaker, an artist, trying to show the world something new, and the world he has depicted here; it's something new, for sure.

You'll be wondering whether it's the best thing you've ever seen or if it's the worst. I know that I did. I finally decided that it's neither; but it's still a great film, and I still recommend it very, very highly. When you don't exactly know what the hell you're watching, yet you still enjoy the experience, you know you're witness to the latest radical cinematic acid-trip. I enjoy the surreal and the imaginative; and this is like a sweet, sweet dream. It is filled with images of sexuality, voyeurism, and even horror. There's so much crammed into one movie that you might even find it a bit pretentious. But filmmakers are allowed to do something that nobody else has the guts or talent to do. I know that Guy Maddin has certainly made something beyond what I've ever seen here, and that calls for celebration. Screw criticism; I say that this is a wonderful film, with a pulse. If you like silent films, you will like this modernized, stylistically-based one. It's nice to have a film that cares about not making too much sense on the first viewing. It requires me to revisit it. And I will do so like a gentleman should; and I won't complain, partially because I can't, and also because I won't.]]> Fri, 12 Aug 2011 13:46:35 +0000
<![CDATA[ Three very funny classics]]>
The General is the name of a train and Keaton is its engineer. It is 1861 and the Civil war is just beginning. Keaton's girl friend wants him to enlist on the southern side. He tries, but the recruitment office rejects him because an engineer is more important than a soldier. His girl friend does not understand why he did not join, thinks he is a coward, and says she does not want to see him again. She calls him a disgrace to the south. The bulk of the film shows how he saves the south one-handedly in a bungling and funny way, as his girl friend watches with pride.

The Playhouse has many scenes where Keaton plays every role, male and female, conductor and audience, a group of dancers, a monkey. Cops is the quintessential chase film that many viewers consider the best of this genre.]]> Tue, 28 Jun 2011 13:54:09 +0000
<![CDATA[ You can't claim to know American movies unless you know Buster Keaton]]> The General is a perfect introduction for those who may shy away from silent movies or who may think silent comics are too exaggerated and mannered. The story line is simple, but what Keaton does with it is genius.
Johnny Gray (Buster Keaton) is an engineer for the Western and Atlantic Railroad. He has two loves, his engine, the General, and Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack), a fine Southern belle. When war starts, Johnny rushes to enlist but is rejected. He's more valuable to the South as a train engineer than he would be as a soldier. Trouble is, nobody tells him why he was rejected. Worse, Annabelle thinks he may be a coward, and tells him she doesn't want to see him again until he is in uniform. Just then northern spies secretly enter the town to steal the General and take it north, destroying bridges and lines along the way, while a Northern army moves south. Unknowingly, Annabelle Lee finds herself on the train and is kidnapped. Johnny sees the General chugging away and races after it, determined to bring back the General. When he realizes Annabelle Lee is held captive, his resolve knows to bounds.
For the rest of the movie we are on one of the cleverest, fastest, funniest chase movies ever filmed. Keaton creates slapstick situations and sight gags that not only are funny, but that always are in character and which always are part of the specific plot point. And when he rescues Annabelle and realizes how hopeless her Southern belle helplessness can be, his exasperation is matched only by his love.
The General features a big cast, a major battle, fleeing armies, a failing dam and a spectacular moment when an engine tries to cross a burning bridge and everything collapses into a river gorge.
Keaton's timing and inventiveness are legendary; so is his risk-taking. He does his own stunts and some of them were dangerous. In one, he is lies back on the engine's cow catcher while the train is moving at some speed forward. In the distance is a railroad tie across the tracks. Keaton has another railroad tie in his arms. At the last moment he tosses his tie so that the end hits the end of the other tie and they both catapult off the track just as Keaton on the cow catcher passes. This scene has no cutting. The two ties fly off as high as Keaton's head. He could have been killed; instead we laugh.
It's amazing that in his older years Keaton could still walk. His body took incredible punishment for the laughs. Try falling hard backwards off a moving flatcar and landing on your back across railroad ties. His ingenuity is extraordinary. How do you build excitement out of an extended train chase? Both engines are behemoths and are on the same track. They can't pass each other. Keaton does it with endless bits of business. In fact, he does manage to reverse the chase at one point in an immensely clever moment combining logic and split-second timing.
What makes Keaton so funny and so contemporary is that he doesn't do double-takes. He barely reacts. But he's no stone-face. Keaton's characters are simply very serious fellows. Things happen to them. His characters don't react to events so much as they overcome them with honesty and good intentions.
My edition of The General comes from Kino Video and looks good. It includes two Keaton short films, The Playhouse (1921) and Cops (1922). In The Playhouse, Keaton portrays all the members of the cast, orchestra and audience in a stage show, including nine members of a minstrel act, the ladies in the audience and a trained chimp. In Cops, he finds himself in a police chase that is one amazing situation after another.]]> Mon, 13 Jun 2011 04:42:27 +0000
<![CDATA[Murnau Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> Nosferatu, The Last Laugh, and Faust) as well as four documentaries and many great special features. The artwork on the packaging is beautiful and as I was able to get it on sale for a great price I was even more happy with the purchase. Ultimately, what you end up with here are three great films, two very good ones, and one that feels a bit uneven and awkward (Finances of the Grand Duke), but it's still an astoundingly well put together collection highly recommended for silent cinema fans!]]> Sat, 9 Apr 2011 18:14:53 +0000 <![CDATA[ Best. Witchraft. Documentary. Ever.]]>
"Haxan", a certainly controversial, at-the-time graphic, and flamboyantly intellectual documentary/horror film, appeals to me for so many reasons. For one: I like films that challenge the audience. "Haxan" is brilliant because not only does it want to provoke through imagery; but it also wants to challenge our beliefs with its unbeatable sense of stylistic intelligence. Being the most expensive Scandenavian Silent film production, you'd think that "Haxan" would have had a bigger impact on horror films and documentaries alike. For some, it never stopped being disturbing, while for others, it never stopped being effective. "Haxan" is divisive, disturbing, scary, smart, and unique. There will never be another documentary like it, perhaps because nobody is quite as daring as the filmmakers involved in the production. For haters, all I can say is: Well, I loved it. And yes, I did love "Haxan". It's one of the best documentaries ever made. It blends the documentary style with my favorite genre; the horror film. This means that the film gets to be scary, stylistic, and unique in its own little ways. It's good to see that even though to many, it's not memorable; the flame never gets blown out to early whilst watching the film. I mean, it really is something. I don't think it's a film for everyone, and Christians will probably want to steer clear from such cinematic depths, but any cinephile worth his salt should see "Haxan" for its craft, its atmosphere, and its mastery of both the horror film and documentary filmmaking. The film deserves every bit of the controversy that it garnered, which is part of its raw charm, as well as part of its minor put-off. It's best to think of "Haxan" in whatever ways you want. I can't tell you to watch it; and I will by no means tell you to avoid it. It's a fine piece of daring, classic filmmaking that will linger with you for long after you've witnessed it. It may even take more than one viewing to appreciate what the filmmaker, Benjamin Christensen, has done here. Even I don't quite know all of what he was aiming for. Was he attempting to change our views, as many documentaries do? Did he want to impact us with his own? I'm not completely sure. But I do know this: "Haxan" is awe-inspiring, thus making it "awesome", and there will never be another documentary quite like it. I think that's food for thought, friends.

"Haxan" takes us on a journey straight into the history of witchcraft. It begins basically enough, and the film eventually goes on to speculation. With speculation, of witchcraft in particular, comes talk of the devil; and "Haxan" is not afraid to say whatever it wants when it comes to the matter. And it does, which is just down-right admirable in my book. Like all documentaries, "Haxan" has a point; and it does not get it through by telling a straight-forward story. What we get is something far more unique, challenging, and memorable; something that's not easy to forget. For all it says of witchcraft, religion, and possession; "Haxan" is actually quite powerful. It doesn't try hard to be, but it does the job anyways. "Haxan" has enough brains to satisfy as only the best documentaries can. It's entertaining, intelligent, and unlike anything I've seen before. How many documentaries (that's right, NOT mockumantaries) can blend horror with the genre as well as this one? If you're still thinking, then your mind is in the right place, because "Haxan" does what it does so impeccably well that it's almost impossible for a cinephile/horror fan such as me to pass up such a great opportunity. So why, oh why, would you?

Maren Pedersen plays "The Witch" in the film. The interesting thing about this actress is that she's not really an actress at all; but rather an elderly flower-seller. Perhaps this is what they mean when they say "Pulling people off the streets to make a movie", but in this case, it was a damn good move. The director, Benjamin Christensen, plays none other than the Devil himself; covered by impressive make-up and costume-design to make the act believable. Basically every-one in this film, REAL actor/actress or not, is very good at playing whichever character they are portraying. I stated those two important names because I find them particularly meritorious, among others. That's about it.

"Haxan" is more visually-focused than it probably should be. The whole thing is like a disturbing, intelligent surrealistic gem that rests somewhere among those few "surrealistic horror documentaries". It's a fun movie, as long as you find visually repulsive, and as I said, at-the-time-controversial stuff "fun". I know that I do, and I know that "Haxan" is made with intelligence, craft, and a sense of humanity. Many films are graphic, but without much artistry. The difference between THOSE films and "Haxan" is that here is a film made with art on its mind, and I can definitely admire that for what it is. So if you like art-films then see "Haxan". It's a diabolic experience with an abundance of intelligent life-forms, interesting visual inspiration, and that good ol' "one-of-a-kind" feeling. True, I can enjoy a documentary, but only if it's well-made, interesting, and insightful. But few can be as good as "Haxan" is; and this is as good as documentary filmmaking gets. I like the message of the film, and I like how the film does not seek to be influential. As a result, it didn't do a whole lot for horror films or documentary films, if only because it was banned in most places for its content. But now, we can admire it, on its prestigious Criterion Collection release, for what it was meant to be seen as; a unique, and overall quite good film. And to end this section, I will add that like all good silent films, "Haxan" has a nice, mellow soundtrack. Sometimes, it amounts to a darker, more-suspenseful feel. It creates a sense of dread; if not peaceful dread, in "Haxan". Oh, what the hell. Just see the thing already.

So if you want witchcraft - documentary - filmmaking done right, "Haxan" is where the fun (and the intelligence) is at. As I said, it's not for everyone. But it was definitely a film that I enjoyed, if only for its understanding of the subject matter and unforgettable imagery. If only more horror films were this non-pretentious; and if only more films about witches and witchcraft could be so undeniably entertaining. "Haxan" is, like the Devil that plays as its villainous entity, seductive in its dark whimsy. You can't resist it, and you know it; but you may still want to steer clear if you are easily disturbed. No matter, there is much to like here. I can't find one thing wrong with the film, and while some will say it looses its merit after a while, it's consistently artistic and flamboyantly interesting. So once again, I've dug into the past and pulled out a rare gem. And I am going to be one of the first to tell you, assuming that your friends aren't as flamboyantly weird as I am, that "Haxan" is worth the time that you invest in it. Now, imagine how LONG the thing was, by the 1920's standards. I imagine that part of the controversy came from how long we were required to watch these images for. I think that "Haxan" was misunderstood, and required someone like me. I can appreciate, admire, and be entertained by these films. I've seen some daring pictures, and this is, luckily, one of them. And that's what I love about it.]]> Fri, 1 Apr 2011 02:12:09 +0000
<![CDATA[Sunrise - A Song of Two Humans Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> Sunrise - A Song of Two Humans is F.W. Murnau's most famous and celebrated films and the only real success he experienced while working in America. The film is propelled forward by an unusual love story of a husband and wife who have drifted apart after he attempts to kill her so that he can be with his mistress, but the two find redemption and rediscover their love. Poetic, haunting, and at times quite comedic, Sunrise is a masterpiece that preceded the epic Hollywood love stories of today and surpasses all of them in its lyrical quality. Superb!]]> Wed, 2 Mar 2011 20:41:33 +0000 <![CDATA[ Anna May Wong, a fine actress who wound up playing Su Lin, Lin Ying, Lan Ying, Kim Ling, A-hsing...]]> Piccadilly, a 1929 British silent backstage melodrama. The performance of Anna May Wong is primary. She's a knockout as Shosho, a Chinese dishwasher in a posh London nightclub who gets a chance to show how she can dance, and then becomes a star. Wong is so charismatic, so fine a performer and so confident an actress, that you might wonder whatever happened to her. But there's more to Piccadilly than Wong. Perhaps not too much, but enough to enjoy the passing parade of dated movie choreography and the moody atmosphere of transplanted German expressionism. The downside is the of those behind-the-scenes melodramas of entertainers and impresarios, stilted and dated, filled with tremulous glances, suspicious glares, clutched hankies and faces turned away.
Valentine Wilmot (Jameson Thomas) owns the Piccadilly Club, the poshest of the posh, where the sophisticates of London crème de la crème, dressed to the nines, come to dance and dine, and to watch Mabel & Vic, "London's Greatest Dance Attraction." Wilmot is a tough, smooth, perfectionist. He made the Piccadilly what it is. He discovered Mabel Greenfield (Gilda Gray) and made stars out of her and her dance partner, Vic Smiles (Cyril Ritchard). While he appreciates Mabel's talents, his nightclub comes first. Mabel really loves the guy and Vic really loves Mabel. ("My dear, I'm simply mad about you!") One night a diner is given a dirty plate. He makes a scene; Wilmot is furious and storms into the kitchen and scullery. There he sees Shosho, dancing on a table for the other workers when she should have been washing dishes. He fires her. Then he has second thoughts. Shosho has something that the impresario in Wilmot tells him might make a star attraction...exotic, sensuous, unusual. It's not long before Shosho is a smash. By this time Vic has left, Shosho finds it no trouble at all to delightfully snare Wilmot (in probably the best scene in the movie) and Mabel is jealous. Into this hot stew of fervid emotions, a shot rings out, scandal ensues, a trial is held...justice, both criminal and moral, is served up. And in that great tradition of melodramatic goes on with a million more stories undoubtedly waiting to be told. The storyline is a slog.
Still, the big dance number with Mabel & Vic at the start of the movie is a delight of dated style. Mabel and Vic each come prancing down the two grand staircases that bracket the Piccadilly's elegant dance floor, he in tails, she in a swirling gown, and off they go. It's one of those tricky, ricky-ticky fast numbers where elbows and feet fly about, complete with winking glances of mischievous fun. It goes on and on, with Vic and Mabel each having a chance to shine. Mabel flirts and shows her legs. Vic with slicked back hair seductively grins with the silent nasal charm of Jack Buchanan or Noël Coward. It's the kind of well-meaning, "classy" dance that Fred Astaire drove a stake through four years later in Flying Down to Rio. However, watch this number with affection. It does no harm and at one time held the paying movie customers in thrall.
The look of the film is all moody atmosphere. This isn't enough to salvage the movie by itself, but it gives Piccadilly a lot of visual class.
And then there's Anna May Wong, an actress of talent, style and screen presence. She's featured in the billing but she dominates the movie. She comes straight through the camera to us, sexy and innocent, calculating and surprised, whose dancing captures us and whose acting tells us here is a woman to pay attention to. As an actress of Chinese descent, she hadn't a chance in Hollywood except as a stereotype. In the Twenties she finally left for Europe and had a few star roles in Germany and England, but then returned to Hollywood with a contract that seemed to assure her of star Hollywood roles. The contract didn't say major star roles with star male leads. She lost the leads in The Good Earth and Dragon Seed because producers said she looked too Chinese. She had to watch as Luise Rainer and Katherine Hepburn starred, both gussied up in some of the oddest "Chinese" eyelids and makeup Hollywood ever devised. Anna May Wong wound up playing characters with names like Su Lin, Lin Ying, Lan Ying and, in an explosion of Hollywood creativity, Lan Ying Lin. (I'm not kidding: Impact, Bombs Over Burma, Dangerous to Know and Daughter of Shanghai.) Then there was Ling Moy, Kim Ling, A-hsing, Lois Ling and, of course, Chinese Woman. (Daughter of the Dragon, Island of Lost Men, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, Ellery Queen's Penthouse Mystery and Producers' Showcase)
So put Piccadilly in the DVD player, probably with your finger on the fast-forward button, to watch Mabel & Vic in their big number and, most of all, to watch a woman who could have been a great star if it hadn't been for Hollywood.]]> Thu, 24 Feb 2011 23:15:21 +0000
<![CDATA[The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Kino on Video's Restored Authorized Edition DVD) Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> Wed, 24 Nov 2010 23:45:28 +0000 <![CDATA[The F.W. Murnau Collection Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> Nosferatu, The Last Laugh, and Faust) have been re-released in newly restored 2-disc deluxe editions available from Kino International, I still love this set. The inclusion of Murnau's wonderful swan song, Tabu, makes all the difference. in addition, the packaging is rather attractive and well designed.]]> Wed, 17 Nov 2010 19:55:44 +0000 <![CDATA[The Complete Metropolis (Kino International's Two-disc Special Edition DVD and Blu-ray) Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> TCM premier of this on Silent Sunday and was completely blown away. Not only do the restored scenes help to clarify some plot points, but they also amplify the emotional impact of the film. Glorious! Big old thank you to Buenos Aires, Kino International and the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung!
]]> Tue, 9 Nov 2010 21:23:26 +0000
<![CDATA[Nosferatu (Alpha Video DVD) Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> Nosferatu, the Alpha Video DVD release is easily the least impressive of the bunch. This is due in part to the fact that the version of the film is the cheap public domain print used in the U.S. during the '30s, so the characters names have been changed back to those of Stoker's novel. But a big issue here is just the over all lack of quality. Few chapter stops, no restoration whatsoever, and no special features to speak of. Even the DVD packaging with Orlok on the cover has been hideous colored and they've turned him all minty. WTF?! The only positive I can mention here is that this DVD is under $10, but even then you'd be better off with either Image's release or one of Kino's despite the higher cost. Shame on you, Alpha Video!]]> Tue, 28 Sep 2010 19:41:13 +0000 <![CDATA[Friedrich Wilhelm (F.W.) Murnau Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]>
Nosferatu - Eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror)
Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh)

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau
):-=]]> Mon, 3 May 2010 20:12:53 +0000
<![CDATA[Pandora's Box (The Criterion Collection 2-disc Special Edition DVD) Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> Sun, 28 Mar 2010 13:59:39 +0000 <![CDATA[Tabu (The Milestone Collection / Image Entertainment DVD) Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> Sun, 28 Mar 2010 13:57:51 +0000 <![CDATA[Nosferatu - Eine Symphonie des Grauens (Kino International's 2-disc The Ultimate DVD Edition) Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> F.W. Murnau's eerie, haunting, iconic film is unforgettable. A true classic! This extraordinary Kino Ultimate DVD Edition finally gives the greatest vampire film its due with a glorious restoration including all new color tinting, intertitles, and the original 1922 score.

):-=]]> Sun, 28 Mar 2010 13:53:46 +0000
<![CDATA[Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror (Kino on Video's Restored Authorized Edition DVD) Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> Fri, 5 Feb 2010 18:53:40 +0000 <![CDATA[Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror (Image Entertainment's Special Edition DVD) Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> Wed, 26 Aug 2009 22:08:21 +0000 <![CDATA[Nosferatu - Eine Symphonie des Grauens (Kino International's 2-disc The Ultimate DVD Edition) Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> Tue, 25 Aug 2009 23:11:57 +0000 <![CDATA[ milestone of the silent era]]>
Lon Chaney gives the performance of his career as Erik, the tortured Phantom who roams the sewers and labyrinths of the Paris Opera House. His attentions are piqued by the beautiful young singer Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) though she is already being courted by Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny (Norman Kerry). As passions rise, the young lovers are terrorised by the demonic Phantom as he vows to make Christine his bride...

Lon Chaney turns in a polished performance as Erik (riding high on the success of his legendary turn as Quasimodo in Universal's HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME). Mary Philbin's ethereal beauty serves her well as Christine, and Norman Kerry does all he can to overcome the one-dimensional character of Raoul.

The set built for the Paris Opera House was the biggest and most elaborate free-standing set ever assembled for a picture at the time (and still exists, carefully preserved on the Universal backlot). The lavish 'Bal Masque' sequence was shot in the relatively new 2-strip Technicolor process.

The original silent version of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA premiered in 1925, but when the advent of sound occurred in 1929, Laemmle released a new print of PHANTOM with the voices dubbed in (sans Lon Chaney) and new ballet and opera sequences inserted. The film was re-edited by Walter Anthony. The version that most people would have seen is actually a composite of the 1925 and 1929 versions.]]> Sun, 10 May 2009 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ "From Belial's Seed There Sprang the Vampyre Nosferatu, Who Liveth and Feedeth on Human Bloode"]]>
-This review pertains to Kino On Video's Restored Authorized Edition DVD of Nosferatu-

Perhaps the greatest horror film of all time premiered on March 4, 1922 in Berlin. The film would become a classic of both the German cinematic movement of the '20s, as well as being the film that would launch the career of one of cinema's most talented directors, F.W. (Friedrich WilhelmMurnau. The film was Nosferatu - Eine Symphonie des Grauens (the title's translation from German to English is Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror), an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's 1897 Gothic novel Dracula. What makes Nosferatu one of the eeriest and most memorable of horror films? Well, for starters, unlike most adaptations of Dracula that followed, Nosferatu's vampire count wasn't a suave foreigner in gentlemen's attire. No, he was a repulsive rat-fanged predator, who lurked in the shadows before striking out at his victims.

Max Schreck as Count Orlok
The conception of Nosferatu as a film is typically credited to Albin Grau, the film's conceptual artist, costume and production designer, who also served in the role of what today we would call a producer. Grau had first become interested in telling a vampire story when he watched a spider methodically wrapping up its prey before feeding off of its vital life juice. Grau felt, similarly as did Murnau, that the Great War (WWI) was an ultimately futile and pointless exercise in violence and that as humanity progresses in a technological sense we are regressing spiritually and intellectually. With the inevitable rise of fascism not far ahead, Grau and Murnau took a deeply pessimistic view of the world. In their eyes we, the human race, were becoming parasites like nosferatu, feeding off of the lives of others to ensure our own sickly survival. The age of vampirism had arrived.

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau

Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe was born in Westphalia, Germany on December 28 of 1888. During his early years he lead a quiet life, preferring the company of books and political magazines to the company of his own peers. Much like his mother, Otilie, Friedrich showed a natural appreciation and understanding of the arts. He would often help his siblings put on puppet shows, which he would usually create the sets for.

Later, Friedrich decided that he would pursue a career in acting, which greatly displeased his stern father, Heinrich. However, Friedrich refused to compromise himself. He could not win the respect of his father as an actor and he could not earn his acceptance as a homosexual, so he left his home and sought out the world of art and theatre. In 1910, and some would say that this was his attempt at disassociating himself with the family that he felt had rejected his true nature, Friedrich changed his last name to Murnau, which was the name of the Bavarian town that he visited with his lover, the poet Hans Ehrenbaum-Degele.

When war broke out, both Friedrich and Hans enlisted as soldiers, but only one would survive the bloody horrors of the trenches. Hans died in 1915. After about eight months in the trenches Murnau became a reconnaissance pilot. During one fateful flight he was forced to make a landing in neutral Switzerland, where he would begin directing plays and would later draw the attention of the government, which hired him to direct some propaganda films. Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's passion for filmmaking had been ignited and it would burn brightly. In short time, he would become a true film director and a master of the early German cinema.


Nosferatu - Eine Symphonie des Grauens, as I've mentioned before was freely adapted from Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. The screenplay was written by Henrik Galeen, who had previously written the film Der Golem - Wie er in der Welt Kam (which translates to The Golem: How He Came Into the World in English). Galeen was a friend of both F.W. Murnau and Albin Grau, and like them, he had a deep interest in the occult. Galeen's screenplay for Nosferatu would use the vampire as a metaphor for the destruction and violence of the war.

Since the Stoker estate had not sold the rights for Dracula to be made into a film, Galeen would make changes to the story and characters. Count Dracula became Count Orlok, Jonathan Harker became Thomas Hutter, Wilhelmina Murray-Harker became Ellen Hutter, Professor Abraham Van Helsing became Professor Bulwer, Doctor John Steward became Professor Sievers, and R.M. Renfield became Knock. Also, certain elements of the story were changed for either legal or artistic reasons. Most notably, Count Orlok became a plague-spreader and Ellen, unlike Mina Murray-Harker, would sacrifice herself to save her beloved husband.

Because of the fact that the filmmakers neglected to get legal permission to adapt Dracula into a film, Florence Stoker, Bram Stoker's widow, sued Prana-Film, the film company that released Nosferatu. As a result, the courts sided with Florence Stoker and ordered that Nosferatu not only be pulled from theatres, but also that all prints of the film should be destroyed. Fortunately, a few copies were saved from the destruction and Nosferatu can still be seen in all its glory today.



The story begins in 1838, when young Hutter is sent to Transylvania by the sinister estate broker Knock, where he is to deliver documents to Count Orlok. Once there he encounters many strange things and the mysterious Count reveals himself to be a vampire. The Count finds a picture of Hutter's young innocent wife, Ellen and then journeys to Wisborg, Germany to find her. Hutter is left behind in the vampire's eerie castle until one night when he manages to escape. By the time Hutter returns to his own home in Wisborg, the Count has spread a plague across the countryside. Too weak to battle this nefarious monstrosity, Hutter unknowingly leaves Ellen vulnerable to Orlok's attack. But Ellen, having read Hutter's journal and a book about Nosferatu, prepares to destroy the Count the only way she can. She plans to sacrifice herself to the undead Count and in so doing distract him until the sun rises since the first rays of the morning sun are lethal to the Nosferatu. In the final climactic scene Count Orlok creeps into their home and feeds on the virginal heroine's blood and then he meets his demise. Ellen's self-sacrifice and her defeat of Count Orlok lifts the accursed plague from Wisborg forever.



Nosferatu features a talented cast, which was headed by intense character actor Max Schreck, whose name literally translates to "maximum terror". Schreck played the vampire Count Orlok, not as a sex symbol or a handsome yet violent monster, but rather as a vile rat-like being that felt no human emotions; only a parasitic bloodlust. The rest of the cast included Gustav Von Wangenheim as Hutter, Alexander Granach as Knock, Greta Schroeder as Ellen, and John Gottowt as Professor Bulwer.


Kino On Video's Restored Authorized Edition of Nosferatu is fantastic, though it's not without its flaws. This particular restoration of the film is impressive, though inferior to the one found on the Image Entertainment DVD. The newly translated title cards are closer to the original text, but they are presented in a hideously bright green color that is terribly distracting and feels out of place with the rest of the film. Also, the image quality is grainier than that seen on the Image release.

The DVD features two separate scores. The first is composed by Donald Sosin with vocals by Joanna Seaton. This score is effective at conjuring up the haunting vampiric themes of the film and evokes images of the beauty and danger of Eastern Europe's ancient forests and ruinous castles.

The second score is composed by Gérard Hourbette and Thierry Zaboitzeff and was performed by Art Zoyd. Unfortunately, this score is too hectic and so discordant that I wasn't even able to listen to it in its entirety. However, the half hour that I was able to tolerate was terrible and it totally overwhelmed the emotions of the film. Luckily, you can choose between the two scores, so it doesn't ruin your viewing experience.

Supplemental features include archival excerpts from six of Murnau's films, a gallery of photographs and artwork, and a scene comparison that explores the similarities and differences between Bram Stoker's novel, Henrik Galeen's screenplay, the final film, and a radio play performed by Orson Welles.

Restored Authorized Edition DVD
Still, for those cineastes looking to complete their silent film collection and for those unfamiliar with the legendary film, this DVD is essential, but not perfect.

Here is a link to Kino's official website, where you can purchase the Restored Authorized Edition DVD of Nosferatu and other classic films:
Nosferatu (Restored Authorized Edition)

Orlok Arises]]> Tue, 5 May 2009 19:26:23 +0000
<![CDATA[ When Cthulhu Calls You'd Better Answer!]]>
Well folks, Here it is! Financed and filmed by members of the HPL Historical Society, this black & white silent film was wisely designed to appear as if it had been filmed during Lovecraft's lifetime and then left long forgotten in some dusty studio vault.  The decision to film it in this manner is undoubtedly the biggest factor in its success. There aren't any high tech CGI monsters here either.  No sir! Just good old fashioned stop-motion animation which is extremely well done  and which also adds to the film's appeal and its feeling of authenticity, as well miniatures and in-the-camera techniques that would have been used in the 20s when Lovecraft would have been writing his disturbing tales of eldritch Gods.

The film clocks in at a brief 45 minutes or so, but there are at least that many minutes of special features which are just as much fun to watch as the movie is. The story concerns a young man who is called upon to manage his dying uncle's estate and in the course of discharging his duties he comes across some mysterious papers detailing his uncle's lifelong obsession with the bizarre and secretive Cthulhu Cult. Before he knows it the young man is drawn into the mystery himself and his uncle's obsession becomes his own. THE CALL OF CTHULHU is a well-crafted work of love that should be seen by every fan of the genre. On second thought, don't just rent it--BUY it!  And if you want to read a GOOD review of this, talk to trashcan man!]]> Sun, 3 May 2009 02:48:57 +0000
<![CDATA[ "Nosferatu; Does This Word Not Sound Like the Deathbird Calling Your Name at Midnight?"]]> -This review pertains to Kino International's 2-disc Ultimate DVD Edition of Nosferatu-

In 1922, German director
Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau released his film Nosferatu - Eine Symphonie des Grauens (in English this title translates to Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror), which not only brought the thirty-three year old director into prominence among Germany's greatest filmmakers, but also gave the world what is perhaps the greatest horror film ever made.
Loosely based upon
Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula, the screenplay was written by Henrik Galeen. However, either Murnau and the other filmmakers didn't understand the complexities of copyright law or they simply didn't bother to get legal permission to adapt Stoker's novel into a motion picture. In vain they tried to avoid having legal action taken against them by changing the names of the characters from the novel.
Early promotional poster
The film's shoot, which commenced early in July of 1921, took Murnau, his cast and crew across Germany. Nosferatu was released through independent production studio,
Prana-Film, which was a German studio founded by Albin Grau, a noted producer, artist, and occultist. It was Albin Grau who first suggested Bram Stoker's gothic horror novel as a potential film project for the foundling studio. Other than Murnau, it was Grau who was responsible for the eerie, expressionistic atmosphere of Nosferatu, as he was not only the film's producer, but also the costume designer, set designer, and artistic director.
The film would finally be released on March 4 of 1922 and despite an extensive marketing campaign and great critical acclaim, the film was only a modest commercial success. Bram Stoker's widow, Florence Stoker, felt that the film too closely resembled her late husband's book, so as a result she sued Murnau and the film's small studio, Prana-Film. She had the courts order the film to be pulled from theatres and worse, she demanded that all prints of the film were to be destroyed. Thankfully some copies survived destruction or else we should not be able to view Murnau's penultimate masterpiece today.
Early conceptual artwork
Nosferatu featured a talented cast, which was headed by intense character actor Max Schreck, whose name literally translates to "maximum terror". Schreck played the vampire Count Orlok, not as a sex symbol or a handsome yet violent monster, but rather as a vile rat-like being that felt no human emotions; only a parasitic bloodlust. The rest of the cast included Gustav Von Wangenheim as Hutter, Alexander Granach as Knock, Greta Schroeder as Ellen, and John Gottowt as Professor Bulwer.


The story begins in 1838, when young Hutter is sent to Transylvania by the sinister estate broker Knock, where he is to deliver documents to Count Orlok. Once there he encounters many strange things and the mysterious Count reveals himself to be a vampire. The Count finds a picture of Hutter's young innoce
nt wife, Ellen and then journeys to Wisborg, Germany to find her. Hutter is left behind in the vampire's eerie castle until one night when he manages to escape. By the time Hutter returns to his own home in Wisborg, the Count has spread a plague across the countryside. Too weak to battle this nefarious monstrosity, Hutter unknowingly leaves Ellen vulnerable to Orlok's attack. But Ellen, having read Hutter's journal and a book about Nosferatu, prepares to destroy the Count the only way she can. She plans to sacrifice herself to the undead Count and in so doing distract him until the sun rises since the first rays of the morning sun are lethal to the Nosferatu. In the final climactic scene Count Orlok creeps into their home and feeds on the virginal heroine's blood and then he meets his demise. Ellen's self-sacrifice and her defeat of Count Orlok lifts the accursed plague from Wisborg forever.


As a fan of both German expressionist films from the silent age and of the
Dracula theme, this film has become my all-time favorite film. When I heard that Kino International was going to re-release the film in a 2-disc Ultimate DVD Edition, I was thrilled. Having now seen the restoration, I must say that I am in awe. The quality of the transfer is greater than that found in any other available version. In fact I almost felt as if I were one of those lucky people who viewed this masterpiece during its original release.
Albin Grau's conceptual artwork and storyboards for the film.
There have been many, many releases of Nosferatu on DVD, and most of these are put out by small distribution companies. These DVD versions are typically of a very poor quality and as such are available at low prices. However there have been two prestigious distribution companies, Image Entertainment and Kino International (a.k.a. Kino On Video), which have created high quality transfers of the film. For the latest and most impressive release, Kino International has united with Transit Film and the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung (translates to Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation). Utilizing the highest quality prints of the film available, they have to the best of their ability duplicated the look and sound of the film as it was shown in theatres in 1922. And for the first time ever, the film features the original score as composed by Hans Erdmann.

This 2-disc
Ultimate DVD Edition includes the gloriously restored film in two versions; one with newly translated English intertitles and the other in the original German. This excellent DVD also includes "The Language of Shadows: Murnau - The Early Years and Nosferatu" documentary, which explores Murnau's early career and his connection with the occult, archival excerpts of eight other Murnau films, "Nosferatu: An Historic Film Meets Digital Restoration" featurette, an image gallery, and a scene comparison that examines the similarities and differences between Stoker's novel, Henrik Galeen's screenplay, and the final film. Overall this set is spectacular, but where some may be disappointed is with the content on disc two, which only contains the film with the original German intertitles. Kino could have at least included a commentary track with a film historian or an alternate score such as they di with their prior DVD release. But unfortunately this was not to be the case. Now, all said the film restoration is beyond fantastic and the special features on disc one are great which earns the Ultimate DVD Edition my highest recommendation, though I wish that disc two had been more elaborate in its content. Any minor complaints aside, this DVD makes a perfect gift for cineastes and horror fans alike. This DVD is a wonderful tribute to Murnau's legacy as a filmmaker and a triumph in the art of film restoration. 
Original theatrical poster image
Here is a link to Kino's official website, where you can purchase the 2-disc
 Ultimate DVD Edition of Nosferatu and other classic silent films:
Nosferatu (2-disc Ultimate DVD Edition)

Nosferatu (Kino International's 2-disc The Ultimate DVD Edition)
]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2008 00:43:59 +0000
<![CDATA[ mesmerizing... magical...]]>
Based on two separate German plays written by Frank Wedekind ("Der Erdgeist" and "Die Büchse der Pandora"), Louise Brooks plays Lulu, a beautiful young dancer, full of life and vitality, and with a special talent in luring respectable men to ruin. Lulu is involved with an older newspaper magnate, Schön (Fritz Kortner), despite his engagement to another woman. Their affair blows wide open when his fiancee discovers them in a very compromising position; and Schön is forced to marry Lulu in order to avoid a scandal. On their wedding night, Schön tries to force Lulu to shoot herself, but in the ensuing struggle it's Schön who ends up dead, and Lulu is sentenced to five years in prison. Her friends create a distraction in the courtroom and Lulu flees the country with a "borrowed" passport. Accompanied by Schön's son Alwa (Franz Lederer), Lulu runs to London where her ultimate downfall is just around the corner...

Louise Brooks, with her shiny black bobbed hair and lithe dancer's body, was the ultimate 1920s jazz baby, a hoofer from the Midwest who never wanted to become a movie star, but unwittingly created one of the most haunting characters in movie history with Lulu in PANDORA'S BOX. Brooks made only a handful of movies (most of her early silents have sadly been lost forever), but we can be thankful PANDORA's BOX is still here, as vibrant and as vital as it was when first released back in '29.

PANDORA'S BOX is filled with lots of haunting imagery, the provocative storyline genuinely shocked audiences of the times (the film was heavily-edited following it's American debut). Perhaps most importantly, it preserves the heady atmosphere of pre-war Weimar Berlin, just a few short years before Hitler took power. According to sources, Pabst was just about to sign a young unknown called Marlene Dietrich until Brooks (in self-imposed exile from Hollywood) became available for the part.

If you're a fan of silent cinema, PANDORA'S BOX will be an essential title. If you want to start exploring the slender catalogue of Louise Brooks films, it's a great place to start.]]> Sat, 19 Apr 2008 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Truly terrifying]]> Sun, 18 Nov 2007 12:00:00 +0000 <![CDATA[ How to Win a War Single-Handed]]> Pros: Keaton and the train

Cons: Glorification of the Confederacy (PC thugs need only apply for this one)

The Bottom Line: Ten bucks on the Washington Generals

International action superstar Jackie Chan stated in his autobiography that the first action heroes in movies were really the giants of the silent film era. This may not mean much to an intellectual such as yourself, as it's coming from a guy who once flew around a city dangling from a rope ladder, jumped onto a hot air balloon, and jumped off a building. A guy willing to do all of those things in the name of entertainment isn't exactly going to be a successor to Thomas Edison or Abraham Lincoln. But in the same book, Chan also says he's sometimes smarter than he looks. And his assessment of those great silent comedy stars was right on the money.

Take Buster Keaton in his classic movie The General, consistently ranked as one of the greatest movies ever made. In The General, Keaton performs numerous stunts with the help of an actual train. What Keaton didn't have was a team of medics who could rivive him should anything happen, or any safety gear, or any bluescreen technology to perform stunts that are just too dangerous to perform in real life. The risk is real, and Keaton could have been seriously hurt performing many of his own stunts.

In The General, Keaton stars as a young railroad conductor named Johnny. Johnny in in love with a girl named Annabelle at the outbreak of the Civil War. To earn his badge of courage, Johnny has to go enlist with the Confederate Army. At the recruitment center, the recruiters decide Johnny's current position is more helpful to the Confederacy's cause than being a soldier. Unfortunately, they overlook the idea of actually telling him that. So Johnny, dejected, goes to tell Annabelle the Confederacy won't take him. But due to a misunderstanding by some of her reletives, she is told he never showed in the first place. Annabelle gives Johnny the boot.

Johnny works on the railroad all the live long day for the next year before some Yankees steal his train. In one hell of an act of bravery, Johnny goes out to take his train back. In the process, he damn near wins the Civil War!

The great thing about silent comedies is that they seem almost cartoonish. But since they're not actually cartoons, the humor in them never appears dated. With actual cartoons, you have to keep thinking up original sight gags and ideas to stay fresh. With actual people, you can watch and laugh your head off because so much of the material just doesn't date. You know that real people just shouldn't be capable of doing outrageous stunts like the ones in The General, and so you love them and appreciate them even more. It's easy for people to watch The General and laugh their heads off while wondering just how big Buster Keaton's balls were.

Many of the stunt sequences pale in comparison to what Jackie Chan is capable of. But you have to remember Buster Keaton didn't have the benefit of a rigorous martial arts training regimen either. What Keaton pulls off with a vaudville background is phenomenal. Keaton is extraordinary in sequences where he has to clear off the tracks in front of his train.

The train is Keaton's real co-star. The movie revolves around the train, so that's only natural. There are many comedy sight gags set around the train, and most of them are very creative. There's a hilarious scene with a cannon, several sequences involving train sabotage, and a great scene where a bridge blows up and a train falls into a river.

It should be noted that people's attitudes toward the Confederacy weren't as politically correct back then as they are now. Keaton is notably being the good guy in The General, and he's working for the Confederacy. I was perfectly alright with this, but there are people who may be a little testy about the Confederacy being displayed in such a positive light. Just remember Intolerance and Gone with the Wind, both classics, are guilty of this same thing.

The General is a great lesson in how to make an epic, perform your own stunts, and have everyone out of the theater in less than two hours. You'll wish more filmmakers would take heed of its existance.

Yes]]> Sun, 2 Sep 2007 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Silent Masterpiece.]]>
The story of THE GOLEM has been around for centuries and is a good one (this version of the story was even filmed once before). Story aside, the most memorable things about THE GOLEM are the visualizations and cinematography. The images in the film (even if you see the film in a poor quality transfer) are stunning. THE GOLEM is a film that once you see it, you will remember images from it for a lifetime.

Besides just being a quality silent film, THE GOLEM is notable for two reasons. Cinematically, the film had a huge impact upon many later filmmakers, especially James Whale who paid homage to the film in many of his key scenes in FRANKENSTEIN.

The second major reason the film is notable is because of the eerie historical foreshadowing it had. The film was released in 1920 and portrays Jews in a positive light. However, the Jewish people in the film are persecuted, are forced to live in a ghetto, and have their livelihoods threatened. The oppression of the Jews in the film is quite similar to the oppression the Jews faced in Germany just prior to the rise of the Third Reich.

THE GOLEM is a film that any student of cinema should see at least once and is a movie that fans of silent films will probably adore.]]> Mon, 28 May 2007 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Movie is 5 Stars, But DVD quality is only 3.]]>
This version of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME is notable for the fine performance of Lon Chaney. Chaney was known as "The Man of a Thousand Faces" and Quasimodo is one of the more famous faces that modern audiences might recognize him as. In a time in which makeup was not thought of positively and prosthetics were viewed as something unnecessary and burdensome, Chaney performed wonders with the makeup and prosthetics that he created almost entirely himself. Just as impressive is his physical performance. Partially assisted by a plaster hump that weighed about 15 pounds, Chaney portrays Quasimodo as a physically tortured creature weighed down by his deformities and forced to walk around like a strange hybrid between a monkey and a frog. Younger viewers might laugh at the physical mannerisms, but they are quite impressive.

I enjoyed watching THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, but I was somewhat disappointed by the overall storyline. Hugo's story is a fascinating masterpiece and would make a great film if a filmmaker would stick to the story. Unfortunately, filmmakers rarely do and change things around to make the story lighter and happier. The antagonist of the original story is Don Claudio Frollo, a priest torn between his devotion to God and the struggle within himself between the love and lust for Esmeralda. However, in this version of the story Frollo is rarely seen and is portrayed as a perfect saint. Instead it is Frollo's brother, a relatively minor character in Hugo's story, who is turned into the villain. Esmeralda and Phoebus also receive major character overhauls in this version of the story. After hearing so many positive things about this film so long, I was disappointed by how much it deviates from Hugo's tale.

However, the worst thing about this DVD is the transfer. There are times when the film is scratchy and there are other times when parts of the film aren't lined up properly and are cut off from the screen.

Nevertheless, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME is worth watching if you are a serious movie fan or have any interest in cinema history.]]> Mon, 5 Mar 2007 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Montage after montage after montage after montage]]> Pros: Historical significance, the famous Odessa Step sequence

Cons: Everything else

The Bottom Line: Historically significant, for history fans, not for casual viewers.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie''s plot.

Normally I can try to view an older film through a different set of mental lenses and filters. I could not find a way to do this for the classic The Battleship Potemkin.

The film is divided into three distinct sections (5 chapters in the film, but only 3 major sections). The first section is aboard the battleship Potemkin toward the end of Russian involvement in WWI. Sailors mutiny over bad conditions, most famously soup made from maggot infested meat. During the melee, the leader of the mutiny is killed. Section two is in Odessa as the citizens rally around the mutineers, particularly the dead Vakulinchuk, “killed for a plate of soup.” The tsarist army tries to squash the popular support. The third part has the Potemkin going out to the Black Sea to face the imperial navy and either get them to surrender to the cause of the Bolsheviks or die trying.

This is a propaganda film made in 1925 by the master of the montage Sergei Eisenstein. I have no problems with the propaganda aspect at all (it and the famous Odessa Step sequence are the only reasons I requested it). Propaganda can only be a complicated as the intended audience can tolerate. So there is what I call a Sesame Street quality to the narrative—there is something for the children, but it is done in such a way to appeal to adults while not being condescending. The common folk for whom this was meant would have no trouble getting the message since it is delivered with no subtlety at all. Those interested in the art of film can marvel at Eisenstein’s editing abilities. That said, because I could not find the correct mix of lenses and filters to watch the film, I can only say that film historians and scholars would find the film engrossing.

The whole movie was one big montage. The Odessa Step sequence is just the most majestic of them. At least it was somewhat coherent, but I could not follow the reasoning behind many of the others. The first one that caught my attention was the incident that caused the mutiny. A group of sailors who would not follow a command to move was covered with a tarp and ordered shot by firing squad. The boisterous Vakulinchuk convinces the firing squad to lay down their arms. The very swift changes from full face close-ups, legs of the condemned under the tarp, the other soldiers looking down as if in prayer or away, the vicious looks (literally villainous moustache twisting) of the officer crew, faces of the firing squad, and their rifles would make sense to increase the tension, but Mr. Eisenstein doesn’t stop there. He throws in shots of the ship’s yard, the life saver with the ship’s name on it, the bow of the ship and so on. These, to me, motiveless shots served not to heighten the tension but break it up so that, finally, I didn’t care what happened to the sailors. By the time the firing squad put their arms aside, I was a bit nauseous of all the swift changes that seemed to be there for no reason.

In Odessa, things are a bit more meaningful. Tension and crowds mount around the fallen Vakulinchuk magically. It is as if the whole city has heard about the mutiny and heroic death and has turned out en masse to pay respects or just ogle the curiosity of it. The camera work prior to the riot is, beyond doubt, masterful. The camera glories in the faces, the mourning, and the hope of the peasants who have turned out. The camera looks askance at those with means. One lady of means is given cinematic sympathy because she seems to recognize the rightness of the crowd (she is unusually attractive for this film and she lifts her veil a bit and smiles as if to say ‘right on’). One man, who is presumably killed, laughs at the crowd in a dismissive manner and is overtaken by the peasant men around him. (In an odd cultural aside that has no antecedent or call back within the film, before the man is overtaken by the mob, he tries to blame the situation on Jews; this moment is so jarring from a narrative perspective it doesn’t make any sense within the film; you would have to be fairly well versed in the history of the time to know why this statement would even have a place.) Otherwise, the wealthy are just white dresses and pressed pants—their faces obscured if in the shots at all in a way that their peasant counterparts are not.

The riot itself is just chaos. Control is maintained for three portions of the famous montage. One little boy is trampled and his mother (who in a personal aside looks like a man who could play Dracula) picks him up and confronts the row of tsarist riflemen with the body of her dead son. They shoot her. A bullet also finds a woman pushing a pram. Scattered about the mob scenes is her slow death and how her fallen body gives enough push to the pram to send it down the stairs. The baby in the pram then takes his/her place among the quick shots of the mob, the riflemen, the peasants scrambling for a hiding place and so on. And in what is one of the most heartless moments of any movie in recent memory, when the baby makes it to the bottom of the stairs, he/she is hacked to death with a sword wielded by a man I can only describe as insane.

This is where the propaganda is at its best. The noble peasants try to stand up against the army as bravely as possible, but are no match for bullets and their own fearful comrades. Some amount almost anachronistic multi-cultural sensitivity deserves mention. During this montage that seems to last forever, the women do most of the talking—not the men. Further, Eisenstein makes David Lynch look like an amateur when using the disabled or disfigured. He uses a man with one leg, a legless man and people with disfigured faces as heroic types during this sequence. The propaganda angle is obvious. But there is more to it. When American filmmakers use the disabled, they tend to point to the nobility of their efforts to be ‘normal’ or whatever—the tired notion of noble suffering rewarded in some way. What I saw was just a population of a city fully represented and the disabled and disfigured were shown not as different, but as having equal worth, not special worth.

The montage for the final portion, facing the rest of the Black Sea fleet, is just as strange as the first one. There were several shots of ropes or rigging or other inanimate things thrown in with the supposedly anxious crew (who are quite good at sleeping despite being anxious). Again, rather than adding to the anxiety, it detracts from it.

To sum it up in a simple comparison: Eisenstein uses montage, at least in this film, with the same frequency as Spielberg uses special effects; do it even if it doesn’t make sense because it is loaded with a ‘wow’ factor.

The score was by Dmitri Shostakovich and was ok, if you like him. I am not a fan of Russian classical music in general (it tends to favor the brassy more than the strings of more western music), and not a fan of Shostakovich in particular. The score fits though. It is frenetic and meanders in one direction and another, just as the film. The best I can say is that it is not distracting—the film takes care of that all by itself.

The film is interesting only from a historical prospective. If you are a fan of revolutionary Russia, early film techniques, or propaganda, then this is a film you must sit through. If these things do not appeal, do not bother.


]]> Fri, 7 Jul 2006 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ the original screen 'Phantom' still packs a hell of a punch]]>
Lon Chaney gives the performance of his career as Erik, the tortured Phantom who roams the sewers and labyrinths of the Paris Opera House. His attentions are piqued by the beautiful young singer Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) though she is already being courted by Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny (Norman Kerry). As passions rise, the young lovers are terrorised by the demonic Phantom as he vows to make Christine his bride...

Lon Chaney turns in a polished performance as Erik (riding high on the success of his legendary turn as Quasimodo in Universal's HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME). Mary Philbin's ethereal beauty serves her well as Christine, and Norman Kerry does all he can to overcome the one-dimensional character of Raoul.

The set built for the Paris Opera House was the biggest and most elaborate free-standing set ever assembled for a picture at the time. The lavish 'Bal Masque' sequence was shot in the relatively new 2-strip Technicolor process.

The original silent version of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA premiered in 1925, but when the advent of sound occurred in 1929, Laemmle released a new print of PHANTOM with the voices dubbed in (sans Lon Chaney) and new ballet and opera sequences inserted. The film was re-edited by Walter Anthony.

The version that most people would have seen is actually a composite of the 1925 and 1929 versions. The print features the tinting (done according to the original 1925 specifications) and the new ballet/opera sequences, with a full orchestral score provided by Gabriel Thibaudoux. The original 1925 version is rarely-seen because of it's badly deteriorated picture.]]> Sat, 19 Mar 2005 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Pedestrian compared to Haxan]]>
I think my thoughts on this movie will differ from those of most of the reviewers, though. I think the sets and the look of the characters are the most interesting things about this movie. Is it actually from 1921, though? On the VHS I have, it says "released in 1919" right on the box. Beyond that, the camerawork and production values seem to be quite a bit less than the those of many other films from the early '20s.

This movie has its moments, but if you really want to see a movie from the early '20s that is psychotic and strange even by many of today's standards, try Haxan, from 1922. For those of you who think Dr. Caligari or the flying monkeys scene from Wizard of Oz are creepy or scary, you will be utterly horrified by Haxan. Haxan is a movie that couldn't have been made by American studios until probably the late '60s... and lots of people still would have been outraged even then, I'm sure.

Haxan has better cinematography and production values, and every aspect of it is more twisted and evil than anything in Caligari. Plus the acting is alot better. Caligari is worthy as an historical artifact and for its influence, but Haxan is better in every single way. There are things in Caligari that are laughably bad or just boring. Haxan is a twisted masterpiece of evil and perversion, and worthy of many more viewings.

Having said this, if you are really into Dr. Caligari, Mark Dresser (incredible bassist, improvisor, composer) released a music cd of the same name. His The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is available on this website in the music section.]]> Sat, 9 Oct 2004 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Visually stunning but flawed]]>
The special effects are rudimentary, but boy do they pack some bang for their buck. The camerawork and heavily shadowed lighting lends a sombre and dreamy air to proceedings, and there are certain images, particularly at the beginning of the picture, which are astounding: Murnau's representation of the plague and Faust's invocation of the Devil (it reminded me of the strikingly similar Robert Johnson legend) are especially memorable scenes.

For all that, the middle of the film loses momentum badly. This is mostly not Murnau's fault: the Faust legend doesn't, when you analyse it, make for awfully good cinema. The dramatic impetus is done at the end of the first act. Once Faust has made his pact, it's game over; the rest of the story is just the slow revelation of the enormity of what Faust has done.

Murnau has a go at modifying this to make for a better screenplay, but it doesn't work. The Faust/Gretchen love interest isn't enough to hold up the last hour of the film, and bizarrely (given the decidedly unsettling opening scenes) Emil Jannings plays Mephisto not for dread but for laughs. I suppose that's the only way the Faust story has any credibility - we can believe that a beguiling trickster might pull a fast one on the fundamentally decent Faust, but not a horrible Satanic Majesty. But I don't think that is an excuse to turn the Devil into Oliver Hardy.

In his attempt to pull a happy ending out of the Hat (Goethe and Marlow don't have a happy ending, Faust scholars will note), Murnau eschews his slapstick for good old fashioned incoherence: Mephisto and Faust take leave of the screen altogether and Gretchen goes postal, things get very maudlin - to what point, your guess is as good as mine - and, rather abruptly (given how the last 30 minutes dragged) it's all over.

Just as there is for the new edition of Nosferatu, there is a commentary track prepared by an Australian actor with a comedy baritone voice. It isn't quite so insightful, however.

Well worth a watch, but you are left wondering what might have been.

]]> Tue, 5 Aug 2003 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Keaton Classic.]]> Fri, 31 Jan 2003 12:00:00 +0000 <![CDATA[ Mesmerising cinema]]>
What is greatest about it - and pretty much everything about it is truly great - is the visual imagery and the beautiful way in which every scene is framed. I think I'd have missed a lot of this if I'd been focusing on a linear narrative, which is what an audio dialogue would have obliged me to do. At first the absence of dialogue seems an imposition on the modern viewer (it wasn't one on the director, for I am certain he felt no need for it) for it forces one to concentrate on looking. It seems an odd thing to say, but in these enlightened cinematic times, I really don't think we look properly any more. And what a treat it is when you do.

Not a frame is wasted. Each shot - even such innocuous scene-setters as morning light falling across Hutter's face and Ellen relaxing with a kitten by a window - anticipates another, and creates or reinforces motifs as the film carries on. Murnau subtitled Nosferatu "a symphony of horror", and (though it must sound frightfully pretentious to say so) the construction of this film really is symphonic.

While it forged countless cinematic devices which have since become cliches of the horror genre, when you view it as a symphony, it really isn't a horror at all. In this day and age it isn't frightening, but it certainly is haunting, and beautiful, but more than anything else, it's sexual. Despite having seen many different versions of the Dracula story (including Coppola's overtly sexual reading), I had never appreciated how deeply this story is an essay on sexual repression and potency. When you look at it this way - Nosferatu is really just a personification of Hutter's absent sexuality - the horror falls away. And this is unquestionably how it was intended: Watch Ellen's first approach to Hutter at the commencement of the film. We see the closed door, resembling a coffin lid. She opens it and creeps around the door, and approaches Hutter - from stage right - with her talons outstretched. When he accepts her embrace she nuzzles into his neck ... action for action, it is exactly how Orlock first approaches Hutter in his castle. Given how carefully every scene was framed (from time to time they resemble paintings, they're so well constructed), this could not possibly be a coincidence.

Aside from the bloodsucking (which apart from the final scene, is all implied), there are many truly haunting images: darkness seeping like blood across the Carpathian valley; darkening skies behind the rugged mountains; the black ship of death silhouetted against the sun; a procession of funerals down an otherwise abandoned Wisborg street; Ellen waiting amongst partially submerged crucifixes on a desolate ocean beach for her loved one to return (note to file: it is Orlock who is coming by sea; Hutter, by contrast, is coming round the mountains); and one quite extraordinary shot in which, as the black horse-drawn coach carries Hutter to Orlock, the frame is suddenly plunged into the negative - but eerily, the Coach and Horseman remain black...

The version I viewed had an extremely enlightening narrative from a satin-voiced Australian film critic, and some interesting featurettes about the history of the locations in which Nosferatu was filmed.

the only point on which I'd mark the film down - and then only really on "authenticity" grounds - is for its curiously (and ironically) dated sounding electronic soundtrack, which sounded like it was generated some time in the eighties. While it is a moody, discordant piece which fits the film well, the obvious anachronism does jar a little at first.

Werner Herzog made a fairly faithful "talkie" remake of Nosferatu in the late 1970s with the great Klaus Kinski as the count and Wagner's Gotterdamerung providing the soundtrack. This is well worth checking out, but in terms of building your film library, Murnau's original is a keeper.

Olly Buxton]]> Sun, 17 Nov 2002 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Wish I Would Have Known Sooner.]]> Unfortunately, I had never seen METROPOLIS until I bought this Madacy version of the movie. I bought the DVD for a whopping (Money). I knew that the quality was probably going to bad (I only paid (Money)), but I never expected it to be this bad. I wish I could have read some of the reviews here at Amazon first. Much of the printed narrative at the very beginning of the film is completely cut off the screen. The film is rather grainy and at points it is difficult to see anything on the screen. Also, there are several times throughout the movie that the film skips like a scratched record. My only positive comment about the film is that I did enjoy the musical score, it reminded me of sitting in a theatre and listening to an orchrestra perform while a silent picture was being projected onto a screen.

The movie METROPOLIS deserves five stars. This DVD, would have gotten only one star, but because I still came away enjoying the film and because I liked the score, I give it two stars. Now I just have to wait until the Vino DVD version comes out and I can sell this puppy for fifty cents.

]]> Fri, 20 Sep 2002 12:00:00 +0000