Monday, October 05, 2020

NYSferatu: Symphony of a Century – review

Director: Andrea Mastrovito

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

Please note the review is taken from a screener, the screenshots, therefore, have a layer of watermarking that may, or may not be obvious.

So this is a rendition of Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens created as an animated rotoscope recreation and moves the film from 19th Century Germany to 21st Century New York, though the foreground figures keep the form of the original film. It is startlingly beautiful but it is the reappropriation of the messaging and themes that is most startling.

Liberty cries

The imagery, similarities and differences to Murnau’s masterpiece were possibly more apparent as I watched this, as I had just a couple of days before re-watched the Kino restoration of the original, whilst researching a piece I am preparing for an upcoming project. The film starts with a close up of Lady Liberty, a tear running down her cheek. Of course, she is much abused by vampirism – the famous picture of her being attacked by a vampiric George Bush by Alex Ross and, perhaps even worse, her featuring at the head of the risible Mama Dracula with post production fangs. This film purports to tell the tale of the Great Regression.

guns in background

What we see, at the head between Hutter and Ellen is faithfully reproduced but with backgrounds adapted for New York. Be it the cityscape through the window or, as Hutter packs, racks of assault rifles on the wall. Hutter is sent to Palmyra by Knock – in this the real estate agent is known to the police – and the incitement for Hutter is making his rent. Palmyra is in Syria and as well as the nature of the city (New York will be described as a vampire, the people as transparent as ghosts) the story looks at immigration, human trafficking and the desperation of a people wishing to escape a life torn apart by war.


Some of the moments are idiosyncratic – reaching back to the film we see Hutter set off (from NY, remember) by horse. Interestingly Hutter’s name changed frequently, depending on scene, to variants including Hunter, Hunted and Nutter. A fabulous moment, as night fell at the inn and Hutter was forced to stay due to curfew, was that werewolves were not mentioned but we saw combat ready troops abseiling from choppers. Actually, the hyena still featured – though it scavenged in trash.


When we meet Orlock his first intertitle is in Arabic, with the English beneath. But then each intertitle with his words on is in a different language (and alphabet, with Chinese lettering and Cyrillic also appearing). This makes Orlock everyman – the non-English speaking world othered by the (US and UK) media and politicians. Interestingly Orlock makes comment about grabbing Ellen by the neck – referencing the infamous recorded commentary by Trump and, when we see her sleepwalking in New York, the actual ‘pussy’ quote is reproduced in the windows like stained glass.

immigration forms

Back in New York, the arrested Knock makes reference to “Money is life” whilst the papers sent to Orlock are not the papers for the purchased property on Ellis Island but immigration papers. If Dracula contained a fear of reverse colonisation, then this makes the immigrants the victims as well as being represented by the vampire. The ship (which for a moment becomes a modern vessel before reverting to the form from the original film) is a death ship, piloted by smugglers (human traffickers), the first to die are other desperate passengers until only Orlock remains. The US authorities call the immigrants an infestation, mirroring far right rhetoric. I also loved the reasoning for bringing native earth, which also served as a mirror for the rewarding diversity that immigration awards to a populace.

Let the Right Ones In

I was taken by the animation; I loved the themes explored. The film was referential to other vampire vehicles – written on the ship was Let the Right Ones In pluralising the famous Swedish vehicle, whilst referencing immigration, and a curfew is called in New York From Dusk till Dawn. The musical score was astonishing, fitting the locales and contemporary setting well. Only some of the intertitles left me cold, with the odd moment of modern vernacular not really fitting for me. These were few and far between.

There is so much in this that there will need to be several viewings. 8 out of 10. The imdb page is here.

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