Saturday, April 22, 2006

Nosferatu (industrial gothic mix) - review

Director: F W Murnau

Release date: 1922

Contains spoilers

This is the review of the classic vampire movie, Nosferatu. However, with a little twist as I shall be reviewing it in terms of the gothic industrial mix release, by Cleopatra Home Video. As such I’ll be giving the film two scores at the end, one generally for the film and the second for the score.

For those who don’t know, Nosferatu was the first filmed version of Dracula. Murnau was unable to obtain copyright permission to make the film, but shot it anyway. Stoker’s family sued and Murnau was forced to destroy the copies of the film. Luckily five copies survived, but with so few copies of such an old film the quality of the film stock is, unfortunately, not the best. There are two visual versions that can be found, one in black and white and the other (the version used here) in a sepia tone. The film also runs at various lengths, in this case some 63 minutes which indicates it is not the restored version. However, even the unrestored version is worth watching.

As the film had no copyright permission Murnau changed many aspects of the movie. The film takes place in Transylvania and Bremen rather than England and the name of Dracula was changed to Count Orlok (Max Schreck). It is interesting to note that, despite the name change, the English language version reverts back to the name Dracula.

Indeed all the name’s change. The original German had the character Hutter, who in the English version became Jonathon Harker (Gustav von Wangenheim) and Ellen became Nina (Greta Schroder) – though why not Mina is beyond me. For the review I’ll use the English names that have been taken from Stoker’s original.

Harker is sent by his employer Renfield (Alexander Granach) to Transylvania in order that he can sell a house in Bremen to Count Dracula, interestingly Renfield refers to Transylvania as the Land of Phantoms. On route he stops at an inn, in which he finds “The book of Vampires”. He resumes his journey to a point where the coach will go no further and is picked up by the Count’s coach. The shooting of the Count’s coach is brilliantly done. The film is sped up to make it’s movements otherwordly, the horses are draped in full head and body rugs and there is even the use of a negative shot.

Dracula is, of course, a vampire and preys on Harker. He also shows a strange interest in Harker’s photograph of Nina. There is a fantastic scene where the Count approaches Harker in bed, Harker’s scared, rapid movements juxtaposed against Dracula’s slow deliberate movements. Meanwhile in Bremen Nina falls into a somnambulist dream and then cries out to Jonathon, her cry alerting him to the danger. It is within these scenes that we see the Count in his true form, he is an ugly creature, with long clawed fingers, exaggerated ears and twin fangs at the front of his mouth, rather than the more commonly used (in later films) side fangs.

Dracula travels to Bremen on the ship the Demeter, followed eventually by Harker. The boxes of his native earth are filled with rats and this ties strongly with one of the themes of the film. The Nosferatu is the plague bringer. The captain of the Demeter believes the plague has come, we see a newspaper clip that the black sea ports have been visited by the plague and the eventual vampiric attacks are classed as a plague. The use of rats reinforces the plague concept.

It is interesting to note also that Murnau’s vision has a voracious vampire. Whilst Stoker had the crew of the Demeter preyed upon, here we discover there is the Captain, the mate (who throws himself overboard), 7 crew and 5 passengers. Stoker’s Dracula had little noted impact in London, and the main vampire attacks were by Lucy the Bloofer Lady. In this Murnau has processions of coffins through the streets.

Nina discovers the Book of vampires and the way in which a vampire can be killed in this film. He must be offered, willingly, the blood of a woman of pure heart and kept by her side until the cock crows. This is, of course, how the vampire is defeated.

The film is still incredibly atmospheric, with startling images and many modern film makers could do well to study the techniques that Murnau used.

Musically, the gothic industrial mix is excellent and, as it is to my taste, I much prefer it to a more traditional score. It does have its problems, however. The music is very modern and this can almost make the film feel like an arty music video rather than the music being the score of a film. Most of the music is taken from the CD “Vampire Rituals” and is performed by Rozz Williams of Christian Death. Note that the cover of “Vampire Rituals” has Bela Lugosi on it – oh well!

For a rating the film itself must get 10 out of 10, for either the restored or unrestored versions, as this is a marvelous landmark piece of cinema. For the music in this version I’m more inclined to aim towards 7 out of 10 due to its very modern feel that, whilst I do like it as I said, can sometimes feel out of place.

Nosferatu, in black and white (rather than sepia) with a more traditional score, can be downloaded from the Archive note it quotes a run time of 64 minutes, but the version I downloaded from there came in at 84 minutes.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

Actually I believe Orlock is referred to by all 3 names. Count Orlock, Dracula, and Nosferatu. Maybe there is a German context i am missing from that.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I think it depends on the version. In t his English languagte version he is refered to as Dracula (in the credits also). The reference to Nosferatu - which is there - is more as in you would refer to him as a vampire (imho) ie. he is dracula a Nosferatu. The two versions I have (the dvd and the downloaded) don't mention Orlok as far as I can remember, but I am sure there will be English versions that mention Orlok also!

Bottom line, however, is it is a marvelous film.

Anonymous said...

The new soundtrack didn't do much for me personally, but I did laugh out loud when during the scene where the carriage is carrying Hutter (Jonathan) to the castle the song shouts out "Oh boy you're dead now!". That was a great moment, but I prefer the old music because it fits better.

The T said...

A masterpiece. Can't get any lower rating. Too fantastic to be true. One of the best. I love the Kino Video version which runs longer and has different color filters for scenes depending the location

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Th T, it trully is... sort of... let me explain. Avoid Orlock 3D - the 3D rendering of the film, the re-edit actually manages to make the film... dare I say it... boring...

That said, I have the Kino version but didn't re-review as there was nothing within it that raised the film higher than the 10 out of 10 - because you can't go higher than 10 out of 10.

The Kino release is a marvelous version though, beautifully restored and wonderfully scored.

I must pick up the Masters of Cinema edition at some point also, they ddo nice work too.