NOSFERATU, EINE SYMPHONIE DES GRAUENS (1922) wurde durch die richtige letzte Nacht gegeben at the Landmark Loews in Jersey City last night – and it was terrific.
Noted as a free adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula NOSFERATU, directed by F. W. Murnau is the earliest known film to feature the story of Dracula and is – therefore – the one that set the standard. Even Tod Browning’s version, which I myself often refer to as the first is influenced by this 1922 film.
The story depicted in NOSFERATU is familiar except the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Or – actually the names were changed because Bram Stoker’s widow said that her husband’s work was being ripped off – and rightfully so, I might add. So Mrs. Stoker sued. The case went to court and the verdict was that all copies of Murnau’s movie had to be destroyed. Somehow (luckily) at least one copy survived, which has since been restored and we have this affecting movie to enjoy today. It’s somewhat ironic that although all subsequent Dracula film incarnations credit Bram Stoker’s source material, it is undoubtedly Murnau’s movie that inspired all the others because it’s striking how the telling of the story follows Murnau’s version closely in most cases.
In Murnau’s film the word ‘Nosferatu’ replaces the word “vampire” and according to the Vampire Research Society the word is Romanian, also used as nosferat. And it is defined as a “decidedly lustful species said in local folklore to be the illegitimate child of illegitimate parents. Shortly after its burial, the creature stirs, leaves its grave, and not only sucks blood but also engages in sexual contact with the living. According to some beliefs, the male is thought to be able to impregnate women whose children are destined to become moroii.”
CREEPY! I suppose one can say that Murnau’s NOSFERATU suggests that Count Orlok, who replaces Count Dracula in the movie engages in sexual contact with the living, but I choose not to go there. Although it is lust that
leads to his demise. Orlok, played by Max Schreck differs from later, romanticized versions of the vampire. He is a truly lifeless creature, a cursed beast who is even referred to as a predator. Orlok follows his urges for survival and never tries to disguise anything with human sensibilities. This “Dracula” is not Hollywoodized as all the ones that follow are to one degree or another. This Count is a killing machine with no romance or sexiness attributed to him – again, as the vampire lore has so often been portrayed in cinema. Orlok has claws for hands, bat-like ears and his fangs are like a rodent’s in the middle of the mouth, instead of (possibly) semi-attractive canines. In other words, he’s hideous.
The story depicted in NOSFERATU is described as “the story of the Black Death,” a plague that befalls the town of Wisborg, which begins with a real estate transaction that takes Hutter to Transylvania. Hutter would be the counterpart to Jonathan Harker in more familiar versions of the story. Hutter works for real estate broker Knock who is the character equivalent of Renfield. In any case, Count Orlok is interested in buying a house that sits opposite the one Hutter shares with his young wife, Ellen. And you know where it all goes from there.
SPOILER! Look away if you don’t want to know the ending – but I must say the way Count Orlok meets his end is fantastic in this movie, arguably the most satisfying of vampire endings ever because he stays true to the depiction of the creature described above. It turns out that a book about demons, vampires and the seven deadly sins – or similar topics – that Hutton brought back with him from Transylvania explains that the only way to kill the Nosferatu is to have an innocent maiden offer herself to him. So, after the plague has taken hold of Wisborg Ellen decides to sacrifice herself by succumbing to him so that he is unable to notice the cock crow and is therefore exterminated by sunlight. Although several other versions of Dracula show the Count dying by sunlight the fact that there is no fight in this version with the Count sort of accepting his fate because of his nature (if you will) makes for an effective end to the story.
And the plague of the Black Death comes to an end.
|Max Schreck (Count Orlok / Nosferatu),
Gustav v. Wangenheim (Hutter),
Greta Schröder (Ellen, Hutter’s wife),
Georg H. Schnell (Harding, a ship-owner),
Ruth Landshoff (Annie, Harding’s sister),
Gustav Botz (Dr. Sievers, the town doctor),
Alexander Granach (Knock, a real estate agent),
John Gottowt (Professor Bulwer, a Paracelsian),
Max Nemetz (Captain),
Wolfgang Heinz (1st sailor),
Albert Venohr (2nd sailor),
Guido Herzfeld (landlord),
Hardy von François (doctor),
Last night’s screening was at the Landmark Loews Jersey, which I’ve discussed on this blog several times before as it is one of the few surviving movie palaces of yesteryear, which just celebrated its 85th anniversary. Needless to say this is the perfect venue in which to watch classic movies. Last night’s NOSFERATU screening had live musical accompaniment by Ben Model on the Wonder Morton and it truly was one of the best scores I’ve ever heard. Mr. Model keeps an unbelievable schedule. Here’s his website. I recommend you take a look to see where he might be playing near you. Also you can follow him on Twitter @silentfilmmusic or on Facebook, Ben Model.
I’ll be visiting the Landmark Loews Jersey again tonight for a great double bill, James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and the one I am fearing, Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING (1963). Hope to see you there.