Nosferatu: the shadow of cinema

the year ends Nosferatu, the centenary of the jewel that FW Murnau embedded in the seventh art, and an inevitable reference point for German expressionist cinema, so I will do so that my hat is not missing here, if I had one, about to drop the curtain. Thematically it supposed the first transfer of importance of dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker, and had to resort to deception. The German producer Albin Grau used the sporting exercise of plagiarism (changing the title and some of the names of characters and places, and something –or a lot– of the plot) in order to circumvent the payment of royalties to the writer’s widow, who had died ten years ago. years before. He made two mistakes (by not leaving the tone of the cinema): the plagiarism was recognizable and Florence Balcombe, who had been a semi-girlfriend of Oscar Wilde and the wife of another prestigious author, was not exactly stupid. For the rest, he had extra help: it seems that one of the attendees at the first screening, on March 4, 1922, in a setting as in tune as the Marble Hall of the Berlin Zoo, had sent him an anonymous letter with the program de mano, mentioning the connection to the work of his deceased. Result: a judicial sentence that forced to suspend its commercial life and the elimination of the existing copies (fortunately, some had already crossed the borders, keys for subsequent restorations such as that of our Luciano Berriatúa in 2006 -the reference today-, for the rest head authority), and as a derivative, the ephemeral producer Prana declaring bankruptcy to avoid economic sanction.

In fact, Nosferatu it had been produced with scant resources, audacity, and a great deal of talent. It must be said that Prana was a producer as small as it was peculiar, related to the occult; This is attested to by its name in Sanskrit (“Vital Force”, a Hindu concept, equivalent to chi of the Taoists), governed by Grau and Enrico Dieckmann (from the Pansophist Lodge, a German scion of Theosophy) and other more hidden components. A small and short-lived production company –with only that film to its credit–, ​​although enough to channel (via the script of another believerHenrik Galeen, and the visual mastery of Murnau) several hermetic signs, some more recognizable than others such as the fact that life resides or is concentrated in the blood (which comes from the Mosaic books, “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus [17, 11]in the always philologically exemplary Jerusalem Bible; Bilbao, Desclée de Brouwer); «be careful not to eat the blood, because the blood is the soul» (Deuteronomy [12, 23], in the same bible); and which evidently sums up the key to Stoker’s work, “blood is life”, which is what Renfield, Dracula’s insane acolyte, shouts after pounced on Dr. Seward, knife in hand, in the novel. Two more brushstrokes of the same: Renfield himself confesses the event to Mina (the main objective feminine of the count), quite advanced the plot, and in a way religious: «The doctor present here will confirm that on one occasion I tried to kill him with the purpose of increasing my vital forces through the assimilation by my own body of his life through blood… trusting, of course, the phrase of the Holy Scriptures: “Because the blood is life””; being at the same time the revealing of a hint, very early in the story, of the evil aristocrat to his guest, when he still seems amiable: “Blood is too precious” (Bram Stoker, dracula [ed. y trad. de Juan Antonio Molina Foix]Madrid, Chair [Letras Universales, 195], 4th ed., 2000, pages 424 and 140 respectively). Let us not forget either that Stoker sympathized with another lodge, that of the Rosicrucians.

Leaving aside the attraction to the occult and belonging to secret societies so characteristic of the arc between the last third of the 19th century and the first of the 20th, the truth is that the dreamlike substance of the film bewitches from its mixture with naturalism, and moves us to question whether the actor who embodied the main protagonist (Count Orlok), who responded to the name of Max Schreck (it is known: Maximilian resembles Maximale, which together with Schreck, can be translated as “Maximum Scare”) would not be a real vampire . This is the unbridled hypothesis on which the shadow of the vampire (Elias Merhige, 2000), with John Malkovich as Murnau and Willem Dafoe as Max. Whether it was or not, what is verifiable is that Schreck had his theatrical and cinematographic career before and after Nosferatustarted with the role of Don Mendo, the impoverished hidalgo from The Mayor of Zalameain Der Richter von Zalamea (Ludwig Berger, 1920). It is well known how Calderonian Germans are since Romanticism, from which it can be inferred that he would not have looked bad as another famished hidalgo, lost in chivalric romances. The desecration of Murnau’s tomb in 2015 with more than murky overtones is also proven, with the corpse (which had been embalmed) decapitated and the head missing. The beheading is the final phase to end the life of a vampire after the use of the stake, not the only way but the most popular. So we can still caress another unknown.

Among the contributions of Galeen’s script to the plot of dracula What we commonly assume, highlights the earl’s accidental discovery of the photo of the estate agent’s girl (here Hutter, not Harker) during the interview at the castle (although those fixed, squinty eyes on the medallion and the comment “your wife has a beautiful neck» do not convince us of a romantic attitude), and the small accident of the guest cutting his thumb, awakening in his host greater interest in him. None of that is in Stoker. Other divergences, which in his case have been less publicized, are the assimilation of the monster to the epidemic (its landing in the new city is accompanied by an army of pestilential rats that forces confinement and gradually decimates the population; in fact, the characterization of Orlok is an intermediate between medieval devil and anthropomorphic rat), as well as the prescriptive donation of a pure, regenerating blood, that of Ellen (Mina’s counterpart), which is offered to the vampire without resistance so that he can drink sip by sip, without haste, and forget about the passage of time (precisely him), crow the rooster and another symbol of purity, the light of day, literally dematerialize it. In addition to treating us in this last act with some of the historical sequences of expressionist cinema, he fully translates the esoteric preparation of the producer Grau, a follower of occultists such as Aleister Crowley or Paracelsus himself: that blood sacrifice can neutralize the violence of the plagues, emulsion of the excess of malice and ignorance of men, and that vampires –here their emanated symbol– are a kind of astral bodies, copies or resistances, which the real and symbolic energy of light manages to eliminate (like the UVA sun rays destroy the invisible virus; I think it shows that I write these lines in times, hopefully final, of the COVID-19). Such juicy elements can be found in much greater detail in Berriatúa’s eminent research, either in FW Murnau’s Chinese Proverbs, 2 v., Madrid, Spanish Film Library, 1990-92; well in Nosferatu: an erotic, occult, spiritualist, metaphysical filmMadrid, Divisa Red (2009), or in the documentary “El lenguaje de las sombras” as part of the extra content of the double DVD of Nosferatu (Home Currency, 2008).

On the other hand, the leading role of the threatening intangible, symbolized in that shadow of the vampire that is projected on the walls, advances and deforms, invades and it seems to have a life of its own, it is a clear example of what Murnau’s jar of essences has contributed to the cinema. Even Disney himself made the creators of the film see a copy of the film. Snow White during preparation. Well we discover her reflection in the sequence of the transformation of the evil queen into an old woman, inside her cavernous sorceress laboratory. That was the moment when, according to his own confession, another wonderful character from the fantastic, Paul Naschy, our Jacinto Molina, experienced the most fear in a movie theater, a childhood imprint that was surely key to embodying the werewolf Waldemar Daninsky for purposes, perhaps to exorcise her. Definitely the shadow of Nosferatu it is elongated

Nosferatu: the shadow of cinema