Arte celebrates the centenary of “Nosferatu the vampire”, by Murnau


In 1922, having reached the canonical age of 27, the cinema had to renew its arsenal. It was no longer enough to show a locomotive rushing towards the objective to terrorize the spectators. Especially since they had just gone through a world war and a pandemic. Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, German filmmaker who, film after film, invented the modern language of cinema at the same time as his contemporaries SM Eisenstein and DW Griffith, therefore undertook to frighten the Berlin crowds with Nosferatu the Vampirein the wake of his expressionist precursors Robert Wiene and Paul Wegener (The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and The Golem, both in 1920). Rather faithful adaptation of the novel Dracula (1897), by Bram Stoker (whose Murnau and his associates had failed to acquire the rights, that’s why the Carpathian vampire changed his name), Nosferatu the vampire set the rules that governed vampire cinema for the century to come.

Discover or review Nosferatu the vampire in the magnificent restoration of the Murnau foundation offered by Arte, it is a return to the sources of fear in cinema. Max Schreck, who embodies Count Orlok (it is under this surname that the monster carries out its real estate operations) and Nosferatu, offers the prototype of these mutant bodies, both human and monstrous, which will populate the nightmares of the spectators.

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Among his successors, some, including Christopher Lee, accentuated seduction (almost absent here) while others exaggerated the transfer from one state to another (Gary Oldman in the Dracula, 1992, by Coppola). The fact remains that everything that has made the vampiric myth permanent since the end of the 19e century is already present in Murnau: eroticism and suffering, disease and contagion, the incompatibility between day and night. And these elements find their place in a sublime architecture which is due as much to the filming on location as to the graphic and plastic inventiveness of Murnau and his producer and artistic director, the painter and occultist Albin Grau.

Contemporary variations

We will find all this information in the documentary Nosferatu”, a movie like a vampire that Arte offers. But the bias that governs their arrangement serves neither the history of cinema nor the mythology of vampires. In the footsteps of an actor (Rainer Kühn) made up like Max Schreck in Murnau’s film, we go from film historians to a death metal group, from feminist intellectual and artist (Ovidie) to a Swiss librarian. The contributions of the contributors are of a very variable quality, an inconstancy which underlines the failure of the system which aimed to abolish the border between reality and fiction.

Fortunately, Arte’s bloody programming does not stop there. The Franco-German channel’s platform offers some contemporary variations on the vampire theme, Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), by Jim Jarmusch or At the edge of dawn (1987), Kathryn Bigelow’s early work. Added to this is a rarity Dracula in Pakistan (1967), the only horror film ever shot in the Lahore studios, the mere existence of which demonstrates that the contagion that had spread from the Carpathians to the North Sea in 1922 is impossible to contain.

“Nosferatu”, a film like a vampiredocumentary by Erich Brinkmann and Michael Müller (Germany, 2021, 75 min), available on until April 7, followed by Nosferatu the Vampire, feature film by FW Murnau with Max Schreck (Germany, 1922, 94 min), available on until April 7.

Arte celebrates the centenary of “Nosferatu the vampire”, by Murnau