Troublemaker filmmaker Mel Brooks appropriated the myth of Dracula with his Dracula, dead and happy to be, which has become a cult for some. But lovers of fresh blood, those who relish, all canines out, the sweet cinematic beverage will prefer other vampires; the oldest Christopher Lee, the forties the Dracula of Coppola or Lestat in Interview with a Vampireseries addicts, those who populate the universe of buffy or of True Blood. As for the youngest, they will turn to Robert Pattinson and Twillight (not knock) even Morbius (yes all tastes are in nature).
But all the names mentioned will remain forever in the shadow of the original vampire, namely Nosferatu the Vampire, the tenth feature film by the brilliant director FW Murnau. The public knows the legendary 1922 film, if only by name, but few people have seen it. This is why, while a remake is in preparation, we must urgently return to this pure masterpiece, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the feature film.
We don’t have color, we don’t have sound, but we have ideas
What if? Let’s imagine a world without bad films, a world where everyone is equal, a world that would have allowed Murnau to produce a feature film that lived up to its size. A world in which the filmmaker does not die in a tragic accident… Bad luck, this world does not exist. On the other hand, the world which saw Murnau free himself from the limits of his time does indeed exist, a world enlightened by Nosferatu the Vampire.
Very skilful, Murnau managed to extract the substrate from the elements at his disposal, until exhaustion. Although he is not the first to use certain artifices and even less music, he succeeded on the other hand in applying a symbolic character to these elements like no one before him. On Nosferatu, it uses tints on the screen, in order to distinguish the day (in yellow), the sunrise (the pink) and the night (in pale blue green). The process is then transformed into a diegetic component by its symbolism: the yellow color obviously refers to the solar star, to the fateful rays for the vampire, while the pale blue/green contributes to the rise of anxiety during the period of activity. of Earl Orlock.
Hans Erdmann’s score blends perfectly with the sound tones desired by Murnau, coupled with the general atmosphere of each scene. It resounds at the time of the drum rolls of a messenger, tends towards the bass during the prophetic rantings of Knock and redoubles in intensity when Hutter declares that he wants to return as soon as possible, in order to save his beloved.
These processes prove to be all the more effective when they marry the evocative staging of Murnau. The drum rolls give way to the cries of the messenger, which become audible in the spectator’s unconscious while the drop of blood which pearls from Hutter’s finger reddens by association in the mind of the audience. This allegorical power will reach its peak when Murnau deploys his horrific device.
The face of fear
In effect, Nosferatu the Vampire does not only embody the film of an era, but the one that will pave the way for all the others, especially when Murnau inoculates the venom of fear both in its protagonists and in the spectator. Admittedly, the feature film may seem outdated in the eyes of a generation brought up with gore excesses supposed to frighten. But Nosferatufar ahead of its time, laid the foundations of horror cinema, later taken up by the greatest. Starting with his work of suggestion. Thus, while in Fritz Lang nothing exists outside the field of the camera, Murnau, on the contrary, also diffuses the inexorable evil personified by the blood drinker, without revealing his presence on the screen.
Renowned for its play of shadow and light, Nosferatu the Vampire instills terror thanks to the appearances of Count Orlock, but also via his absence from the frame, when his spirit prowls or only his shadow leaves traces of his passage. Elemental incarnation of dread, Count Orlock feeds suspicions and maintains doubt until the moment when he reveals his true nature, from time to time in spite of himself, like the scene of Hutter’s investigation, in the depths of the castle.
The director freezes the blood of the public, from the moment when the hero becomes paralyzed, at the sight of the sleeping monster in his coffin. A stylistic effect ahead of its time, extremely simple, which will then be taken up by other filmmakers, to better underline the impotence. Thus, the marine solids collapse dazed in the inconceivable presence of the vampire, like the final victim of Sadako in Ring by Hideo Nakata. The inconceivable, it is still in question when Murnau confronts the threat this time invisiblethrough Knock’s demented lyrics or Ellen’s distant gaze, which feels like the viewer’s off-camera aura of the vampire.
A vampire who would probably never have been so impressive, without the performance of Max Schreck. Murnau offered the comedian of Max Reinhardt’s troupe a role to his excess as the actor plays wonderfully well with his emaciated and angular physique, suitable in the interpretation of the blood drinker. Moreover, Murnau frightens more when he associates Evil with the ferocity of society, comparable to that of the evil being. The manhunt launched against Knock and his unfair trial perfectly symbolize this vision. Symbolism, primary base of the expressionist fable of the director.
Nosferatu emblem of expressionism
What is German Expressionism? A phase of the MCU that takes place in Berlin? Quentin Tarantino’s new fad? Martin Scorsese’s next rant? Something to impress at dinner parties? Seriously, rather a cinematographic current which marked its time, by offering the world Metropolis Where M the Cursed by Fritz Lang and which extended its influence over time, since Orson Welles, Charles Laughton, Tim Burton, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Terry Gilliam (and many others) applied certain expressionist principles in their work.
Traumatized by the war, some artists, like Murnau, chose to move away from the realistic side present in German cinema to better nourish their designs, their critical portrayal and their unique narration. Expressionist cinema does not shy away from focusing on the psychological turmoil, madness or thorny moral issues of its time. On a formal level, expressionism relies on symbolism and the evocative power of decorations, objects and staging. This is why, despite some specificities, Nosferatu the Vampire personifies like few other works, the expressionist current.
Indeed, although Murnau partly shoots in natural environments, which is contrary to expressionism, the film on the other hand appropriates and transcends all the components that define this singular movement. From symbolic decor to various themes, everything fits to structure, for the best, this expressionist building. For example, the representation of the castle of Count Orlock illustrates very well the work of the filmmaker. Gigantic, seen from the outside, the cursed residence reveals cramped aspects within it, while no corner can hide the unfortunate visitor from the eyes of the vampire.
Murnau perfectly constructs its space, the fortification supposed to be impregnable by the enemy becomes here a prison from which one cannot escape, a tomb much narrower than that which shelters the creature of the night. As for the themes dear to the expressionists, they run through the feature film with an unusual rage for the time. In this context, Nosferatu the Vampire focuses both on the mental disorder that strikes Knock, considered as a common prisoner and not as a patient, as on the disastrous fate of the crew of the boat, condemned like the soldiers sent to certain death, during the First World War .
But Murnau impresses more when he equates Ellen’s destiny with a Christ-like passion. although he stripped, beforehand, all the biblical references that fueled the subject of Bram Stocker in the original novel. While her spouse has failed to protect her and the town is torn apart, Ellen fights desperately, with all her might against the hold of the Count at the cost of terrible suffering. And it is with the sacrifice of his blood that the victory over the vampire will come. On this point, you should know that to accomplish his goal, the filmmaker ignored the good Puritan morals in force, by instilling an erotic scent with each attempt to seduce the living dead, until the final kiss.
Moreover, nothing would have been possible without the collaboration with Albin, Grau producer and artistic director on the feature film. A member of a pansophical lodge, Albin Grau was versed in occultism. He thus disseminated in the decor or other elements, esoteric references. The undertaking has further reinforced the symbolic and therefore expressionist character of Nosferatu the Vampire at the arrival.
The shadow of Nosferatu the Vampire continued to expand over the years since Francis Ford Coppola was greatly inspired by Murnau’s feature film for DraculaWerner Herzorg directed a remake of the film in 1979 while Tim Burton named its antagonist Max Schreck (played by Christopher Walken) in batman challengein homage to the film.
It is also necessary to note the aesthetic occurrences present in the monsters Citizen Kane and the hunter’s night. First summit for Murnau, Nosferatu announces the two other masterpieces of the filmmaker, namely The last of men and Dawn.