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Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922 or 1929) - Blather, Rinse, Repeat
May 1st, 2009
08:13 am

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Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922 or 1929)
or, "Nosferatu, a symphony of horror", but which I've been mistranslating as "a symphony of the grey".

This is a silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" novel. It was made without permission of the Stoker estate, and Stoker's widow won a lawsuit which led the film to be almost entirely destroyed. Some copies made their way to France, outside the jurisdiction of the courts demanding that the prints be destroyed, and so the movie has passed down into public domain.

In 1929, an edition made it to the United States, which explains the confusion about the dates.

Since the movie is in public domain, there are several editions available. Depending on the version that you see, the main villain might by Count Graf Orlok, or they might dispense with the ruse and just say that it's Count Dracula. The edition that I saw was one of these latter editions - Dracula, Renfield, Van Helsing, and so on. I found that somewhat disappointing - I would rather have seen the version of the film that was truer to the filmmaker's original intent, and do the translation into the Stoker cast of characters myself.

It's been a while since I've seen a silent film. I'm surprised at how hard it is for me to see these characters as actual characters, and to see the craft of putting the characters before the screen as actual acting. In the first few minutes of the movie, the hero and his wife pantomime their way through a scene where he gives her flowers. I get it, you love her. Oh, and he has to go to the Carpathian mountains, wow that must make you very sad. Sad like a zombie, I guess. Acting styles change, though, so if I'm going to be watching film from the 20s, I have to be prepared for that sort of thing.

One more gripe I had with the edition I watched was the selection of music that played with it. Clearly somebody selected some classical music and dubbed it in as a soundtrack. I wonder if the entirety of the selection process was finding a number of pieces that added up to the running length of the film. I know that for many silent movies, the local movie theaters would provide their own accompaniment, including deciding what music to play with the movie. So I'm not complaining about an inauthentic experience - I'm sure that this selection of music might have played somewhere. I just figure that a good accompanist would have selected a broader selection of moods, including some spooky or suspenseful pieces during the suspenseful parts of the film. I guess my notions of film music were shaped by George Lucas, and the use of leitmotif in Star Wars. Movie music doesn't have to have character-based themes, but it's certainly something that I would have liked to have seen in this movie.


In the queue: "The Birth of a Nation" and "Metropolis" are sitting on my stack of DVDs - perhaps I'll see one of them, soon. I also have the 1931 "Frankenstein" and 1935 "Bride of Frankenstein" coming soon. I think my tolerance for silent films or just early film will have burned out as I push through those, and I'll find myself in movies of the 60s. 81 to go.

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From:markpedigo
Date:May 1st, 2009 03:49 pm (UTC)

Shadow!

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Now that you've seen Nosferatu, I'd recommend you (re?)watch Shadow of the Vampire, which is a creepy little (fictionalized) number about the making of Nosferatu. The hook is that the "actor" who plays Nosferatu is *always* in character -- he only comes out at night, no further makeup allowed, he never eats with the crew, etc. Then the cameraman becomes anemic... If features some good performances by Willem Defoe and John Malcovich, and some really good creepy atmosphere.
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From:tsmaster
Date:May 1st, 2009 03:53 pm (UTC)

Re: Shadow!

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Oooh, that's an interesting suggestion. I think I've seen a bit of that flipping around on cable.

I think watching that might connect up in my brain with "Nosferatu", and combine to make a single agreeable whole.

Thanks!
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From:markpedigo
Date:May 1st, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)

Re: Shadow!

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You're welcome. I was on a movie kick a while back and watched the two in tandem. For me, Nosferatu was merely a(n) historical curiosity, nothing more. But it did deepen my enjoyment of Shadow, which is already one of my all time favorite horror movies.

Enjoy!
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