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Director: F.W. Murnau
Cast: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröder, Alexander Granach
Length: 97 min
Disks: 2 (1 BD, 1 DVD)
Label: Eureka Entertainment
Release Date: Nov 18th, 2013
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Type: B&W Tinted
Audio: LPCM 2.0; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Two audio commentaries: one newly recorded by film historian David Kalat; the second by historian R. Dixon Smith and critic Brad Stevens
- The Language of Shadows, a 53-minute documentary on Murnau’s early years and the filming of Nosferatu
- New video interview with BFI Film Classics: Nosferatu author Kevin Jackson
- Exclusive video piece taped by and featuring filmmaker Abel Ferrara
- Newly translated optional English subtitles with original German intertitles
- 56-PAGE BOOKLET featuring writing by Gilberto Perez, Albin Grau, Enno Patalas, and Craig Keller; notes on the restoration; and rare archival imagery
- Theatrical Trailer
F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)—the first (unofficial) adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the most atmospheric and doom-laden of vampire movies, has been restored in HD, to its former silver nitrate sheen by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung, and released by Eureka Entertainment as part of their excellent “Masters of Cinema” series. This is where vampire films began, 92 years ago—nine years before Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and all the vampire movie clichés that would follow. Only Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr can compare to Nosferatu as a genuine work of cinematic art.
This is the first time we see Hutter/Harker silence the tavern locals when he announces that his destination is Castle Orlok. This is the first time we see the coachman abandon Hutter, refusing to take him any closer to the castle so close to nightfall. This is the first time we see the truly horrifying black coach and draped horses approach Harker at breakneck speed, with Graf Orlok disguised as the coachman who will take the frightened visitor to the castle. Contemporary audiences may laugh in the wrong places, but these scenes weren’t clichés when they were filmed in the summer of 1921. Indeed they are still quite unsettling, largely due to the forbidding Tatra mountain settings of Slovakia. (Nosferatu was almost entirely shot on location, unlike most German films of that era, which were filmed at Ufa’s gargantuan studios in Berlin).Schreck’s Orlok is no glamorous screen vampire in a dinner jacket–catnip to the ladies. No, Orlok is bald, rodentine, emaciated, with bat-like ears and a hook nose and a dirty coat that reminds me of the Nazi stereotypes of the Wandering Jew in later anti-Semitic propaganda films. Orlok is not only an ugly vampire (the model for Reggie Nalder’s Kurt Barlow in Salem’s Lot – 1979), but a plague-carrier. In his maritime journey from Transylvania to Lübeck, Orlok brings with him coffins full of graveyard dirt, filled with rats. In Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels’ incredibly racist documentaries (which even Adolf Hitler thought were overstated), Jews were compared to rats and dehumanized as bringers of pestilence to the healthy German body politic.
In Siegfried Kracauer’s book, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film, the author postulates that many German Expressionist films reflect the chaos of the Weimar Republic and somehow predict the arrival of an evil dictator who will bring order to the country but destroy it in a cataclysmic war. However, as it is set in Germany of the 1830s, Nosferatu is as Romantic as it is Expressionistic, heavily influenced by the haunting landscape paintings of Caspar David Friedrich (Wanderer above the Sea of Fog) and Arnold Böcklin (Isle of the Dead).The strange psychic attraction between Hutter’s virginal wife Ellen and Orlok is never explained, at least not to my satisfaction. Why Ellen should sacrifice herself to the vampire by keeping him in her bedroom until sunrise is a puzzle. Ellen rescues her child-like husband, even though their marriage has seemingly never been consummated. The Professor Van Helsing character in Nosferatu (here named professor Bulwell) is completely useless, and as played by John Gottowt, a Paracelsian mystic who utters platitudes and stands by helplessly as the Hutters are attacked by this repulsive outside force.
Acting honors go to the great Austro-Hungarian character actor Alexander Granach, who plays the spider-eating Renfield character, here named Knock, the grotesque real-estate agent who sends Hutter on his mission to Transylvania and worships Orlok from afar as “The Master.”
The following text appears at the start of the film: “Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens was restored by Luciano Berriatúa on behalf of Friedrich-Wilhelm Murnau-Stiftung, Wiesbaden in 2005/2006. A tinted nitrate print with French intertitles from 1922 of Cinémathèque Française, Paris was used as basis for the restoration. Missing shots were completed by a safety print from 1939 of Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, Berlin/Koblenz, drawn from a Czech export print of the 1920s. Other shots were taken from a nitrate print of the 1930s’ version, distributed under the title Die zwölfte Stunde [The Twelfth Hour] preserved at Cinémathèque Française, Paris. Most of the original intertitles and inserts are preserved in a safety print from 1962 of Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, Berlin/Koblenz, originating from a print of 1922. Missing intertitles and inserts were redesigned on the basis of the original typography by trickWilk, Berlin. They are marked with ‘FWMS’. The lab work was carried out by L’Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna.”
Broadly speaking, this is probably the best that this historic film has looked since the early 1920s. Of course the presentation isn’t perfect—there are a myriad of scratches, debris and other age damage that simply can’t be gotten rid of without having a negative effect on the film’s texture, but this should not bother anyone intent on seeing Nosferatu in all its glory. The main thing is, the restoration was judicious, and never goes too far. So what we have here is a first rate archival presentation of a historic film, and unless a pristine nitrate print is found in someone’s attic, it’s unlikely that Nosferatu will ever look better.
NOTE: This is the exact same restoration used in Kino Lorber’s new blu-ray release in the USA, and looks identical.
For the soundtrack, we are given a newly-recorded reconstruction of the original music composed for Nosferatu in 1921 by Hans Erdmann. Berndt Heller conducts the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra, and they sound marvelous. Both the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 tracks accommodate the music very well, allowing its many crescendos to expand beautifully.
Among the extra features on this remarkable restoration are onscreen commentaries by British Film Institute Film Classics Nosferatu author Kevin Jackson and director Abel Ferrara, who discusses how he rediscovered the greatness of Nosferatu while making his neo-vampire film The Addiction in 1995; two audio commentaries: one newly recorded, extraordinarily well researched commentary by film historian David Kalat; and a second commentary by R. Dixon Smith (author of Ronald Colman: Gentleman of the Cinema) and film critic and Sight & Sound contributor Brad Stevens; Luciano Berriatúa’s The Language of Shadows: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and his Films, a 53-minute documentary on Murnau’s early years and the filming of Nosferatu—an oddly structured film that follows Murnau’s rise in the creative arts scene in Berlin in the teens and twenties and suddenly morphs into a then-and-now comparison of locations used in the film… many of them having barely survived World War II. Very few locations (other than the abandoned salt storage warehouses that serve as Orlok’s dwelling in Lübeck) withstood the Allied bombings. It’s very sad to see Nosferatu’s pristine fairy-tale cityscapes so altered and hastily rebuilt.
Nosferatu’s ugly beauty is finally revealed after decades of murky bootleg copies in this brand new high-definition restoration by Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung. I remember seeing a scratchy, speckled 16-mm print of Nosferatu many years ago and dismissed Murnau’s masterpiece as an overrated horror film. How wrong I was. At the time, I much preferred Werner Herzog’s scene-for-scene 1979 color remake, Nosferatu the Vampyre, starring the great KIaus Kinski as Dracula and a young Bruno Ganz as Jonathan Harker.
What makes this cleaned-up print of Nosferatu such a haunting experience are the flawless direction by Murnau (who never puts a foot wrong and edits the film musically), the excellent screenplay by Henrik Galeen, the brooding, eerie score by Hans Erdmann, the dazzling cinematography of Fritz Arno Wagner and the occult-influenced costume and set design by Albin Grau (who also produced for Prana Films). Lost intertitles (of which there are many) have been carefully replaced, and the film’s 94-minute running time hurtles by like Orlok’s phantom carriage. Snap this one up before it’s out of print.