director F.W. Murnau
Every October I not only dedicate more and more of my film viewing to horror films, but I select horror films for my film viewing with my kids. And for the first horror film of this October, I went for the first feature length adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula to be put on film.
However, F.W. Murnau and the Prana Film Studio didn’t secure the rights to Stoker’s work, and the resulting lawsuit nearly obliterated what is now considered a masterpiece of German Expressionist cinema. The suit, which the studio lost, not only doomed it to bankruptcy but required all copies of the film destroyed. Lucky for all, as thorough as they were, versions persisted.
For me, this was one of the Holy Grail films of my childhood. I read about the German Expressionist films, though they were only written in the books that I read at the time as the original horror films. I didn’t manage to see it until I was a teenager. My kids don’t have my same obsessions, but I still thought they would appreciate seeing such a landmark movie.
Of course, it was far more interesting for me than them, so call it a wash if you will. I had only just seen Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), which pays homage to Nosferatu, a week or so before, so the story and its variants were fresh in my mind. I found myself explaining why it was called “Nosferatu” rather than “Dracula” among other aspects of the story. Of course, Max Schreck’s weirdo vampire is plenty freaky, even all these years later, so he certainly had some power when onscreen.
The “day for night” shooting in the film perplexed me when I first saw it as a teen. It threw Clara too. I explained it to her.
It is interesting how Murnau uses the natural landscapes for the story, a contrast to the wacky abstract designs that color other Expressionist films. Of course, Felix has seen Metropolis (1927) but Clara had not. I had been thinking of watching The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) with them. Now, I think I’ll give them a bit of a break on the film schoolin’.
I personally think it would be informative to watch Murnau’s films in closer succession to one another. A few years back I watched his The Last Laugh (1924), Faust (1926) and Sunrise (1927), but certainly not within close reach of one another. In fact, it had probably been some years since I’d watched Nosferatu all the way through.
As for watching silent Expressionist movies with my kids…we’ll see. We’ll certainly watch some other horror films this month, but I’ll throw in some variety. Maybe by the end, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari will seem appealing…maybe next year.