Well that was a hell of a thing, huh? Well now that you've had the opportunity to watch Nosferatu, let's talk about what you thought. This was my first viewing, as I wanted to to experience it with a fresh set of noob eyes as I'm sure a few of you had. I've never been big on silent films, but I must say I enjoyed this 1922 Murnau classic. Let me break this down like a fraction and throw out a few discussion points. Jump past the bump to kick this shindig off!
Which Version Did You Watch?
In the great movie market of the world there are innumerable versions of Nosferatu. The one I chose for this discussion was, by necessity and/or convenience, the version on the Netflix Watch Instantly menu. This was touted as the "original version," but my doubt lingers even after having viewed it. First of all, there is no freaking way that the original version had so generic and obnoxiously disconnected a score. The music on the Netflix version sounded as if someone simply purchased a Pure Moods CD from Wal-Mart and played it on loop against the film. It effectively underscores nothing and I spent most of the film with it all but muted. What I found is that the lack of music provided far more benefit than the lackluster afterthought score. I would advocate watching this is total silence to improve the ambiance. I will concede that perhaps an original score never really existed and that instead silent movie houses were left to their own devices to create an appropriate accompaniment. I don't know enough about the history to weigh in. But I have to imagine the purveyors of this DVD could have wrangled a better composer if they had put forth even the slightest effort. I'm curious, if you didn't watch the Netflix option, perhaps you had seen it before, which version did you see? What was the music like? If Klaus Kinski was in it at any time, I assure you that you were watching the wrong version.
A great deal of what feeds the buzz regarding Nosferatu has to do with its creepy atmosphere made all the more impressive by the era in which it was made. I found the black and white simultaneously helped and hindered the establishment of atmosphere. There were scenes in which it narrowed the focus down to a single figure looming in the background that were impossible to get out of my mind even hours after the film had ended. But at the same time, it was often difficult to tell what time of day it was supposed to be which muddled the effect. What did you guys think? Did you find the atmosphere effective or were the limitations of its cinematography too distracting. More to the point, did you find the film boring overall? I know that tends to be a common question for me, but when dealing with a film of this age and storytelling this devoid of frills, it is a valid one.
This film would not have worked in the least without its lead actor. Schreck is a creepy-looking dude to begin with and it took only a modest amount of makeup to transform him into the grotesque Count Orlok. I found his ability to create fright out of the most innocuous of moments utterly spell-binding. My favorite moments of the entire film are the ones in which he is standing in doorways with those enormous eyes piercing into the darkness or when he slowly rises from the coffin in the ship's belly. Interesting bit of trivia, "schreck" is the German word for terror...no shit! The guy was postulated to be an actually vampire given his staggering commitment to method acting; something examined at fictional length in Shadow of the Vampire. I could find little evidence for this actually having a solid basis in reality, but it is still interesting fodder for legend. What did you think of Schreck? Was he your favorite Dracula? If not, did you find his major deviations from the Dracula archetype interesting or silly?
Cutting Edge Effects
I know it sounds ridiculous to label a film from 1922 as cutting edge, but given the limitations of the era, it really is. I'll start with the simplest example; so subtle it probably went unnoticed. Murnau actually uses transitions between shots. In the early days of filmmaking, this was nearly unheard of. The standard of the time was to employ sharp, abrupt cuts from one scene to the next because the technology really didn't exist to edit in fancy transitions. What Murnau did was to close his lens cover almost all the way, cut, and then start the next scene with the aperture at the same place and gradually opening it. It is negligible on first glance, but in the context of the time it's quite impressive. Equally as impressive are the time-elapsed photography and stop motion animation. The scene wherein Orlok is loading coffins onto the wagon exhibits both of these. It's not the most polished of effects, but again, quite amazing given the time. What did you think of the effects? Other than Nosferatu, what is the earliest film you had seen to employ visual effects?
Vampire cinema is as varied and multitudinous as film itself. I know I have my favorites, but there are so many of them that I have to break them down by decade. Here is my list of favorite vamps from my favorite decade: the 80's. I'm interested to know your favorites from the various decades. Throw out a few titles, tell me what you like about them.