Words by Yazen-Al-Samen
The image of Nosferatu remains imprinted in our minds. One of cinema’s everlasting moments. Here is a movie about vampires in a time where the vampire movie was non-existent. But more importantly, here is a movie that has created so much myth and had such an effect both culturally and artistically that for movie buffs the name “Nosferatu” probably means more than just “Dracula”.
Based upon Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula and follows the same basic storyline, the names were changed because the Studio at the time could not obtain the rights for the books. Max Schreck stars as Count Orlok, in an iconic performance, creepy and scary, but also perceptive and soulful. He is visited by Hatter (Gustav Von Wangenheim), a state agent, after the good count expresses interest in a house in the village near Transylvania. Poor Hatter goes to the castle only to discover some abnormalities about the famous Count’s lifestyle. Orlok eventually travels to the town and finds Hatter’s wife (Greta Schroder), who becomes his obsession.
The film itself is fascinated by its leading character. It’s in love with his story. It sidesteps the clichés before the clichés were invented. The movie is not about a wealthy aristocrat with lust for blood, like he was played in some later versions. Max Schreck plays him more like rabid beast. An animal cursed. He seeks blood and darkness to live, and the movie plunges us there to wonder at that. And then later we see him with Ellen, Hatter’s wife, and we are reminded of his human urges.
“Nosferatu” is such a visual feast as well. There is something about Black and White photography that gives the film more creepiness and atmosphere. 90 years after its release, “Nosferatu” remains artistically significant. Its editing techniques, its lighting and photography and Max Scheck’s extreme performance continue to conjure up interest. It has probably become the most famous silent film. And it has a character that has become a prototype to other adaptations; and not only to other vampire films. Count Orlok probably has a lot in common with King Kong, for example.
The film was directed by F.W Murnau, a German director, who is a pioneer of silent cinema. Among his works are “The Last Laugh” (1924) with Emil Jannings, and “Sunrise” (1927), which is one of my favourite films. His ideas and techniques became blueprints for early filmmakers. This was one of his early hits, before he was killed in a car crash in 1931, at the tender age of 43.
And many years later now, we can watch “Nosferatu” and sense Murnau’s vision. A movie about a creature confined by his inner devils, who finds the beauty that forces him to come out of his tomb. It’s such a classic human tragedy, never more vividly realized in film like it is here. “Nosferatu” has been with us for nearly a century, and will probably remain for another century; maybe more.