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F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens

Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens

Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens

Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens, Germany 1922; restored version (2006). Directed by F. W. Murnau, written by Henrik Galeen.

Bambi Theater 1, Row 2, Seat 8. Original version.

(This post originally appeared, in slightly different form, at my Instagram account betweendrafts.)

Let’s first address the elephant in the room. On the one hand, the movie’s imagery and some motifs are deeply problematic, obvsly—particularly when taking the rekindling of antisemitic paranoia at the time into account. On the other hand, was Murnau antisemitic? According to the evidence, not at all. Perhaps his screenwriter, Henrik Galeen? Oy, he’s Jewish! So the lesson is, same as with dark/light metaphors and stuff, never employ the tropes of your time without subjecting them to scrutiny.

This 2006 version is fantastic—with the movie properly tinted and restored, including its titlecards, and as many pieces of Erdmann’s original soundtrack reconstructed as possible. Last time I watched it in the theater, eons ago, it was much shorter, in black and white, with different music, and it was set not in Wisborg but Bremen.

So why was it so difficult to restore?

Because, loosely based on Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula novel, all copies of the movie were ordered to be destroyed on copyright grounds, at the behest of Stoker’s heirs, because the movie’s publisher had gone bankrupt and there was no one left to pay a licensing fee whose legitimacy was questionable in the first place. Well, so. I always tell my students, if you want to become a famous writer, please, for the Love of Cthulhu, don’t create any potential heirs to establish utterly unhinged “estates” to fence off your work for all eternity (Hemingway, Faulkner, Conan Doyle, Tolkien, PKD, the list goes on, I’m looking at you).

Otherwise, what can I say. Expressionist movies are very expressionist! Roger Ebert wrapped it up succinctly: “Here is the story of Dracula before it was buried alive in clichés, jokes, TV skits, cartoons and more than 30 other films. […] It knows none of the later tricks of the trade, like sudden threats that pop in from the side of the screen. But Nosferatu remains effective: It doesn’t scare us, but it haunts us.”

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