Nosferatu: Chronicles from the Vaults

  • Nosferatu, helmed by iconic director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, is one of the the key works of the entire silent era
  • Both have inspired – then as now – an unending supply of texts from fans and scholars alike
  • Here is a selection of important articles on the history of this landmark horror, along with further recommended resources

This is part of a series of articles on all aspects of Nosferatu. For a general introduction to the film’s background and release history, I suggest you start with the first: Nosferatu: The Ultimate Blu-ray and DVD Guide.

Here are several important vintage essays reprinted verbatim, though some are slightly edited for grammar lost in translation. While being uniformly invaluable references, note they’re occasionally outdated. Refer to the aforementioned guide for corrected and updated info.

Nosferatu (1922) painting by Dave Stevens (1955–2008), cropped

Nosferatu (1922) painting by Dave Stevens (1955–2008)


On the Way to Nosferatu: Presentation of a Reconstruction


Murnau’s Nosferatu was never a ‘lost film’. Unlike Der Gang in die Nacht (Journey into the Night, 1920), Phantom (1922), Die Finanzen des Großherzogs (The Finances of the Grand-Duke, 1923) and Der brennende Acker (Burning Earth, 1922), Nosferatu has always been with us, in various different forms. This is largely thanks to Henri Langlois and the Cinémathèque Française, who preserved a copy of the second French version, dated 1926 or 1927. This version contained the famous title which had so delighted André Breton [when he wrote about it in Les Vases communicants aka Communicating Vessels, 1932]: “Et quand il fut de l’autre côté du pont, les fantômes vinrent à sa rencontre” [And when he was on the other side of the bridge, the phantoms came to meet him]. It could be seen as an admittedly free but by no means inappropriate translation of the original German text: “Kaum hatte Hutter die Brücke überschritten, da ergriffen ihn die unheimlichen Gesichte…” [Barely had Hutter crossed the bridge, than he was seized by the uncanny visions…]

Nosferatu (1922) charcoal sketch by Albin Grau

Nosferatu (1922) charcoal sketch by Albin Grau


It was a print from this version that reached the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1947. There, as was the norm in [then-director] Iris Barry’s time, the foreign-language intertitles were translated into English. In the process, the names of the characters (which in the French version had roughly approximated the German names) were changed to the names of the characters in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which the film is of course based on. In this it followed the first American version of the film. Orlok thus became Dracula, Hutter became Jonathan Harker, Knock (who had been Knox in the French version) – Renfield, Bulwer – Van Helsing…, and Wisborg became Bremen.

This is the form in which the film returned to Europe, first to London and the National Film Archive and thence to Germany, to a distribution company which was, in the 1960s, performing a valuable role in making Weimar cinema available to a wider public. This company translated the English titles back into German, retaining the altered names. When copies were needed for export into Francophone countries they translated the German titles (which had been translated from the English titles, which themselves had been translated from the French) back into French. The film is still shown in this form in Goethe Institutes in Montreal, Brussels, Toulouse and Paris. The descriptions of the film to be found in issue no. 228, 1979, of l’Avant-Scène: Cinéma and in Michel Bouvier and Jean-Louis Leutrat’s 1981 book, Nosferatu, are also based on this version. At the same time the graphic form of the intertitles was standardised from one version to the next, and there was a loss in image quality down the generations.

Nosferatu (1922) watercolour artwork by Albin Grau

Nosferatu (1922) watercolour artwork by Albin Grau

There is a story (I do not know whether it is true) that Henri Langlois used to remove the intertitles from prints of silent films. What is certain is that he was not very interested in preserving or restoring them. This was in marked contrast to Lotte H. Eisner, who was aware of the importance of titles, at least in German films of the 1920s, and who inspired me, 20 years ago, to begin searching for the titles of Der müde Tod (The Tired Death aka Destiny, 1921) and also Nosferatu, which were thought lost. The evidence of the script and title-list from Murnau’s estate, which Lotte had secured for the Cinémathèque Française, and which are reproduced in facsimile in the appendix to the German edition of her 1964 book on Murnau, suggested that such a search might be worthwhile. From them we discovered that in the known prints, of French provenance, a sixth of the intertitles were missing (16 out of the original 97, not counting the 19 act divisions and opening and closing credit titles), and that many of the remaining titles differed greatly from the original text. We also discovered that writing in the film had originally had a far greater importance than the French version and its descendants had suggested.

This was true not only of Nosferatu but also of Der müde Tod, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920), Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World, 1920) and Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, 1922). In the most important German films of the early 1920s, intertitles did not serve only as headings and to convey dialogue. The Caligari titles, painted by Hermann Warm, are a continuation of the sets, also designed by Warm, while, working the other way round, painted words (“You must become Caligari!”) suddenly appear in the sets. In Der müde Tod the graphic style of the intertitles (which I found as flash titles in a print in the Moscow archive) are related to the place, time and background story of the three episodes. The Golem titles bear the signature of the designer of the ghetto sets, Hans Poelzig.

Nosferatu (1922) B&W coffins insert poster by Albin Grau

Insert poster by Albin Grau

In Nosferatu the action was linked to three books: to the ‘diary’, a kind of chronicle of the plague, whence the action initially emerges and into which it finally returns; secondly, to the vampire book that Hutter finds in the Carpathian inn, just as one might find a Bible in a hotel room today, which shows him and his wife their future; and, finally, to the ghost-ship’s log book. In these books the action never simply moves on. Rather, the books edge what is seen and shown into a shadowy half-light, from both the characters’ and the viewer’s points of view. There are, in addition, letters, a page from a newspaper and various official documents.

The well-known French version and those based on it ascribed the ‘diary’ to Johann Carvallius or Cavallius, “ancien magistrat et habile historien de sa ville natale” [former magistrate and skilful historian of his hometown]. In Murnau’s title-list, on the other hand, the keeper of the diary is anonymous, without fame or title. His signature is three crosses (“three properly painted graveyard crosses” are specified in the title-list) – a voice from beyond the grave. This was obviously too irrational for whoever put together the French version.

The greatest works of the German cinema of the early 1920s almost without exception make reference to ‘author-less’ literary genres, traditional or modern: to anonymous testimonies and traditions, to folk tales, legends, books of magic, chronicles, crime novels and science fiction, but almost never to the work of well-known writers. Fritz Lang made no distinction between filming a story from a newspaper serial such as Dr. Mabuse or a saga like Die Nibelungen (1924), and when Murnau was shooting his Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage (Faust – a German Folktale, 1926), he followed not Goethe but the medieval folk epic. The anonymity of the storyteller, his voice from beyond the grave, is not the only pointer in Nosferatu signalling the disintegration of the bourgeois author and the bourgeois hero. The storyteller who signs his work with three graveyard crosses matches the vampirical Count, who finally disappears in a puff of smoke, a creature somewhere between human and animal, between life and death, a hermaphrodite like the flesh-eating plant with which he is compared in the film. (And Ellen, in the first dialogue title of the film, talks of the flowers Hutter has picked for her as though they were living beings: “Why have you killed them..?” she asks. Again, it is certainly no coincidence that this title is among those deleted in the French version.)

It is therefore not a sign of inconsistency when Murnau, having used 116 intertitles in seven different forms in Nosferatu, then, inspired by Carl Mayer, followed the example of Scherben (Shards aka Shattered, 1921) and Sylvester (New Year’s Eve, 1923) and made Der letzte Mann (The Last Man aka The Last Laugh, 1924) almost without titles, explaining that the ideal film is one without any intertitles whatsoever. The proliferation of non-literary, pre-literary, popular and anonymous forms of speech and writing already goes some way towards dissolving the link between cinema and literature, the most sustained expression of this effect being the title-less film which rests entirely on the image.

The significance of the intertitles of the original Nosferatu is evidenced by the title-list, but is illustrated even more clearly in a print preserved in the Staatliche Filmarchiv der DDR (the GDR State Film Archive) which was made available to the Münchner Filmmuseum in 1980 for our first attempt at a reconstruction. Albin Grau, who was also responsible for the sets and costumes, had done the lettering. They are like shot set-ups within the film proper, and fade in and out. Pages are turned.

This print from the GDR Archive was no more than a skeleton, but it did contain most of the titles and at least examples of almost all types of titles and inserts occurring in the film, credit and dialogue titles, the diary, the vampire book, the log book, letters, etc. Only the titles indicating the start and end of acts were missing. This print enabled us, in the 1980s, to make new prints of the titles, or to letter them ourselves in a faithful copy of the original, or to put together and then film the background elements with their text.

Also in 1980 [archivist] Mary Meerson made available to us another version of Nosferatu from the holdings of the Cinémathèque. It was again Lotte H. Eisner who had alerted the world to the existence of this version in an article for the January 1958 issue of Cahiers du Cinéma (Notebooks on Cinema) entitled L’Enigme des deux Nosferatu (The Enigma of the Two Nosferatus). It was about a version with the title Die zwölfte Stunde (The Twelfth Hour), which a certain Dr. Waldemar Roger had assembled in 1930 with the intention of releasing it with sound not optical sound but ‘stylus-sound’, i.e. a combination of film and gramophone record. This version contained a series of [newly filmed] additions, mostly designed to provide visual justification for the use of music. Many parts were changed around in order to give the film a happy ending, for example. Again and again sequences and single shots had been shortened. The intertitles were completely new and quite different. [The first version of the censorship card B 27446 is reproduced in Lotte H. Eisner’s F.W. Murnau (1964, Eng. 1973).]

There are, however, long sections where this re-edit has obviously left the original shot sequence untouched. This provided us with several shots that we had previously known in either abbreviated versions or in poor condition or indeed had not known at all. These we could now add into the reconstruction.


Intertitles are not the only aspect of 1920s cinema which was neglected, if not actually despised, by the post-war generation of cinephiles: colour is another. They came to know and love the cinema of this era in the black-and-white prints via which it was handed down to them. This was, of course, in a period when the passage from black-and-white to colour was as controversial as the change from silent to sound film had been twenty years earlier.

The Cinémathèque print of the second French version of Nosferatu was black-and-white, as were all the prints made from it, as well as those preserved in East Berlin, and also Die zwölfte Stunde.

Nosferatu (1922) insert poster by Albin Grau, red

Insert poster by Albin Grau

Nosferatu must have been in colour at the time of its release in 1922: ‘tinted’ and perhaps also ‘toned’. We make this assumption not only because this was normal in Germany at the time, but also because a vampire does not walk around in broad daylight, as he does in all the black-and-white prints of the film. A definite indication that Nosferatu was intended to be coloured was found in Act five of the film. In the shot where the wind blows a candle out, in this exact place, there was a splice, demonstrating that the sections before and after had been printed separately, the first to be coloured yellow or orange for candle-light and the second blue or green, for night and moonlight.

We do not know, unfortunately, how much influence Murnau exerted on the colouring of his films. I only remember one note, in his handwriting, in the script of Schloss Vogelöd (Castle Vogeloed, 1921), saying, “Leave the dream scenes black-and-white.” (Strangely, the relevant page has in the meantime disappeared from the script preserved in the Bibliothèque du Film.) He obviously left the rest of the colouring to the laboratory staff making the prints.

The original intertitles also indicate that Nosferatu was very much conceived as a day-and-night film. At the beginning of the film every change in the time of day is announced by a title (“… at last the Carpathian peaks lit up before him”, “Hurry, the sun is setting!”, “As soon as the sun rose, the terrors of the night left Hutter…”), followed by a twilight image a mountain view, clouds or seascapes, always without people. Later in the film the twilight images function alone, without introductory titles, to mark the change from day to night and vice versa.

In the mid-1980s Luciano Berriatúa of the Filmoteca Española, an eminent Murnau scholar, found another print of Nosferatu in the depths of the Cinémathèque vaults, a print which even Lotte H. Eisner herself had obviously failed to find. It was a coloured copy of the first (1922) French version of the film (about which Robert Desnos had written long before Breton had noted the film). [In various journals, published 6.4.23, 31.1.25 and 5.3.27; collected in Les Rayons et les ombres: Cinéma aka The Rays and the Shadows: Cinema, 1992.] Parts of the film were missing, due to deliberate cuts by the distribution company as well as normal wear and tear on the print, and the colours had altered considerably. The blue of the night scenes had disappeared completely, and [the] Nosferatu was again walking in the sunshine. Nevertheless, it was still possible to see which colour had been allocated to each section. We could also tell that the French distributor had, as was normal at the time, received the coloured positive print from Germany, producing only the French titles in France. One could therefore assume that the French version was based on the same colouring plan as the German version.

This made it obvious that night scenes had sometimes been coloured blue and green, even when a lamp was visible as the light source and one would therefore have expected yellow. In the scene at the Carpathian inn in Act one, blue exterior shots alternate with yellow interiors, as was the convention at the time, but in the scenes in Hutter and Ellen’s apartment in the final act, when Nosferatu is sucking Ellen’s blood, blue exteriors alternate with green interiors. Green, alternating with blue, underlines the eeriness of these scenes, which suggests that when Hitchcock was deciding on the colouring for The Lodger (1927) he remembered the music-hall melodramas he saw as a child, where the villain was always bathed in green light. Twilight images in Nosferatu were originally coloured pink as a rule, with only one, the shot with the flesh-eating plant, the venus fly-trap, coloured orange.


In 1994 the Cineteca del Comune di Bologna undertook, in the context of the European Community’s Lumière Project, to continue the reconstruction which had begun in Munich. First, a black-and-white negative was printed from the Paris colour print on to panchromatic stock. All missing, incomplete or damaged shots were replaced from the two other nitrate prints in the Cinémathèque Française, a nitrate dupe negative of the second French version and a nitrate positive print of Die zwölfte Stunde. A colour positive print was struck from this black-and-white negative using the method developed by Noël Desmet at the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique: “A neutral black-and-white image is first struck from a black-and-white negative and printed on to a positive colour emulsion…; this image is then exposed, without negative, to the desired colour by flashing coloured light on to it. The result is a black-and-white image on a tinted background.”

In addition to the 522 shots of the well-known version, not including titles and inserts, a further thirty gradually found their way into the reconstruction. Most are single shots or, more rarely, two or three within a sequence. Only in one place is there a short sequence of five new shots together (in a scene with Harding and Ruth playing croquet). Other shots are now longer and fade in and out where there had previously been ‘hard’ cuts, or the image quality has been improved. An extra 400 metres has been added to the 1,562 metres of the well-known version, so that no more shots should now be missing from the original 1,967 metres length.


Nosferatu (1922) B&W insert poster by Albin Grau

Insert poster by Albin Grau

Even more of a bête noire to old-school film-buffs than the colouring and toning of prints is the practice of presenting them with musical accompaniment. Henri Langlois was not, it seems, always dedicated to showing ‘silent films’ silent, and in the early days he would have Joseph Kosma accompany them on the piano. Certainly, musical accompaniments in the silent film era were normally an element in bringing a film to the people rather than a part of the film’s artistic creation, and it took a new interest in this aspect of cinema history, a desire to look beyond auteur theory, to persuade film archives and cinémathèques to start concerning themselves with the music. There are, however, indications that directors such as Lang and Murnau were no more indifferent to the musical accompaniment than they were to the colour or indeed to any part of the technical aspect of their films.

We discover from the title-list handed down by Lotte H. Eisner that the credits of the original Nosferatu give Hans Erdmann as the composer of the original music for the film, just as the Nibelungen and Metropolis (1927) title-lists name Gottfried Huppertz. Erdmann was a conductor, composer and music critic and from 1926 edited the journal Film-Ton-Kunst (Film-Sound-Art). In 1927, together with Giuseppe Becce, he published the Allgemeines Handbuch der Film-Musik (General Manual of Film Music). In 1932 he wrote the music for Fritz Lang’s Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1933).

Erdmann and Becce have reported that before completing his films, Murnau used to discuss the music with the composers. Erdmann composed his Nosferatu score as a suite which he called Fantastisch-Romantische Suite. It was published in two arrangements, one for full orchestra and one for palm court orchestra. The score contains ten titles: Idyllic, Lyrical, Ghostly, Stormy, Destroyed, Strange, Grotesque, Unchained, Distraught. None of the ten pieces, wrote Erdmann in an open letter to an orchestra director who had attacked the composition as “too highbrow”, was “planned in such a way that it must always be used in the form provided. It is of course possible to do so, but by no means obligatory.” The suite was used in the cinemas of Berlin “with varying degrees of success. Sometimes very good effects were produced, but in other cases the results were less satisfactory.”

I finally heard this music, arranged by the Berlin musicologist Berndt Heller and played by the DEFA Symphony Orchestra (now called the Babelsberg Film Orchestra), during a presentation of the film in a church in Neu-Ruppin in the Brandenburg Marches. What struck both Heller and myself, completely independently, was how the musical and colouring effects reinforced each other.


Leading German film historian and preservationist Enno Patalas was director of the Munich Film Museum from 1973–1994 and he oversaw the restoration of numerous German classics, particularly the work of directors like Fritz Lang , Ernst Lubitsch , Georg Wilhelm Pabst and F. W. Murnau. This essay, in a much shorter form, was originally written as a letter to Lotte H. Eisner (1896–1983) at the time of the second restoration and titled Nosferatu will nicht sterben (Nosferatu Will Not Die). It’s reproduced here, in Film-Korrespondenz (bi-weekly, 1955-1990) nos. 5/6, 13.3.1984, and in F. W. Murnau: Nosferatu (ed. Fritz Göttler, 1987). The version published here, updated to include the 1995 restoration, also appears in:

Another equally informative Nosferatu related essay by Patalas, though much broader in scope:

Il Cinema Ritrovato 1995 catalogue notes (original PDF)


Nosferatu’s 1995 restoration premièred in May that same year in a midnight screening at the Cannes Film Festival, alongside its newly reconstructed original 1922 score. Following that, it was screened outdoors at Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato film festival on 25th June, before going on to play the London Film Festival.

Piazza Maggiore | ore 22

Ritrovati e Restaurati / Rediscovered & Restored

Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens (Germania, 1921 [sic])
R.: F. Wilhelm Murnau. S.: dalla novella Dracula di Bram Stoker. Sc.: Henrik Galeen dal romanzo Dracula di Bram Stoker. F.: Fritz Arno Wagner. Scgf.: Albin Grau. In.: Max Schreck (conte Orlok alias Nosferatu), Gustav Schröder (Ellen), Georg Heinrich Schnell (Harding), Gustav von Wangenheim (Thomas Hutter), Alexander Granach (Knock), Max Nemetz (Schifftskapitan), John Gottowt (Bulwer), Gustav Botz (Sievers), Wolfgang Heinz (Maat) . P.: PranaFilm, Berlino.
L.: 1970m, D.: 94′, col., 35mm.
Da Cineteca del Comune di Bologna, Münchner Filmmuseum Stadtmuseum, Cinémathèque Française, Cinemateca Portuguesa
Restauro realizzato con il contributo del Projecto Lumière

Original score by Hans Erdmann reconstructed by Gillian B. Anderson, who conducts the Orchestra Sinfonica dell’Emilia-Romagna “Arturo Toscanini”

Nosferatu (1922) poster by Rafał aka Lafar88

Nosferatu (1922) poster by Rafał aka Lafar88

The Music

Hans Erdmann Timotheos Guckel (18881942) was born in Breslau. He was a violinist, composer, musicologist and orchestra conductor in the theatres of Breslau, Riga, Jena, Potsdam and Brandenburg (conducting, amongst others, one of the first representations of Orfeo by Monteverdi). Besides the music for Nosferatu , he composed numerous other cinematographic accompaniments. The most famous of these is probably that which he composed for Der Testament der Dr Mabuse (1933) by Fritz Lang. He engaged actively in the promotion of music in cinema with the publication of a periodical. He was also the author of Allgemeines Handbuch der Filmmusik (General Manual of Film Music, 1927) along with Giuseppe Becce.

The book not having had a worldwide distribution, Erdmann couldn’t spread his ideas on music cinematographic accompaniment -largely based on opera tradition- any further.

The score of Nosferatu was forgotten and is now missing; luckily another one of Erdmann’s works, Fantastish-Romantische Suiten -inspired by the latter- was published by Bote und Bock in 1926.

Thus, as far as the reconstruction of Nosferatu‘s music accompaniment is concerned, we could work on three main sources: Erdmann’s Fantastish-Romantische Suiten and Erdmann/Becce’s Allgemeines Handbuche der Filmusik -both entrusted to the Library of Congress- as well as the complete music score of Marschner’s Der Vampyr. We could also consult the press review on the film’s presentation, thanks to the kindness of the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek.

Gillian Anderson, silent film music composer

Nosferatu (1922) with Gustav von Wangenheim (L) and Max Schreck

Nosferatu (1922) with Gustav von Wangenheim (L) and Max Schreck

The Restoration

The last phase of the restoration of Nosferatu began when a nitrate colour print, corresponding to the first French release version, was found thanks to Luciano Berriatúa. Besides finally furnishing indications of the tints present in the film (in its French version, certainly, but the indications that these correspond to the German ones are consistent), the copy presented an exceptional photographic quality, although obviously lacking the original titles and being incomplete. Moreover, the copy was badly scratched, on both the base and the emulsion. Taking account of the copy, the Münchner Filmmuseum and the Cineteca di Bologna decided on the complete task of the collation of the materials already known from the film, on the basis of which the black and white version and the new copy were established. The purpose was to obtain a complete version based on all the existing copies – both in colour and in black and white – and which restituted the original chromatism of the film, established on the basis of the recently found French print.

The next step was duplication (by optical wet-gate in order to limit the scratches and to bring back the frameline to standard) of the French copy to reproduce as well as possible the photographic quality. From this obtained dupe negative, a black and white work print was produced, which was used for comparison with the Münich print, which already included the diverse existing materials. Once this phase of the reconstruction was concluded, we arrive at an accurate editing list. This includes indications about the source of every frame and title of the film, together with information about the colours.

 Nosferatu (1922) with Gustav von Wangenheim; UK Masters of Cinema Blu-ray

Nosferatu (1922) with Gustav von Wangenheim. UK Masters of Cinema Blu-ray

The necessity to homogenise the different materials available becomes apparent at this stage. These materials differ deeply in photographic quality, contrast and frameline position. In order to achieve the best results, it was decided to start again using the elements closest to the first generation of the film, which also had been deposited in the Cinémathèque Française. Thanks to the collaboration of the French archive, it was possible to have access to the dupe negative of the period of the second French version of the film; and also to the nitrate positive print of Die Zwölfte Stunde -a later version of the film which was remounted and destined for sound.

Once these materials were received, the next step was a careful decoupage of both the copies containing information on the exact length and the photographic characteristics of each shot, with the purpose of proceeding to the choice of parts to copy. Therefore a dupe negative was produced of the parts alone which were destined to be included in the “final” version of Nosferatu , again by using wet gate optical printing and carefully varying the parameters of the dublication in such a way as to render the materials as homogeneous as possible from the photographic point of view. In this period about 260 shots were compared from the two copies in black and white from the Cinémathèque Française. Of these, most came from the second French version, generally of greater quality compared to Die Zwölfte Stunde . In some cases it was possible to recover plans which were copied in an unsatisfactory manner and thus crossed off the first version of the reconstruction.

Once the editing work was finished on the 144 titles and the 552 shots which Nosferatu currently consists of, the next step was the printing of the positive colour print following the indications of the colour-plan, produced on the base of Cinémathèque Française’s “new copy” and also on Agfa publications of the time in order to identify the original tonalities of the colours. The method used was the one proposed by Noel Desmet of the Cinémathèque Belgique, which foresees the printing of a colour print from a B&W dupe negative to reproduce tintings and tonings.

Nicola Mazzanti, Director of La Cinémathèque royale de Belgique

Nosferatu (1922) with Fanny Schreck and Gustav von Wangenheim; UK Eureka-Masters of Cinema Blu-ray

Nosferatu (1922) with Fanny Schreck, real-life wife of lead actor Max, and Gustav von Wangenheim. UK Eureka-Masters of Cinema Blu-ray

A view of the mysterious essence of nature

The plant which lures insects by means of an inebriating scent and then swallows them is a monstrum. Nosferatu is a monster, a hideous creature -a fantastic being with both human and animal characteristics- who moves around mechanically, whose shape recalls that of the coffin in which he sleeps during the day. And, worst of all, he seems to disregard the difference between the male and the female -the desire which moves him is equally addressed to men and women.

It is not easy to define Knock too, the agent, his go-between. He is not a vampire, but he catches flies and eats them as the plant does. His acts and movements recall more those of a beast than a man. Ellen, the heroine, uses confusing words when speaking of picked flowers as if they were dead men. Our certainties, based on a clear-cut vision, order and classification, are shaken.

Hutter leaves home to learn how to know fear, that is he turns into a passive hero from an active one. His fear gets addictive. Even to the audience, for the most familiar things, once manipulated by cinema, the oddest confusion is caused and, through our participation, the characters on the screen get a temporary life if not the power to make us identify ourselves with them. Horror films, more than the other genres, are something ambiguous in which is symbolised the nature of cinema and the real power cinema has to lead us into the unbelievable.

Nosferatu (1922) UK Eureka-Masters of Cinema Blu-ray, Venus flytrap

Nosferatu (1922) Venus flytrap and imminent victim. UK Eureka-Masters of Cinema Blu-ray

An understandable text and an unintelligible one which change their nature in a disturbing way while the film is progressing -as far as their meaning is concerned. The esoteric message contains simple information which, having the key, is easy to decipher. The deceiving hand-drawn piece of paper reveals itself as a mute language, as an expressionist writing far more different in meaning to the way which we are used to viewing writing.

Of the various texts against which the images stand out, these are the two extremes. As far as the other ones are concerned, it’s apparent that the author either remains in the shadow or is of no importance.The text which the film starts with is too personal to be a chronicle, too contived to be a journal, nothing one can consider as a reliable source; the point in which one should find a name is marked with two daggers [sic: it’s three crosses]. The other texts which, along with the dialogues, stop the images’ flow, are letters, newspaper articles, objective notes from a log.

And then comes the vampire’s book, an anonymous compilation Hutter finds out during his trip -as hotel guests get the Bible nowadays- in his room at an inn in Transylvania. At first the book doesn’t affect Hutter -who is a young educated man- but later he can’t remove himself from it. Hutter reads the book, it makes him feel uneasy because of “strange faces”; he makes his wife Ellen promise never to open it. Ellen deceives him and draws off this strange tree of knowledge. Which means her death.

Everything is arranged so as to make one lose one’s bearings. This used to be a house, now it is only a façade. The frame and the neat sequence of the windows -clefts to see from the inside and for the light to filter from the outside- have become grilles which prevent everybody from getting away. Nosferatu is shut in here among with decaying bodies, waiting for the release from a boundaryless prison.

Ellen is sitting on a depression between two dunes, her most cherished place -the cemetery on the sea- as if it was an inner space created by nature. Her thoughts are leading somewhere else. She is the personification of melancholy, called by Freud the bleeding of inner life.

Nosferatu (1922) UK BFI Blu-ray, Orlok at window

Nosferatu (1922) UK BFI Blu-ray

There is the Es of who is writing the journal, who narrates the dreadful things happening in his town, and also a second author who describes vividly the places’ theater of events. He doesn’t tell a fresh story, he just re-interprets it in another language, which opens up new dimensions. Just follow the sequences and their links, the camera’s movements, pay attention to what in an image catches your eye at first, and you will have the key, you will know who is the spider and over what abyss he is threading his web.

The more archaic language is the one which is written on bodies, things and places, white on black, to decipher which, Murnau says, one needs a camera free to move in space, whatever the movement, the pace, the aim. By means of that camera he reaches his ideal: the architecture film made of the melody of bodies and space rhythm.

The sunlight thrusts into Nosferatu’s heart like the stake which, with no help whatsoever, well-aimed, can terminate the vampire’s nocturnal life. The cock, of course, sings at the new-born day; but, at the same time, it has become a metaphor of betrayal. One couldn’t explain otherwise why the vampire, so revolting at first, seems suddenly so human when dying.

Ellen’s body was the lure which -so one reads in the vampire’s book- works only if the victim is willing. It is quite a dilemma! Ellen, so much the better her body with no will-power left, waited for Death to come -one could clearly understand that when the woman stretches her arms eagerly towards him.

Through her immense love Ellen breaks a taboo; she gives herself up to the monster and pays the price with her own life. Thus she re-established the menaced norm. Only through her sacrifice the damned offspring will end. When the artificial night of cinema comes to an end -with it, also the fatal attraction of moving images finish, which can give life to terrible arbitrary acts- the ghost of this half-real, half-fantastic mute creature fades away.

Frieda Grafe (19342002), film critic, essayist and wife of Enno Patalas

Nosferatu (1922) by Dave McKean, 2010

Nosferatu (1922) by Dave McKean, 2010

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2011 catalogue notes (original PDF)


The 2006 restoration was screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato film festival, alongside a new score by US composer Timothy Brock.

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens Germania, 1922 | Regia: Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau

T. it.: Nosferatu il vampiro; Sog.: dal romanzo Dracula (1897) di Bram Stoker; Scen.: Henrik Galeen; F.: Fritz Arno Wagner; Scgf., Co.: Albin Grau; Int.: Max Schreck (Conte Orlok, Nosferatu), Greta Schröder (Nina), Gustav von Wangenheim (Jonathan Hutter), Georg Heinrich Schnell (Harding), Alexander Granach (Knock), Max Nemetz (il capitano della nave), Ruth Landshoff (Annie), John Gottowt (il professor Bulwer), Gustav Botz (Sievers, il dottore del manicomio), Wolfgang Heinz (Maat), Albert Venohr (marinaio), Hardy von François (dottore dell’ospedale), Guido Herzfeld (albergatore), Karl Etlinger, Heinrich White; Prod.: Prana-Film, GMBh Berlino; Pri. pro.: 5 marzo 1922 | 35mm. L.: 1914 m. D.: 93’ a 18 f/s. Col. Didascalie tedesche / German intertitles | Da: Friedrich-Wilhelm Murnau-Stiftung

Nosferatu was restored by Luciano Berriatúa on behalf of Friedrich-Wilhelm Murnau-Stiftung in 2005/06. A tinted nitrate print with French intertitles from 1922 of Cinémathèque Française was used as a basis for the restoration. Missing shots were completed by a safety print from 1939 of Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, 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, preserved at Cinémathèque Française. Most of the original intertitles and inserts are preserved in a safety print from 1962 of Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, originating from a print of 1922. Missing intertitles and inserts were redesigned on the basis of the original typography by trickWILK. They are marked with FWMS. The lab work was carried out by L’Immagine Ritrovata.

Nosferatu (1922) Italian poster for 2006 restoration

Nosferatu (1922) Italian poster for 2006 restoration

Murnau’s inspirations

The romantic atmosphere of Nosferatu, which makes nature’s dark, unseen forces visible with images based on Friedrich, is in fact a faithful reproduction of the spirit of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Why did Murnau choose Lübeck for shooting many of the film’s scenes? Perhaps Murnau was influenced by the haunting image that Edvard Munch created from the facade of an old store in the city. Munch worked in Lübeck between 1902 and 1903.

What is certain is that he planned the film around paintings. (…) It may seem a little over the top that Murnau used paintings by his friend Franz Marc like Weidende Pferde, of 1910, at the time kept at the Lenbach Haus in Munich, for a mere shot of backlit horses frightened by hyenas. But I think that Murnau referred to another image by Marc: the wolves howling in the dark of night like in Die Wölfe (Balkan Krieg), of 1913. Murnau replaced the wolves with hyenas but used the image of the horses painted by his friend, which clearly emerges from comparing the film’s unusual framing with Landschaft mit Pferden, of 1909. I believe he changed the wolves into hyenas due to the influence of drawings by Alfred Kubin like Hyäne, of 1920, which depicts the hyena as a kind of vampire devouring human cadavers in cemeteries. A much more striking image than a wolf. (…) But the most significant artistic influence on the film’s character was the work of Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840). It was undoubtedly an idea of Murnau to use the works of Friedrich to develop Grau and Galeen’s visual concept of the dark forces of Nature. (…)

Klosterfriedhof im Schnee (Monastery Graveyard in the Snow, 1817–19) by Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840)

Klosterfriedhof im Schnee (Monastery Graveyard in the Snow, 1817–19) by Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840). 121 x 170cm oil on canvas, destroyed with Berlin Nationalgalerie, 1945

With the works of these Romantic painters, Murnau obtained an unusual result for film. Making the invisible visible. Forcing the presence of the dark forces of Nature on the viewer’s unconscious mind.

Luciano Berriatúa, extracted from Los proverbios chinos de F. W. Murnau (The Chinese proverbs of F. W. Murnau, 1991)

The Adaptation of Heinrich Marschner’s Der Vampyr for Nosferatu

At the première screening of Nosferatu, in Berlin on March 4th, 1922, it has been well documented that the orchestra that accompanied the film performed as a pre-curtain stage-setter, the operatic overture to Der Vampyr (1828) by German opera composer Heinrich Marschner. Alas, like many original orchestral scores from this Nosferatu 138 period of cinematic history, the original score to Nosferatu, by Hans Erdmann, had been lost. What does survive, ironically, is music that is nearly 100 years older, and was hand-picked by F.W. Murnau himself a suitable prelude for his Symphony of Horrors.

The great loss of not having the original 1922 Erdmann score gave me the idea to adapt the entire Marschner opera score as an accompanying dramatic narrative, liberally transforming selected scenes, admittedly without regard to the Der Vampyr libretto, as the opera’s scenario is quite unrelated to that of Nosferatu or Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

I began transcribing the entire opera as raw symphonic material, selecting adaptable scenes and passages, incorporating the vocal lines, and starting anew as a film score. Freeing this music from the confines of its original stage setting, I detailed and developed those passages and made liberal use of the material which I believed made Der Vampyr uniquely beautiful.

I found helpful the model used by Schönberg when he adapted the Handel op. 6, or the harpsichord concerto of Matthias Monn, both of which inspired him to create completely new works while striving to maintain the sound and feel of the original source.

Mind you, the listener will obviously not hear his music as Marschner intended it. I did, however, endeavor to make the same dark and sinister impact that he was hoping to achieve, inspired by his own Vampire fascination (Even Richard Wagner wrote, after the Leipzig première in 1828 that he considered the Marschner work one of the great “Demonic” operas of all-time).

I have kept nearly the exact original orchestration, with the addition of an organ and a bass-clarinet part. The instrumentation is 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion, organ and strings.

Timothy Brock

Nosferatu (1922) by Giuseppe Balestra aka MaximaFobia, 2014

Nosferatu (1922) by Giuseppe Balestra aka MaximaFobia, 2014

Orlok in print: books on Nosferatu, Grau and Murnau

A quick internet search will turn up any number of published papers, articles and dissertations on Nosferatu, as well as several books dedicated specifically to the subjectF.W. Murnau is even more frequently written about and most of the essays and books regularly published on him feature Nosferatu extensively. Most noteworthy among these is Lotte H. Eisner’s F.W. Murnau (1964), particularly in its revised, expanded English edition (1973).


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I started Brenton Film because I love film – quelle surprise! The silent era, 1930s and 1940s especially get my literary juices flowing though. So you’ll see a lot about those. For more, see this site’s About page.


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