Nosferatu: Chronicles from the Vaults, Volume III

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2011 catalogue notes

  • Nosferatu, helmed by iconic director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, is one of the key works of the entire silent era
  • Both have inspired – then as now – an unending supply of texts from fans and scholars alike
  • This is the third part of 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: History and Home Video 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 While being uniformly invaluable references, note they’re occasionally a little outdated. Refer to the aforementioned guide for the latest info.

Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Nosferatu (1922)

Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Nosferatu (1922)


Contents


Introduction

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

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 in bombing of 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)

DVD set w/2008 Berriatúa book on Nosferatu


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 later revised, expanded editions.

Foregoing a detailed review, though I’m not familiar with all of these, I have read a handful and canvassed the opinions of knowledgeable friends who have read several others. Our sad conclusion is that it often doesn’t take much to write a book concerned with film studies. There is a worrying trend for modern day authors to copy and paste a lot of already well known facts (as well as untruths) off the internet, then pad out the results with lengthy quotes from earlier, far better books. That tendency manifests itself with this selection as much as anywhere. Many of them feature little or no original, unique research at all. Indeed, at least two authors even own up to only knowing Nosferatu from watching one or two DVDs, before going on to display an astounding ignorance of the history and technicalities of film in general. Shameless. And don’t get me started on all the excessive pseudo psychoanalysis and cod intellectualising. It’s just utterly tedious and smacks of rampant ego and more cheap padding.

On the positive side, this endless recycling of the same old myths and misinformation was what drove me to research this series of articles and uncover so much brand new info, while laying many falsehoods to rest. I simply wanted answers to all the important questions that so many authors had failed to address. In short, by all means get Eisner’s definitive work and if your Spanish is up to it, do investigate Berriatúa’s incredibly detailed books. Strauss’s unique biography of Grau is likewise surely definitive and does for the filmmaker and visionary what Eisner originally did for Murnau. With that sole exception, avoid everything written after 2010 and proceed very carefully with the rest.

Nosferatu (1922) by Marco Bucci, 2011

Nosferatu (1922) by Marco Bucci, 2011

See DVDCompare for more in-depth details of any discs mentioned. Any questions or suggestions? Post in the comments.


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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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