Nosferatu: History and Home Video Guide, Part 4

1981–1987 Restorations

  • Orlok’s resurrection begins: after lying dormant for decades he was finally brought back to life
  • Third time’s the charm: after two earlier efforts, the film was finally returned to its première length
  • Nosferatu‘s original score was also reconstructed and heard for the first time in years

This series of articles covers everything Graf Orlok and is designed to be read sequentially. They detail the film’s history, many different versions and home video releases, and I suggest you start reading from Part 1, unless you want to skip straight to the restored DVD and Blu-ray reviews.

Nosferatu (1922) poster by Mario Cruz aka Fantitlan, 2012

Poster by Mario Cruz aka Fantitlan, 2012


Contents


Restorations galore: reincarnated to kill again and again

As with most silent films, Nosferatu is in the public domain. This means anyone can take any old battered, incomplete copy and slap it on a DVD alongside similarly poor quality, generic, unsynchronised public domain music, known as a ‘needle-drop’ score. Dozens and dozens of companies already have, but the results are invariably unwatchable and not worth the effort, no matter how cheaply you acquire them. To avoid wasting your time and money, stick to the high quality restored versions discussed here. Even when confining ourselves to these it gets very complicated: often, not just with Nosferatu, there are many competing versions of silent films from different labels and differently-restored sources. I’ll attempt to unpick the myriad manifestations of Count Orlok as simply as possible.

Nosferatu (1922) Max Schreck as Count Orlok feasting on his victim

UK Eureka/Masters of Cinema Blu-ray

From the late 1910s onwards, it was the norm for major silent film productions to shoot with at least two cameras simultaneously. This gave greater flexibility during editing to select the best takes and angles. Two negatives, designated A and B, would be prepared, with the A negative, consisting of all the very best takes, used for domestic prints. The B negative, complete with flash titles (consisting of just a few frames, intended for local translation), would be the source of all exported, foreign language prints. In Nosferatu’s case, to keep costs down only one camera was used. This of course resulted in only one original negative, which simplified things considerably when it came to its restorations. However, Nosferatu was almost lost completely and because of the variable quality of surviving materials, it can never look pristine. That is, unless someone turns up an excellent condition early print – unlikely but you never know.

Another thing: Nosferatu was specifically designed and filmed with colour tinting in mind. And with very good reason: many scenes simply don’t make sense without it being present throughout. For instance, due to the ‘day for night’ filming of the era, Count Orlok often appears to be walking around in broad daylight. All original release prints were tinted and all restored versions have reinstated it. If you’re watching a black and white copy, stop it now – lest you make him angry!

Nosferatu (1922) Count Orlok portrait by Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine illustrator Basil Gogos, 2000

Count Orlok by Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine illustrator Basil Gogos, 2000


Timeline of restorations and home video versions

Over the years since its original release, the few surviving prints of Nosferatu suffered many reductions in length due to damage, censorship, and reissue cuts. In 1981 Enno Patalas, then-head of the Filmmuseum München, in conjunction with the Cineteca di Bologna, oversaw the first concerted attempt at restoration. The resultant negative drew together prints from several different European archives and he went on to have four attempts in total. The second two Patalas restorations each built on the previous one: his 1981 restoration was in B&W, while the 1984 restoration merely added “speculative tinting” to it. The 1987 restoration expanded on the first two by adding a more accurate tinting scheme and missing footage, bringing it up to full length for the first time since its original release. Patalas carried out a completely new restoration in 1995, followed by a new digital restoration supervised by Luciano Berriatúa in 2006 All three complete restorations used different combinations of the same extant prints; no new early prints of Nosferatu have been identified since late 1984.

  • 4th March, 1922 première version, length 1,967m – 95min at 18fps
  • 1969 Atlas Film version, length 1,660m – 63min at 24fps; based on MoMA’s print, from B&W French copy of Czech export print
  • 1981 Patalas restoration, length 1,733m – 84min at 18fps; based on B&W French copy of Czech export print
  • 1984 Patalas restoration, length 1,733m – speculative tinting added
  • 1987 Patalas restoration, length 1,910m – 93min at 18fps; added missing footage and correct tinting, based on newly discovered original French print
    • 1991 Shepard version, film equivalent length 1,660m – 81min at 18fps; based on MoMA’s print: tinted with new intertitles
  • 1995 Patalas restoration, length 1,910.3m (incorrect longer lengths sometimes quoted are probably based on restoration work-in-progress) – 93min at 18fps; based on original French print
    • 2000 Eureka version, film equivalent length 1,910m – 92min at 18fps; based on B&W copy of 1987 restoration: sepia toned and partially retinted versions with new intertitles
    • 2000 Shepard version, film equivalent length 1,660m – 81min at 18fps; re-retinted edit based on Eureka version
  • 2005/6 Berriatúa restoration, length 1,914m – 93min at 18fps; based on original French print
Nosferatu (1922) insert poster by Albin Grau

Nosferatu (1922) insert poster by Albin Grau


1981 restoration

Premières:

  • France 5.6.1981, Paris Cinémathèque Française. It’s unconfirmed, but the première screening may well have been without any music at all; a common occurrence for silents at the time. We’ve thankfully come a long way.
  • East Germany 4.4.1981, broadcast on DDR-FS TV; unconfirmed if restored version; possibly Atlas Film version.

“B&W print of the second French version [sic: see here] of 1928 (Cinématèque Suisse [also the source of the MoMA print]). Missing scenes were taken from a nitrate copies of the apocryphical version, Die zwölfte Stunde (Cinémathèque Française and Filmoteca Española), as well as newly produced German intertitles and inserts according to the original title list (as printed in Lotte H. Eisner: F. W. Murnau, Paris 1964), and based on the graphic design of a copy provided by the Staatliches Filmarchiv der DDR.” – Enno Patalas

Additionally, the film’s original five-act intertitles were reinstated and have remained since in all complete versions, bar Photoplay’s revamp.


1984 restoration

Premières:

  • Germany 17-18.2.1984, Berlin Film Festival, Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek. Original Hans Erdmann score reconstructed for salon orchestra by Berndt Heller.
    • 20.2.1984, Berlin Zoo Palast; adjacent to the site of Der Marmorsaal, venue of its original preview screening, 62 years before.

“From the B&W duplicative negative of 1981, a colour copy was screened at the at the Berlin Film Festival. The colouring was determined by speculative tinting: brown for sunlight, pink for dusk, blue for moonlight, yellow for artificial light.” – Enno Patalas

Nosferatu (1922) by William Stout, 1999

Nosferatu (1922) by William Stout, 1999


1987 restoration

Premières:

  • Germany 1-5.2.1987, Gasteig, Carl-Orff-Saal. Original Hans Erdmann score reconstructed for full orchestra by Berndt Heller.

“As in the case of 2.1984, a copy of the B&W duplicative negative of 1.1981, likewise by means of a filter, but now with corrected colouring, based on a tinted copy [identified in late 1984] of the first French version of Nosferatu in the Cinémathèque Français.” – Enno Patalas

This version was brought up to full length by the addition of missing scenes contained in the same Cinémathèque Française print that enabled corrected tinting. It’s the only one of the first three restorations to be released on home video, but its original, Grau-designed, German intertitles were replaced with new English ones for the first Eureka and second Image releases.

Nosferatu (1922) poster by PerfktDrug, 2008

Poster by PerfktDrug, 2008

Grateful thanks to Aitam Bar-SagiDavid ShepardLokke Heiss, Martin H. Larsen, and Patrick Stanbury for help with this series of articles.

Any questions or suggestions? Post in the comments.


If you like this, you’ll love:

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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