Nosferatu the Shapeshifter: An Inventory of Intertitles, Prints and Premières
- Nosferatu (1922), the archetypal vampire film, is still one of the world’s most popular horrors
- Endlessly reissued for almost a century, it’s metamorphosised through a bewildering array of different versions
- It also possesses numerous unique sets of intertitles – more than any other silent film
- Together for the first time: examples from every set of restored intertitles
- Another first: Nosferatu’s première history, from 1922–present
This is one of a series of articles covering everything Graf Orlok, commencing with Nosferatu: The Ultimate Blu-ray and DVD Guide. It features details of the film’s history, different restorations and home video releases and I suggest you start reading there, especially if you’re looking for advice on the best version to buy, wherever you are. In particular it discusses a confusing number of different sets of intertitles, so for illustration here are examples from all of them, along with info on the many premières, print sources and scores.
Over its lifetime – perhaps deathtime would be more appropriate – Nosferatu has existed in a lot of different versions and had numerous different sets of intertitles added to it. In fact, more so than any other silent film. As explained before, from its first release up to the present day, the various versions have often had their original German intertitles replaced by foreign distributors, as was common practise during the silent era. For the first time, examples of all of the ones pertaining to the restorations appear together for easy comparison. For good measure I’ve included a couple from the public domain version that’s so crucial to the film’s present day popularity. If anyone has any scans of intertitles from pre-1947 prints, get in touch – I’d love to hear from you!
- 1920s releases
- Die zwölfte Stunde (1930)
- 1947 MoMA print
- 1981 restoration
- 1984 restoration
- 1987 restoration
- 1995 restoration
- 2006 restoration
Original version: 35mm, 1:1.33, five acts, 1,967m (106mins at 16fps)
Censorship: 16.12.1921, no. B 4960, Jv. prohibited for children
Nosferatu had a high profile advertising campaign in the run-up to its gala première, which was billed as “The Festival of Nosferatu”. One scene-setter was an extravagant promotional spread in issue no. 21 of the journal Bühne und Film (Stage and Film; note there were at least two identically titled Filmprogrammen being published around this time). It consisted of adverts, production stills, a synopsis of the film, and various essays including a highly fanciful yarn by Albin Grau on a supposed real-life vampire who served as the inspiration for the story. Grau’s essay, simply entitled Vampir, has been translated to English for the booklet in various Eureka/Masters of Cinema releases from 2007 onwards.
“Das Fest des Nosferatu” took place on 4th March 1922, in the opulent splendour of Der Marmorsaal in Berlin’s Zoological Gardens. Those present included potential distributors and several notable Berlin filmmakers, such as Ernst Lubitsch and his frequent collaborator Hanns Kräly, Richard Oswald, Heinz Schall and Johannes Riemann. The festivities commenced at 8pm with an introduction by Graf Orlok himself, actor Max Schreck. Preceding the screening was a written prologue by Kurt Alexander, based on the premise of the “Prelude in the Theatre” which commonly introduces stagings of Goethe’s Faust. As a curtain raiser, the Otto Kermbach Orchestra played the overture to Heinrich Marschner’s Romantic opera, Der Vampyr (1826). During the screening itself, the orchestra was conducted by Hans Erdmann to his specially composed accompaniment, Fantastisch-romantische Suite. Following the screening was a solo performance by Berlin State Opera dancer Elisabeth Grube to The Serenade, another Erdmann composition. Guests had been asked to attend wearing suitable costume for the grand finale of the night, a Biedermeier-themed masquerade ball, which continued until 2am. It’s not hard to see why more money was apparently spent on this huge social event than the film actually cost to make.
See this extremely informative article: La sortie de Nosferatu de Murnau à Paris en 1922 (et 1925, 1928, 1931)
Première: from 18.5.1929, New York Film Guild Cinema, as Nosferatu the Vampire.
• 14.12.1929, New York Film Guild Cinema, as Nosferatu the Vampire. English intertitles: Benjamin de Casseres, 70min.
Die zwölfte Stunde (1930)
Die zwölfte Stunde. Eine Nacht des Grauens (The Twelfth Hour: A Night of Horror) was a drastically revised version of Nosferatu, to the extent that the film now had a happy ending! It had sound-on-disc accompaniment, comprising music and sound effects only; no dialogue. The characters were all renamed (yet again), with Orlok becoming Wolkoff, Knock – Karsten, Hutter – Kundberg and Ellen – Margitta. It also contained some entirely new footage shot by cameraman Günther Krampf under the direction of Dr. Waldemar Roger. This included a scene at a wake, and a variety of pastoral sequences depicting rural life. Actor Eduard von Winterstein, coincidentally the real-life father of Gustav von Wangenheim, who played Hutter, also joined the cast as an innkeeper in some new scenes. Also appearing was Hans Behal as a priest.
Produced by Deutsch-Film-Production (D.F.P) Berlin SW 48, Friedrichstraße 233, 1930 / Artistic editing: Dr. Waldemar Roger / Musical editing: Georg Fiebiger / Acoustic method: Organon GmbH, Polyphon-Grammophon-Group / World distribution: German Sound Film Distribution GmbH, Berlin
35mm, eight acts, 1893m, after cut-outs: 1799m
Censorship: 14.11.1930, B27446, Jv.
Austria: 16.5.1930, Vienna, as Nosferatu (The Vampyr).
Spain: 23.2.1931, Barcelona Avenida, as Nosferatu, el vampiro.
• 23.11.1931, Madrid Cine de la Prensa.
Germany: 17–22.3.1931, Berlin Kamera.
1947 MoMA print
The mostly complete print held by New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is pivotal to Nosferatu‘s resurrection. It’s the source of all the film’s public domain versions and their proliferation over the past six decades has played the largest part in perpetuating the film’s mainstream popularity. In 1991, with new tinting and intertitles, it was also the source of the very first high quality home video release. You can read a script of the MoMA version, including intertitles, here and here. As stated before, there are a countless number of cheap home video editions of the public domain version and many have unique ersatz intertitles, all created on standard definition (SD) video. It would be impossible, not to mention pointless, to cover all of those.
To represent the intertitles I’ve chosen perhaps the single most memorable one – and yes, my favourite: the first page of the unknown narrator’s journal, which appears just after the opening credits. Note that the corresponding intertitle from MoMA’s 1947 print, and the translations it spawned, uniquely conflate the first two original German titles, and he is identfied as “Johann Cavallius”.
Première: France 5.6.1981, Paris Cinémathèque Française. It’s unconfirmed, but the première screening may have been without any music at all; a common occurrence at the time. We’ve thankfully come a long way.
• East Germany 4.4.1981, broadcast on DDR-FS TV; unconfirmed if restored version.
“B&W print of the second French version [sic; see here] of 1928 (Cinématèque Suisse) missing scenes were taken from a nitrate copy of the apocryphical version, Die zwölfte Stunde (Cinémathèque Française), 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
The first three Patalas restorations each built on the previous one: the 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. The latter is the only one to have been 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. Patalas retained the German intertitles, made by Studio Pfenninger in 1981, for all four of his restorations up to 1995. They were based on those in a copy of an original German print, as were the intertitles of Berriatúa’s 2006 restoration. Therefore, both sets are accurately represented by the 1995 and 2006 examples below.
Première: Germany 17-18.2.1984, Berlin Film Festival, Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek. Original Hans Erdmann score reconstructed for salon orchestra by Berndt Heller.
• Germany 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
Première: Germany 1-5.2.1987, Gasteig, Carl-Orff-Saal. Original Hans Erdmann score reconstructed for full orchestra by Berndt Heller.
• Germany 29.12.1988, broadcast on ZDF TV. New orchestral score by Hans Posegga.
“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 of the first French version of Nosferatu in the Cinémathèque Français.” – Enno Patalas; this version was also brought up to full length by the addition of missing scenes.
Première: France 17-28.5.1995, Paris Cannes Film Festival. Original Hans Erdmann score reconstructed for full orchestra by Gillian Anderson.
• Italy, 25.6.1995 Bologna Il Cinema Ritrovato. Score as above.
• UK 19.11.1995, London Film Festival, National Film Theatre. Score as above.
Photoplay version première: UK, 17.11.1997, London Royal Festival Hall. New orchestral score by James Bernard.
• UK 1997, broadcast on Channel 4 as that year’s entry in the Channel 4 Silents series. Score as above.
“Black-and-white negative, based on the tinted print of the First French Version at the Cinémathèque Française (a first-generation print). Missing scenes and parts were completed by nitrate materials of the second French version (Cinémathèque Française), as well as from Die zwölfte Stunde. On this completed negative a new colouring scheme was applied; no filter tinting but colourising (B&W on monochrome film), mainly based on the tinted print of the first French version: yellow for sunshine, but also for lamps and candles; pink for dawn (but not always); nocturnal scenes in blue (especially outdoors) and blue-green (interiors, and for ‘creepy mood’)” – Enno Patalas
The 1995 restoration appears numerous times on home video but its original German intertitles only appear on three Spanish and German releases. The Spanish language option consisted of translated intertitles that used the subtitle stream to cover the originals completely. It’s a fascinating technique and I’ve never come across any other examples of it. Do post in the comments if you know of any!
The Photoplay version of the 1995 restoration is unique among restored iterations of the film in that it dispenses with the five-act intertitles altogether and is transferred at 19fps; all other versions retain the acts and run at 18fps. The remainder were replaced with very high quality intertitles created on film. Photoplay’s Kevin Brownlow and Patrick Stanbury told me they both believe very strongly in replacing foreign language intertitles for domestic markets, as happened during the silent era. They went to a great deal of effort and expense to have the original German font replicated in English, where necessary having missing characters redesigned as carefully as possible. They then ensured their intertitles were exactly the same length, frame-for-frame, as the originals. I can’t argue with the results: they’re by far the best such modern recreations I’ve seen. Meanwhile, for their 2002 DVD, Kino in the US opted for translated English intertitles created on SD video.
Première: unknown. All home video releases feature the original Hans Erdmann score reconstructed for full orchestra by Berndt Heller.
This restoration was based on the 1922 tinted French print at the Cinémathèque Française. Missing scenes were taken from the Bundesarchiv’s B&W early 1940s safety copy of a 1920s Czech export print and a print of Die zwölfte Stunde at the Cinémathèque Française. Intertitles were digitally scanned directly from those in the Bundesarchiv’s B&W 1962 safety copy of the original 1922 German version and restored in high definition (HD). Missing ones were recreated using the same technique and have the initials FWMS (Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung) in the lower left corner. Additionally, English translated ones, in a fairly similar style to the originals, were prepared for some countries’ DVD and Blu-ray releases.
 Béla Balázs: Nosferatu review in The Day newspaper, Vienna, 9.3.1923; reprinted in: Béla Balázs: Writings on Film, Volume 1 (Berlin: Henschel Verlag 1984) p. 175f.
 M. Bouvier, J. L. Leutrat: Nosferatu (Paris: Gallimard 1981) pp. 252f, 272.
 Ibid., p. 256.
 Céline Linssen, Hans Schotts, Tom Gunning: Het gaat om de film!: een nieuwe geschiedenis van de Nederlandse Filmliga (It’s About the film!: a New History of the Dutch Film League; Amsterdam: Lubberhuizen, Filmmuseum 1999) p. 284. The programme was announced as a “reprise”; the earlier performance (ca. 1922-23) could not be determined.
 The Film Society Programmes 1925–1939 (New York: Arno Press 1972, London: Beaufort Books 1976) p. 104f; Bouvier, Leutrat (as no. 2), p. 259ff.
 Nosferatu in New York in Lichtbild-Bühne (Light-Screen-Stage) no. 116, 16.5.1929; Bouvier, Leutrat (as no. 2), p. 261. In a Film Guild Cinema advert in the April 1929 issue of the Theatre Guild Magazine (Vol. 6, no. 7, p. 59) Nosferatu the Vampire is announced as a “coming attraction… inspired by motives from Dracula… a symphony in gray… moods macabre and mordant… a powerful psychopathic study of blood-lust…”. In the May issue (no. 8, p. 59) an advert for the pending “European Film Sensation” Moulin Rouge (Dupont, 1928), also reiterates the upcoming performance of Nosferatu: “Coming! Nosferatu the Vampire directed by Murnau, director of The Last Laugh“.
 Bouvier, Leutrat (as no. 2), p. 261, having regard to a meeting in Variety, 25.12.1929; Luciano Berriatúa: The Chinese proverbs of F. W. Murnau, (Madrid: Filmoteca Espanola 1991) p. 138; Georges Sadoul, in Histoire générale du cinéma 5: L’Art muet (L’après-guerre en Europe 1919-1929) (Paris: Denoël 1975) p. 509) noted, unfortunately without a source, an American copy in seven acts with a length of 6,942 feet, which corresponds to 2,117m. He names the makers of this version as Symon Gould (editor), Benjamin de Casseres (intertitles) and Conrad West (screenwriter). Symon Gould was the head of the Film Guild Cinema in New York. Cf .: Symon Gould: The Film Arts Guild (New York), in the Dutch Film League magazine no. 4, December 1927, p. 9.
 Full credits in Ulrich J. Klaus: German Sound Films: 1st Year 1929/30 (Berlin, Berchtesgaden: Klaus archive 1988).
 Also registered as “Deutsche Film-Produktion (D.F.P.)”. Until 1932, the company presented only two feature films: the American Wild West films In höchster Gefahr (In Highest Danger) and Bill… Augen auf! (Bill… Eyes Open!), which were both censored on 26.2.1930.
 The censorship card is not available in the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv nor in the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek. A reproduction of the first page was published by Lotte H. Eisner’s F.W. Murnau (Paris: Le Terrain Vague 1964, University of California Press 1973) p. 233. The archive of the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek contains an illustrated programme about Die zwölfte Stunde with content and photos, which mainly document those scenes which have been newly added to this version.
 Paimann’s Film Lists (Vienna 1930) p. 79. There the length for the Viennese première is given with six acts, about 2,300m; Klaus (as no. 8) gives 2,297m. Paimann’s Film Lists name the German “Prana-Organon-Film” as the company of origin.  Berriatúa (as n0. 7), p 137.
 Film-Kurier, no. 61, 13.3.1931: “Have You Heard?” memorial for Murnau in the camera; Lichtbild-Bühne, No. 64, March 16, 1931: “The film appears mute and tinted under the title The Twelfth Hour (A Night of Horror).” The critics of these events, however, always speak of Nosferatu. See: The Murnau Memorial Presentation: Nosferatu in the Camera. In: Lichtbild-Bühne, No. 66, 18.3.1931.
The 1920s and 1930s releases incorporate some info from Jeanpaul Goergen’s Performance Data, originally published in Filmblatt (Film Sheet), vol. 7, no. 18, Winter/Spring 2002. The same issue also features the article Gute Kopien. Restaurierungen und Editionen (Good Copies: Restorations and Editions). Though rendered almost wholly redundant by this and my previous article, nonetheless it still contains a few points of interest. Additionally, there are many useful documents held at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.
If you liked this, you’ll love:
- Nosferatu: The Ultimate Blu-ray and DVD Guide – includes details of every restored release worldwide
- Nosferatu Unleashed in HD: Every Blu-ray Reviewed
- Nosferatu: Chronicles from the Vaults
Grateful thanks to Martin H. Larsen for many of the screenshots and Aitam Bar-Sagi for additional info.
Any questions or suggestions? Post in the comments.