Nosferatu: History and Home Video Guide, Part 5

David Shepard and Eureka Versions

  • After years of cult popularity, Nosferatu finally made its début on high quality home video
  • Their source is the same print that spawned the “public domain version”
  • The silent film champion behind many such releases was responsible
  • His reward was to see his work get ripped off by one of the world’s best loved home video labels
  • Some of the guilty pirates are still stealing to this day
  • Elsewhere, a careless mistake led to the only release of the 1987 restoration

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) print by Chris Garofalo, 2016

Print by Chris Garofalo, 2016


Contents


David Shepard versions

Prior to the 1990s, all circulating copies of Nosferatu were rather poor, as still evidenced by the many bargain basement DVDs around today. They were, at best, straight transfers of the B&W, sped-up, 1965 German Atlas Films version, with its original Peter Schirmann score occasionally replaced with an inferior one. The first quality home video release was courtesy of US-based David Shepard, owner of the former Blackhawk Films library, founder of Film Preservation Associates – and all-round silent film champion. In 1991 he prepared a unique copy of the largely complete, good condition 1947 MoMA print. He added new English intertitles, his own tinting scheme, a custom score and last but not least, transferred it at the correct speed of 18fps. This version was released that same year on LaserDisc and VHS, and later appeared on a landmark 1998 Image DVD. He subsequently acquired a copy of Eureka’s version based on the 1987 restoration, which was itself based on the source copy of the MoMA print. This restoration had better image quality, so with a few edits and again adding his own tints, he used it to upgrade his previous version. This was then released on a remastered Image DVD with similar cover art but this time rendered in red. Although both versions have been superseded by more complete, bigger budgeted restorations, the latter in particular still holds up very well and is worth seeking out.

Nosferatu (1922), 1991 Shepard version English opening intertitle, US Image 1998 DVD

1991 Shepard version based on MoMA print: new English intertitle created on SD video. 1998 US Image DVD

David Shepard, 7th November 2015:

“We started with a 35mm negative made from MoMA’s material that they had obtained in the 1940s from the Cinémathèque Française. We did our own translations based upon the German censor cards. The organ score by Tim Howard (that I like a lot) bears no relation to the Erdmann score that I then did not know about. As the source material was B&W, the choice of tints was my own invention. We first issued this version in 1991 on LaserDisc, with an excellent second track audio essay by Lokke Heiss. Our first DVD release was identical in content. At that time this version was much better than anything else available on video, at least in North America [actually anywhere]. I did not provide this to any other distributor although I have no doubt that as with much of my work, people helped themselves to it for republication.

Digital restoration at that time was very crude. We probably used digital vision noise reduction and removed some visible splices and cue marks but these were about the only tools then available. I have not gone back to check but I think we superimposed a loop of film dirt on the new titles so they wouldn’t look too much like video in relation to the rather battered appearance of the original film.

A few years later, in 2000/2001, we reissued the DVD with almost identical cover art. By then Dr. Heiss had visited the filming locations and was able to revise and improve his contribution. I was also given friendly but informal access to a digital master of a European restoration of the image that was better than what we previously had, so I used it, with two or three very small accommodations to fit it to our existing score.”

Nosferatu (1922) US Image DVD (2000)

Reissued US Image DVD (2000)

Nosferatu (1922), 2000 Shepard version English opening intertitle, US Image 2001 DVD

New English intertitle created on SD video; 2000 Shepard version (edited retint of Eureka version). 2000 US Image DVD


Eureka version

In 1999 Eureka requested a copy of the then latest (1995 tinted) restoration for UK PAL DVD release from licensors Transit Film. However, Eureka founder/owner Ron Benson (1943–2015) later stated they were instead unknowingly supplied with an older B&W digital NTSC transfer. Their resulting unconverted NTSC-PAL DVD, with its 92 minute runtime, is therefore almost certainly a copy of the 1987 restoration. Though we now have another restoration, from 2006, at that time there was no other full length version in existence. Also supporting this is the fact that the Eureka transfer does not have the erroneously repeated footage of the 1995 restoration, when Hutter looks out of his window at Orlok loading a cart. This because the 1981, 1984 and 1987 restorations used a different print as their basis than the 1995. An Australian company, IML Digital Media, handled the preparation of this copy for Eureka, minimising the effects of the NTSC-PAL transfer and creating a new set of calligraphic English intertitles.

Eureka’s set has a unique sepia toned version on the first disc and a tinted and toned version on the second, erroneously titled the “original black and white version”. Aside from a few intertitles, there is no black and white in it at all. Though they share the same source print, the tinting schemes on the Image and Eureka are quite distinct from each other. However, they both have similar colours and shades, with similarly logical placement. For instance, they use light and dark sepias for daytime outdoor and most indoor scenes, dusky pink for dawn and dusk, blue or blueish-purple for outdoor night-time scenes, and so on.

The Eureka DVD also had an audio commentary which was similar to the ones on the Image discs. Lokke Heiss, 21st November 2015:

“The Eureka DVD used a version of my commentary track, but read by a professional announcer. It gave me the chance to make corrections on my original commentary. I sent them a manuscript of my revised commentary (which is now more than 20 years old – *groan* – then the bright young lads at Eureka ‘forgot’ to put my name on the credits. Such is show business.”

Nosferatu (1922), 1987 restoration English opening intertitle, UK Eureka 2001 DVD, sepia toned version

New English intertitle created on SD video. 2000 UK Eureka DVD (sepia toned version)

Nosferatu (1922), 1987 restoration English opening intertitle, UK Eureka 2001 DVD, B&W and tinted version

New English intertitle created on SD video. 2000 UK Eureka DVD (B&W and tinted version)


A tale of two pirates

The thieves David’s discreetly alluding to above were actually Eureka and their antipodean partners (in crime) at the time, Force Video. Yes, I’m referring to that Eureka – of Masters of Cinema fame. They and their cohorts stole David’s first version and released it on these pirates:

  • Eureka DVD and VHS (1999)
  • Force Ent DVD (1999) and 2-pack VHS (1997) w/The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) – also David’s transfer
  • Siren Visual 2on1 DVD (2003) w/Vampyr (1932) – as above

When Eureka first started in 1998, like Force (1986) they were a fly-by-night outfit who mostly released cheap, supposedly public domain material – much of it David’s – but in much lower quality than the original. Their joint 108-minute version of Keaton’s The General (1926), which correctly runs at around 75 minutes, is one for the ages. Did you know Nosferatu stars “Gustavvon Wanenheim”, while Caligari features Alfred Abel and Brigitte Helm (actually the stars of Metropolis, 1927)? Well, according to the erroneously credited Force VHS set above, they do. Eventually David threatened both companies with legal action but thankfully all parties quickly settled their differences. David agreed to accept compensation and an offer for Force and Eureka to become official licensees of his material, on condition they immediately deleted their pirates. The first fruit of this new arrangement were the 2000-revamped Nosferatus detailed above, with many more successful releases of classic films ensuing over the years. Of course, Eureka also upped their game considerably: in 2004 they started collaborating with the founders of the original Masters of Cinema website and in 2008 acquired the brand wholesale. This was part of a conscious strategy to move upmarket and it paid off, with them swiftly rising to become one of the most respected niche home video labels in the world. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

And Force? Well, they were bought out by the then upcoming label Beyond Home Entertainment in 2006 and promptly renamed Force Entertainment, before being eventually folded into the parent company. Beyond, by the way, are now one of the leading labels in Oz – another lesson, methinks. Meanwhile, the two founders of Force, one of whom is Tony Romeoleft Force/Beyond in 2007 and set up Bounty Entertainment. But they’re back up to their old tricks. A quick glance at their site will reveal, nestled amid some possibly legit product, a huge roster of ripped-off but prettily packaged silents, classic talkies and sundry modern cult films. By a very circuitous coincidence, they’ve even recently squatted out a DVD of Nosferatu, featuring an uncredited rip* of the latest 2006 restoration with its score, claimed on the sleeve to be in the original 5.1 surround, clumsily folded down to mono. Some people just never learn.

Count Orlok by Antonio J. Manzanedo, 2013. At least this bloodsucker is only imaginary.

Count Orlok by Antonio J. Manzanedo, 2013. At least this bloodsucker is only imaginary.

*Confirmed by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, who own and license the restoration and its score.

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


If you like this, you’ll love:

Facebook: The Nosferatu Society | in-depth BD/DVD details: DVDCompare

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 the About page.

3 Comments

  1. Peter Campbell
    November 07, 21:03 Reply
    Hahahah - nice article. I actually restored all the Eureka Video (aka Eureka Entertainment) silent films for Ron from circa 1999-2004 and we produced and authored all their DVD titles - the last one's being Fritz Lang's M, Spione and Asphalt. You can view my detailed restoration of 'M' doco on the early Eureka 2003 version or still buy ours from our MYFLIX on EBAY store. We had a falling out with Masters of Cinema over costs - (and distance - being Melbourne Aust) and our new business ventures. My company, IML Digital Media was one of the global pioneers of the DVD format. My wife Caroline became a brilliant DVD author and together we pushed the format to the absolute max! (We painfully debugged the SPRUCE PAL encoding and DVD authoring system which subsequently sold to Apple and relaunched as DVD Studio Pro). After our Nosferatu release, David Shepard flew to Melbourne to meet up with me to discuss our work and ask if he could use it too. After that, things settled down with Eureka. We got tired of building the DVD business for other companies in late 2003, so founded our own indie distribution label Accent Film Entertainment and the rest is history . . . well, so is DVD (for now) . . .
    • Brent Reid
      November 13, 10:08 Reply
      Thanks for getting in touch, Peter – I'm a big fan of yours and Caroline's work! I probably own the majority of the DVDs you did for Eureka and have no doubt you played a big part in helping them rise to their exalted position today. Interesting too that David contacted you directly; he obviously recognised your invaluable role too. Don't write DVD and physical media to quickly though: sales may never return to their peak, but the resilience of vinyl and DVD in particular shows it's not going to disappear anytime soon, if ever. It's mainly a (very tricky) question of finding a flexible business model that fits into the new and ever-changing paradigm.
  2. Martin Larsen
    November 11, 12:40 Reply
    Great to see someone with behind-the-scenes knowledge chime in. Your work on these early classics didn't go unnoticed - IML Digital Media did a great job in making the Eureka editions look so good. In reviewing Eureka's 2001 DVD release of "Nosferatu", Enno Patalas (head of restoration of the version used) called it so far the best digital treatment granted to any German classic film. And David Shepard once had this to say on the silent movies newsgroup: "Generally the Eureka versions are to a very high technical standard. They take material I regard as finished, send it to IML in Melbourne, and get it manicured until it is fit for a beauty pageant." I remember having a phone conversation with Ron Benson back in around 2003 about "Der Golem" and why the English Eureka version looked better than Murnau Stiftung's German version. He didn't mention IML by name but was repeatedly referring to "my people", and I knew who he meant!

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