Nosferatu: Chronicles from the Vaults, Volume II

by Brent Reid

Il Cinema Ritrovato 1995 catalogue notes

  • Helmed by iconic director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 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
  • Second of a selection of important vintage articles on the history of this landmark horror
  • Further recommended resources to decipher what drives the mysterious count

This is one of a series of articles covering everything Graf Orlok and best 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.

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 While being uniformly invaluable references, note they’re occasionally a little outdated.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.

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

Gustav von Wangenheim confronts Max Schreck as the deathless count. Colourised by David May aka Davrosis, 2016.



Nosferatu’s 1995 restoration premièred in May of that 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. (original PDF)

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”

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


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.

Alexander Granach (L) and Gustav von Wangenheim in Nosferatu (1922) UK BFI Blu-ray

Alexander Granach (L) and Gustav von Wangenheim; UK BFI 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

Fanny Schreck, real-life wife of lead actor Max, and Gustav von Wangenheim in Nosferatu (1922) UK BFI Blu-ray

Fanny Schreck, real-life wife of lead actor Max, and Gustav von Wangenheim. UK BFI 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.

Venus flytrap and imminent victim. UK BFI Blu-ray.

Venus flytrap and imminent victim. UK BFI 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

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 (1934–2002), film critic, essayist and wife of Enno Patalas

Nosferatu: Chronicles from the Vaults: Volume III

Nosferatu (1922) by Dave McKean, 2010

Oil painting by Dave McKean, 2010

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

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