Nosferatu: Chronicles from the Vaults, Volume III

by Brent Reid

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2011 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
  • First of a selection of important vintage articles on the history of this landmark horror
  • Further recommended resources, including a bibliography of the film and its makers

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 While being uniformly invaluable references, note they’re occasionally a little outdated.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

Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Nosferatu (1922)

Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Nosferatu



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 2006 restoration poster

Italian 2006 restoration poster

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)

 2-DVD w/Berriatúa’s book on Nosferatu (2008)

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

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, skimmed several others and consulted several trusted German silent cinema experts on the remainder. My sad conclusion is all too often it doesn’t take much to write a book concerned with film studies. There’s an ever-increasing trend for authors to copy and paste a lot of already well known facts (as well as falsehoods) from the internet, then pad those out further with lengthy quotes from earlier, far better books. That tendency manifests itself with this selection as much as any other, and continues right up to the most recent publications. Regarding untruths, there’s something about this film that attracts any number of liars, scam artists and self-publicising fantasists. Unfortunately, Rolf Giesen has leaned heavily on one of the most notorious of these as a source for the most recent book above, The Nosferatu Story). This greatly overpriced effort is already of limited value as almost a third of it (89 of 225 pages) is taken up by worthless lists you can find anywhere online. Both points also apply to Giesen’s even more recent, rather disingenuously titled and superficial Golem, Caligari, Nosferatu: A Chronicle of German Film Fantasy (2022).

I won’t name Giesen’s scammer in question here (he goes under a pseudonym anyway), simply to avoid giving him any more of the publicity he so desperately craves. But you can read a little about him here and here. His raison d’être is posting mostly publicly available film clips and historical documents to his Facebook page along with contextualising lies, where alarmingly high numbers of unsuspecting followers lap them up. Despite these “exclusives” being almost entirely public domain, including info and material taken uncredited from my site, all are overtly stamped with his own “copyright” logos. Via his pseudonym, he claims aristocratic German ancestry, and for years has insisted he either owns or knows the whereabouts of various rare or lost films including the most infamous of them all, Lon Chaney horror London After Midnight (1927). The fantasist is worthy of an article in himself; it would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic.

One thing he has managed to achieve is causing tangible damage to Count Orlok’s legacy, of which I’m sure he’s immensely proud. As has been explained elsewhere, all Nosferatu restorations are plagued (pun intended) with various problems. Back in the late 2000s, the FWMS intended to create a brand new, fully digital HD restoration that could be used for then new DCPs and BDs. But, inexplicably, they delayed it due to our fraudster dangling a carrot of access to rare unique nitrate materials he claims to possess on the film. Naturally, his cache failed to, ahem, materialise, but the FWMS had left it too long, until funding and budget deadlines precluded proceeding with their planned restoration. So in the end, they decided to simply go ahead with a HD scan and digital clean-up of the far-from-perfect 2006 restoration. Incredibly, Giesen admits to knowing all this (see pp. 117-118 of his first book) yet chose to use the fantasist, who has been successfully sued a number of times, as an unchecked source anyway. The bottom line is, any new information in his books not verifiable elsewhere should be taken with a pinch (no: make it a coffinful) of salt. And, for good measure, plenty of garlic.

Despite being announced in 2010 and slated for 2011, Strauss’s unique biography of Grau is actually still unpublished and looks unlikely to ever see the light of day. A pity, as it promised to do for the filmmaker and visionary what Eisner originally did for Murnau. The same publisher, belleville Verlag, run by Michael Farin, has been promising to issue a greatly revised, expanded version of Farin’s 2000 Nosferatu book for the past decade too. But the release date for both is perpetually pushed back so don’t hold your breath! Orlok certainly has his fair share of strange scholars.

Even many of the slightly more ‘credible’ literary entries feature little or no original research at all. Indeed, at least two authors above 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 not only of silent film but film in general. Shameless. But sadly, a far from unique phenomenon. And don’t get me started on the endless pseudo-psychoanalysis and cod-intellectualising. Both are just utterly tedious and smack of egotism 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 much new info, while laying many untruths to rest. I simply wanted answers to all the important (to me) questions that so many authors and historians have failed to address. In short, by all means get Eisner’s definitive work on the director and his oeuvre, which is available in several languages and, if your Spanish is up to it, do investigate Berriatúa’s incredibly detailed books. Likewise, if you read German, Eickhoff’s Schreck biography is well worth hunting down. With a few exceptions, you can safely disregard most of the more recent volumes but if you’re still curious, proceed as carefully as if you were entering Orlok’s shadowy vault itself.

Nosferatu (1922) by Marco Bucci, 2011

Nosferatu by Marco Bucci, 2011

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

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24th December 2020 01:12

Hi, 🙂 I have good news,
in March 2021 the german publisher “belleville” release the biography of Grau
and a new edition of “Nosferatu” (2000) by Hans Schmid.
and 2 books of “Frankenstein”
–> search with the words “belleville verlag vorschau” ; the first link

Many greetings from Germany,

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