- Every known première and 1920s screening of the tenacious vampire film that refused to die
- Even legal action from the widow of Dracula’s author couldn’t halt the spread of its deadly virus
- The budget for Nosferatu’s lavish world première was reportedly greater than that for the film itself
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. Note that this article, like most on this site, is in a constant state of flux, with new info and screening dates being added regularly.
- Related articles
Original version: 35mm, 1:1.33, five acts, 1,967m (106mins at 16fps)
Censorship: 16.12.1921, no. B 4960, Jv. prohibited for children
- Gala première: 4.3.1922 as Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, Berlin Der Marmorsaal (Marble Hall). Hans Erdmann orchestral score
- Theatrical première: 15.3.1922, Berlin Primus-Palast. Score as above.
Note there were even earlier screenings in Holland the previous month.
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, alongside the likes of Richard Oswald, Heinz Schall and Johannes Riemann. The festivities commenced at 8pm with an introduction by Graf Orlok himself, actor Max Schreck. Next, immediately preceding the screening, was the curtain raiser, a projected, written prologue by Kurt Alexander based on the premise of the “Prelude in the Theatre” which commonly introduces stagings of Goethe’s Faust. Over this, 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 reportedly spent on this huge social event and attendant publicity for the film than it actually cost to make.
For examples of the intertitles from the première version, see those in the 1995 and 2006 restorations.
- Première: 14–20.4.20; 29.9–5.10.24 Algiers Splendid Cinéma Select with some outdoor screenings – L’Écho d’Alger; pic ads: 13th, 14th, 18th
- 16–19.10.24 Algiers Eden-Cinéma – L’Écho d’Alger
- 10–12.11.24 Algiers Trianon Palace – L’Écho d’Alger
Nosferatu – L’Écho d’Alger 14.4.24
Un film qu’on jurerait sorti de l’imagination enfiévrée d’Edgard Poë, si le cinéma avait été le contemporain de l’auteur du « Mystère de la rue de la Morgue ». Une vision d’épouvante digne de la plume de notre André de Lorde, tel est le spectacle grand guignolesque que nous offre la direction du Splendid Cinéma.
Que les nerveux, les craintifs tous ceux qui craignent les cauchemars s’abstiennent; ce film convient aux âmes fortes qui recherchent le frisson, et elles sont nombreuses dans notre ville.
Nosferatu!!! Horreur et Epouvante!!!
A film that one would swear came out of the fevered imagination of Edgar Allen Poe, if the cinema had been the contemporary of the author of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue“. A vision of horror worthy of the pen of our André de Lorde, such is the grand guignolesque spectacle offered to us by the management of the Splendid Cinema.
Let the nervous, the fearful all those who fear nightmares refrain; this film is suitable for strong souls who are looking for the thrill, and there are many in our city.
Nosferatu!!! Horror and Terror!!!
- Première: 2.3.1923: Vienna Rotenturm-Kino and Zentral-Kino – Neues Wiener Tagblatt, 2.3.1923.
- From 6.3.1923: Vienna Horticultural Cinema – above and review in Der Wiener Tag newspaper, 9.3.1923; reprinted in Béla Balázs: Schriften zum Film, Erste Band 1926–1931 (1982, 1984) p. 175f.
CzechoslovakiaPremière: 2.2.1923 as Upír (Vampire) Nosferatu, Prague Bio Louvre cinema – Prager Tagblatt, 28.1.1923. Note that a copy of a Czech print is the source of all “public domain versions”.
Billed as Nosferatu le vampire, distributor: Cosmograph, length: 1,900m
- 27.10–22.11.1922, Paris Ciné-Opéra – M. Bouvier and J. L. Leutrat: Nosferatu (1981) pp. 252f, 272; Cinémagazine, no. 45, 10.11.1922, p. 179, 203: full-page ads.
- From 6.6.1925, Paris Ciné-Carillon.[ref]
- 25.1.1928, Paris Adyar Room, Tribune Libre du Cinéma film club.[ref]
- From 24.2.1928, Paris Ciné-Latin – Bouvier and Leutrat: Nosferatu (1981) p. 256.
See this informative article: La sortie de Nosferatu de Murnau à Paris en 1922 (et 1925, 1928, 1931).
10.12.1927 as Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, Amsterdam Centraal Theater; fourth event of the Dutch Film League – Céline Linssen, Hans Schotts and Tom Gunning: Het gaat om de film! Een nieuwe geschiedenis van de Nederlandse Filmliga 1927–1933 (1999) p. 284. The programme was announced as a “reprise”, presumably referring to the screenings above.
Note that the initial screenings took place before the German première. In November 2018, film journalist Kees Driessen elicited the following response via email from Dr. Robert Kiss, scholar and expert on German silent film:
“…concerning the early release of Nosferatu in The Hague… although this may look unusual when considered in isolation, I actually find it fairly standard practice for the period, with many tens of German features between roughly 1915 and 1924 opening in the Netherlands prior to being seen in Germany; of course, with the overwhelming majority of these features now lost or forgotten, the phenomenon can too easily be overlooked.
Following the loss of French product from the marketplace upon the outbreak of war in 1914, Germany had swiftly entered into a phase of domestic hyperproduction of features; a situation exacerbated by the loss of American product from the marketplace after March 1917, and which continued throughout the inflation-ravaged early post-war years when domestic production remained far more affordable than expending hard currency to acquire imported American movies. One consequence of the vastly increased levels of production, however… was that there were more ‘quality features’ being manufactured in Germany than there were ‘high-class cinemas’ in which to premiere them; this led to a backlog of unreleased features that were held back until a slot in the calendar became available at a major metropolitan venue. In the case of Nosferatu, it had already been passed by the Berlin censor on 16th December 1921, but then had to wait three months before there was a week available in the schedule of the Primus-Palast for its general opening.
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly which distributor commenced the practice, from early 1915, it became fairly commonplace for German major releases to turn up at Dutch cinemas prior to being seen in Germany. The practice seems to have had no negative consequences, since these early Dutch playdates didn’t impact on the reception of the film in Germany; indeed, neither the Dutch nor the German trade or mainstream press drew the slightest attention to the practice. At the same time, these early bookings may have provided a welcome injection of hard currency to German producers who had otherwise been left waiting for months for their films to open. In the case of Nosferatu, the film specifically reached German cinemas at a time when ticket prices were no longer published in newspapers, because hyperinflation caused them to change during the course of each day – with some suburban, small-town and rural movie houses even having gone over to the barter system, giving a number of eggs, heating briquettes or other goods in exchange for a ticket. In this context, a hard-currency early sale to the Netherlands seems even more desirable and understandable.
Clearly the above three paragraphs are merely a shorthand attempt to sum up a practice that probably merits an entire research paper, but hopefully it may be sufficient to satisfy the question in this instance!”
Première: 16.12.1928 as Dracula, London New Gallery Kinema; 27th programme of the Film Society – The Film Society Programmes 1925–1939 (1972, UK 1976) p. 104f; Bouvier and Leutrat: Nosferatu (1981) p. 259ff.
On its initial US release, the film played as Nosferatu the Vampire for a combined total of just three weeks at two small art house cinemas. English intertitles: Benjamin de Casseres (70min).
- 1-7.6.1929, New York Film Guild Cinema
- 9-15.11.1929, Detroit Little Theatre
- 14-20.12.1929, New York Film Guild Cinema
Before 16.5.1929 – NY State Motion Picture Division license application, ?.?.1929; Nosferatu in New York in Lichtbild-Bühne magazine no. 116, 16.5.1929; Bouvier and Leutrat: Nosferatu (1981) p. 261. Theatre Guild Magazine Vol. 6, no. 7, April 1929, p. 59, Film Guild Cinema ad: “NtV… coming attraction… inspired by motives from Dracula… a symphony in gray… moods macabre and mordant… a powerful psychopathic study of blood-lust…” In May issue (no. 8, p. 59) an ad for the pending “European Film Sensation” Moulin Rouge (1928), also reiterates the upcoming performance: “Coming! Nosferatu the Vampire directed by Murnau, director of The Last Laugh.”
14.12.1929 –Bouvier and Leutrat: Nosferatu (1981) p. 261, with regard to a meeting in Variety, 25.12.1929; Luciano Berriatúa: Los proverbios chinos de F. W. Murnau (1991) p. 138; Georges Sadoul: Histoire générale du cinéma 5: L’Art muet (L’après-guerre en Europe 1919-1929) (1975) p. 509, unsourced, cites an American copy in seven acts with a length of 6,942 feet (2,117m). He names the makers of this version as Symon Gould [head of the FGC*] (editor), Benjamin de Casseres (intertitles) and Conrad West (screenwriter). *Dutch Film League magazine no. 4, 12.1927, p. 9: Symon Gould: The Film Arts Guild (New York).
Though all original US prints are lost, it’s likely one was the source of the excerpts in the Universal short Boo! (1932), found on most home video releases of Frankenstein (1931).
This article incorporates 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 superseded by this and my other articles, nonetheless it still contains some points of interest. Additionally, there are many useful documents held at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.
If you like this, you’ll love:
- Nosferatu: History and Home Video Guide: Genesis of a Vampire
- Part 2: 1920s Screenings
- Part 3: Surviving Prints and “Public Domain Version”
- Part 4: 1981–1987 Restorations
- Part 5: David Shepard and Eureka Versions
- Part 6: 1995 and 2006 Restorations
- Part 7: Serenading the Undead: So Many Scores
- Part 8: The Many Faces of Orlok: Restored Versions on Blu-ray and DVD
- Nosferatu Unleashed in HD: Every Blu-ray Reviewed
- Nosferatu History and Home Video Guide: Die zwölfte Stunde (1930)
- Nosferatu: Chronicles from the Vaults – reprints of rare articles
- Nosferatu Rises: Reincarnated in Sound