Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle

4. Nosferatu (1922), dir. F.W. Murnau

Obviously I’ve seen this before, but I wanted to revisit it because I am going on this Dracula Society trip organised around its locations, studios and director in May / June (excite!), and [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 was very happy to join me in the enterprise. We found a nicely-restored version online, which was beautifully crisp and also contained several scenes neither of us could remember seeing before – e.g. the escape and pursuit of a prisoner from the asylum called Knock. It looks like quite a lot has been rediscovered and reinserted into the film since I last saw it, as the version we watched was about 1h30 long, whereas I’m pretty sure I only remember it being just over an hour previously. And it has gained a great deal in the process, with more time to establish the story at the beginning and all of the characters and the relationships between them coming across as better developed and more convincing.

We also attempted to match it up with [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313’s blood-red vinyl copy of the soundtrack which Hammer composer James Bernard wrote for the film in the 1990s, but since that was about 50 minutes long and the film more like 90, it was never going to be a perfect match! Periodically we either paused the record or went back a bit, but most of the time they were well out of sync. It didn’t really matter, though, as both were just so amazing and while the music was clearly designed in the first place to match the tone of particular scenes, it was all broadly Gothic and atmospheric, so it was never really at odds with the action.

The special effects deployed in the grand finale, when Count Orlok fades into nothing in the morning sunlight, are famous – not least because this scene first introduced the notion that sunlight is fatal to vampires. Orlok rising up in his coffin on the Demeter, presumably done by putting him on a board which could be pushed up using some kind of hidden mechanism, is almost as well-known. But over the years that had meant I’d come to assume they were the only two special effects shots in the film, and actually on rewatching I was struck by how much more widely they are used. Others I noticed included Orlok opening a door without needing to touch it in his castle, similarly unrolling a tarpaulin without needing to touch it on the ship, suddenly appearing sitting on his coffin in the ship and passing through the door of the warehouse in Wisborg without needing to open it at all. Speeded up film was also used at several points to show the supernatural speed of his movements, and negative image when his carriage is thundering through the woods. This is all just one particularly good example of why film showed itself so early as a medium well-suited to fantastic stories. Even the simplest special effects can do such a lot to convey supernatural activity, and Murnau was right there on front line of the technology.

Though Nosferatu was famously pulled after Florence Stoker sued its producers for copyright infringement, and was supposed to have been entirely destroyed, it had already been distributed overseas before this happened, and as a consequence never really ‘disappeared’ in the way you might expect in those circumstances. Rather, bootleg copies continued to circulate in both the UK and the US (I would link to pages explaining this, but between how fiddly that is on my tablet and how shonky the train wifi is, I’ve given up – just Google Nosferatu bootleg if you want to read about it). With that in mind, I’m now pretty sure after having rewatched it that at least somebody involved in the production of Hammer’s Dracula (1958) had seen it. The destruction-by-sunlight ending is almost enough to guarantee that (and indeed the wider impact of that scene also shows how the film continued to influence storytellers despite Florence’s efforts), but in addition to that there are also scenes of Hutter (the Jonathan Harker character) looking at the bite marks on his neck in a mirror which match up well with Hammer, as does Orlok conceiving a desire for his wife (Ellen, the Mina character) after seeing a framed picture of her amongst Hutter's possessions in the castle. Dracula being able to open doors without needing to touch them crops up later in Hammer’s Scars (1970), as well. Love me an inter-text.

Anyway, I’m now very excited indeed for my holiday and will be sure to take many pictures when I am there!

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Tags: dracula, films, films watched 2019, hammer films, holidays, horror films, music, vampires

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