You Cannot Escape Destiny By Running Away: Nosferatu (1922)

I had originally slated an adaptation of F.W. Murnau's magnificent silent horror film in that I had intended to look at Werner Herzog's work, but when a local up and coming independent film screening group in my town decided to do a Halloween film double feature I knew where my loyalties lay.  Beginning with Carnival of Souls, one of my top five favorite horror films, and following the screening up with Nosferatu, accompanied by a live scoring made me look back and realize that while I had certainly seen the film before, it had never graced the pages of my blog, although Murnau had certainly received love.  I would have lovingly written an entirely new blog post about Carnival of Souls, but, unfortunately, school kept me from attending the full screening and I am trying to commit to a rule of never repeating posts here, after all, there is a ton of cinema I still need to encounter and hopefully, blog about, regardless of whether or not it receives a ton of hits.  All this introspection and reflection on my previous posts aside, seeing this decidedly cleaned up and stunning looking copy of Nosferatu was a wonderful experience and a great reminder of the ways in which Murnau's film, released in 1922 was, and in many ways still is, ahead of its time.  Between some clever use of film cutting and stop motion and negative prints, Nosferatu takes on a considerable degree of otherworldliness which is at times quite haunting.  Of course, it fails to possess the same sense of cinematic dread and fear induced by The Phantom of the Oprea, but where it is lesser in this aspect, Nosferatu manages to make up in one of the more narratively engaging of the era's films, even composing itself in such away to contain moments that are quite humorous and clever.  Max Schreck's disturbing turn as Nosferatu, combined with Murnau's mastery of the cinematic technique make for one of the most significant of horror figures, despite Nosferatu remaining one of the most criminally under seen films of the German expression movement.

Nosferatu, very much falls in the same narrative vein as Dracula, for which the opening credits note its story originating.  In this version, however, Hutter (Gustav von Wagenheim) an up and coming expert in the field of estates is expected by his employer Knock (Alexander Granach) to travel to Transylvania to meet with one Count Orlok (Max Schreck).  Doing so despite the concerns of his wife Ellen (Greta Schröder), Hutter travels to Transylvania and quickly discover that the space of Count Orlok's mansion does not necessarily follow the rules of logic, whether it be the bizarrely fast speed by which Orlok is able to transport himself about the roads on his land, or the intensely vivid dreams which haunt his nights.  Writing back to Helen, Hutter even notes the odd symmetrical nature of two mosquito bites on his neck.  Overarching these events, is the rhetoric of the emergence of a plague in the area leading to the locking of Hutter's hometown down from incoming ship traffic.  This realization leads to Hutter realizing that he must spend considerably more time at Orlok's castle, a fact that becomes highly troubling when Hutter catches Orlok in the evening transformed into the scary creature known as Nosferatu, a vampire intent on devouring individuals' livelihood through a sucking of their blood. When Nosferatu becomes aware of Ellen, he notes her particularly tantalizing qualities and takes it about himself to mount a ship ride to Hutter's town to find Ellen.  Using a series of crates, masked as vessels of dirt used in scientific studies, the elusive Nosferatu is able to live off of the crew members destroying them one by one sustaining himself through the travels, all the while the distraught Hutter attempting to stay a few steps ahead of the vampire whose feverish pace leaves little time for side stepping or hestiation.  When Nosferatu arrives in the town his presence comes simultaneously, if not purposefully, with a new layer of the plague, almost taking the lives of Ellen and others, yet when a maddened Knock reveals the secrets of Nosferatu's life power, Hutter and others are able to exploit his desires as a means to tempt him into the sunlight and destroy himself in the process.

I can only imagine the various literature that has been written on Nosferatu both from a historical production and film theorist viewpoint, which is appropriate considering that the film is not solely a technical marvel, but also one that exudes points of well-reasoned critique, whether it be on the nature of power and desire or more intricate philosophical endeavors if not the semiotics and signifiers associated with a notion of good and evil and how such descriptions can change with new information or situation relationships.  These are all things to be applied to the film, as well as constant reconsiderations of the ways in which the production of the film is key to its understanding.  What is perhaps the most interesting to me, however, is the possibility to read this film as a queer text, even if doing so requires one to do an anachronistic, against the grain, consideration of the film.  There is a rather clear element of this occurring in the initial longing desire for Hutter on the part of Nosferatu while he is still passing as Count Orlok, wherein his very act of passing can double as his attempting to negate any associations with his queerness through appropriating a socially normative identity in the count, leading to the somewhat socially oblivious Hutter seeing him as a non-threatening figure despite the signs evident in haunting dreams and the generally emaciated look of Nosferatu.  Indeed, his desire is something that is to be repressed and when Nosferatu does act it out upon Hutter through the neck biting, Hutter's perceptions of him change considerably, or to be more specific his associations with queerness emerge and he is now a literal monster to be feared for such attributes.  This leads to Nosferatu becoming a vengeful figure, one who feels it necessary to violently enact his frustrations upon the figures around him, either by purposeful attacks, particularly regarding the men on the boat, or his constant carrying of a large coffin, despite its undoubtedly heavy nature. This means that Nosferatu's ill-fated attempt to consume Ellen takes on another layer of the problematic, since it is the heterosexual figures who use Ellen as a ruse for the queer Nosferatu, one that leads to his ultimate death through repressed homosexual shame.  A too in-depth reading of the film, perhaps, but not one that is entirely impossible .

Key Scene:  The carriage ride sets up a tonal shift in the film that might be one of the most marked in all of early cinema history.

Often times patience can be a huge pay off, it is certainly the case with the bluray impending release for this film.  As it is from Kino it should prove excellent.

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