For a few years now I have been extolling the virtues of Cinema Ten in Potsdam, yet I have always been too busy to take the long drive up there to see a film. Finally, this past Monday I was able to get up to see a flick. A great flick, I might add-the 1922 masterpiece by F.W. Murnau Nosferatu – a “symphony of horror.”
Ninety years after it was made, Nosferatu still packs a punch. It is an eerie expressionistic creeper with arresting and unforgettable images. The experience of the film was even more singular because of the live music accompaniment by the Andrew Alden Ensemble from Boston. Their original score was elegant, potent, and nuanced without being overpowering and distracting. It was at times minimalist and at other times vivid.
There is much symbolism in Nosferatu and the horror and fear comes from a place that we all have inside. Terror comes to town and in coming to town it gets into our lives and eats us away from the inside out. Some of the most amazing images in the film are of the ship that Count Orlock (Max Schreck) rides into town after the entire crew is killed. We don’t see any people but we know the ship carries death with it. It sails into frame little, by little, as if to say, “it’s coming.” Death comes to us all, and the doom of its inevitability is oppressive.
Murnau’s masterpiece is such a part of the culture canon, not only in filmmaking and film history, but in vampire culture. Some variations from Bram Stoker’s novel were added to try and avoid being sued by Bram Stoker’s estate. His wife was still alive. One of these is the concept of daylight destroying Count Dracula (Orlock in the film). This detail is now part of the myth of vampires, but in the book daylight only weakened vampires.
Nosferatu is successful because it mixes the reality of authentic locations with highly theatrical (unrealistic) acting and nightmarish expressionistic angles and images, which are terrifying, even if they aren’t realistic. Somehow this all makes the nightmare feel true.
Nosferatu’s film is a classic that has inspired countless other horror films but none of them have quite captured the get “under your skin feel” that the 1922 silent captures.