The other night I attended a special screening of FW Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror [Eine Symphonie des Grauens, auf Deutsch]. Despite there potentially being hundreds of pages written about this celebrated early film masterpiece, I have some thoughts.
The film both invites and defies psychoanalytic dissection. Most of the story decisions were attempting to make it just-so distinct from Dracula for legal reasons, and most of the visuals were part of Murnau's still-congealing sensibilities as an eminently visual filmmaker. Not to be deterred by the total lack of complex motivation extant in the story itself, the sexual notion of the bizarre deserves credit, even if it is reaching on the part of intentionality.
Max Schrek's grotesque quality as the vampire Nosferatu is notable inasfar as it steps away from the standard direction of the sexually appealing vampire that was present in the earlier Les Vampires and later Bela Legosi's archetype-defining sexual monster in the first official film adaptation in Todd Browning's Dracula. As a kid, even long before actually seeing this film or Herzog's remake, this imprinted on me as an alternative to the famously sexy vampire fiction of Anne Rice (whose contributions to the genre should not be diminished), who was the un-elected comptroller of sexiness in vampire fiction in the nineties.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this movie is how incredibly stupid the protagonist(?) behaves. This is a theme in silent film, particularly early horror, where the protagonist uses his (always his) agency, a privilege not extended to more minor characters, to blow off every grave warning, to the point where his new boss literally sucks the blood out of his finger, and his first reaction isn't to smash the nearest chair and stake the shit out the guy's heart. I guess in reality a real person probably wouldn't murder someone based on such little evidence. Then again, those two little girls murdered a young boy because the Slenderman told them to, so what do I know?
Two notes about the presentation:
The screening featured a live musical accompaniment by The Invincible Czars, an Austin-based band of drama nerds who feature a strong talent for this sort of thing. Despite being deeply cynical, and being unnerved by their callous and counter-revolutionary choice of name, I enjoyed their effort.
It was presented on a digital print from Kino Video, I'm assuming the same one that appears on their Blu-Ray release; if not that, at least the same gorgeous restoration. I'm not going to direct to specific purchasing outlets because fuck that, but a bit of Googling will find you a fully remastered print of one of the most beautiful horror films you'll ever see.