January 29, 2007

Lotte Eisner on Murnau's Nosferatu 1922

Writing about web page /michaelwalford/entry/the_weimar_cinema_1_2/

Lotte Eisner on Murnau's Nosferatu (1922)

Here I have summarised some of the key points that Eisner makes about Murnau's Nosferatu 1922. The complete title of the film is Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror). Eisner describes Murnau as the greatest of the German filmmakers through his creation of poignant and overwhelming images which go beyond mere decorative stylisation. Murnau was trained as an art historian and in many of his shots he plays with the memory of great paintings, whilst Lang by comparison tries to make faithful reproductions of great paintings when he has recourse to them. In Faust the shooting of a prostrate man stricken with plague there is a ‘transposed reflection of Mantegna’s Christ’. (Eisner, 1969:98)

Eisner notes that Murnau was gay and suggests that his films ‘bear the impress of of his inner complexity’ noting that born in 1888 he lived under the shadow of Paragraph 175 of the pre 1918 German penal code outlawing homosexuality. Fear of blackmail was thus always present. She suggests that Murnau’s origins in Westphalia a rural farming area influenced his work which came through in a sense of  nostalgia for the countryside.

Nosferatu was filmed on location which was unusual at the time. Using Gothic Baltic towns he filmed on the dunes of the Baltic ‘ He makes us feel the freshness of a meadow in which horses gallop around with a marvellous lightness’. (Eisner:1969, 99). The use of the architecture of these Baltic towns obviated the need to use artificial chiaroscuro. Murnau uses nature combined with editing to make waves foretell the arrival of the vampire. Murnau’s direction is tight with each shot having a precise function using momentary close-up of billowing sails to contribute to the narrative drive.

‘ It is reasonable to argue that the German cinema is a development of German Romanticism, and that modern technique merely lends visible form to Romantic fantasies’. (Eisner, 1969: 11).

On this last comment the short documentary by the art historian Christopher Frayling on the British Film insitute DVD usefully explores this notion in relation to Nosferatu

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