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Nosferatu (1922) Question.

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Can anyone help me out? I'm currently working on a Halloween special, a review of Murnau's Nosferatu.

The problem i've come across is this: I've heard rumors that Max Schreck was in just one film, that being as Graf Orlock in the vampire classic. I've heard that no one knew who this mysterious figure even was, and that he completely disappeared as an actor after only one film. And i thought that was the basis behind Shadow of the Vampire, which played on this idea and promoted the fact that Schreck actually was a vampire, and was eating the cast during the making of the silent film.

The i went to The Internet Movie Database and they have over 40 films listed by this actor, which would make him a pretty well known German actor in the 20s and 30s.

Now i'm thinking that this rumor must have been a hoax that was promoted by the makers of Shadow of the Vampire to propel the mystery of their product and create more ticket sales.

Are my assumptions correct or can anyone verify this? Or were there two Max Schrecks? Hello?... Bueller?... Bueller?...

-s.

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I think you've been duped sir!

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I'm not that familiar with Schreck's career, but I can say you'll have to toss Shadow of a Vampire out the window as a historical referece of any kind. It's a work of fiction that plays very loosely with such things as the persona of Murnau and the production of Noseratu.

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Max Schreck (1879-1936)...German stage and screen actor who achieved immortality by portraying Dracula Murnau's Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922). Christopher Walken's character in Batman Returns (1992) was named "Max Schreck" in homage to the silent actor.

A fictionalized account of the making of Nosferatu is the 2000 film Shadow Of The Vampire. This movie took advantage of and exploited Schreck's mysterious past to portray him as a real vampire.

Shadow Of The Vampire (synopsis)

What if famed German filmmaker F.W. Murnau, for authenticity's sake, hired an actual vampire to play the lead role in his classic 1922 chiller "Nosferatu"? That's the marvelous conceit behind director E. Elias Merhige's moody and darkly funny thriller. John Malkovich plays Murnau, whose obsession with making the world's scariest movie is matched by fanged, taloned and bat-eared star Max Schreck's (Willem Dafoe) lust for the blood of leading lady Catherine McCormack.

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Think what you want of Shadow of the Vampire, that's fine, i think it's fun and campy and a very cool take on the first film. It certainly makes a great double billing with the original Nosferatu, if you view Shadow first and then going back and watching Nosferatu.

But where did i get this idea that Schreck was only in one film? I couldn't have made it up myself. I'm not that much of a tard.

-s.

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Stef, I think the movie Shrek itself is a film that riffs on a lesser known rumor about Murnau's production. Schrek was actually green and quite sensitive about his odd appearance. Many think this rumor is much more than just a rumor and is based in fact.

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Shrek is based on a children's book by William Steig (who passed away recently), so unless Steig got the name from the Nosferatu actor, and wrote a book with that reference in mind (which I admit, is possible), I find it highly unlikely, though an interesting coincedence.

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Now after writing that previous bit, I see that perhaps (M)Leary did know that and this was meant merely as a mocking of Stef. Sorry about that.

You may now continue with your regularily scheduled mocking of Stef.

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Stef,

Perhaps you were confusedly drawing on memories of references to Schreck as a previously unknown actor who had not made any earlier films and whose pre-Nosferatu life is something of an enigma (I'm not sure if anyone even knows whether or not "Schreck" ("terror") is a pseudonym)?

Perhaps you somehow transferred biographical details from some other thespian to Schreck? For example, there is another 1920s European silent film of a similar stature (both films made the Vatican film list) with a similarly singular, notable performance by a thespian who is often said never to have made another film, though the similarities pretty much end there: Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc. Not that I'm saying you have Count Orlock and Joan of Arc confused or anything.

Perhaps you just had a brain fart?

Anders, did you miss (M)'s joke, or am I missing yours? [Ah, I see that you addressed that while I was writing this reply. - SDG]

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Heh. It's all good clean fun. smile.gif

(Anders, consider the source, will you? Not to mention the fact that Shrek and Schreck are spelled differently. You, Mr. German-man, should've been the first to see this.)

(Btw, did you know that:

1. Max Schreck means "maximum terror" in German? I think this should further propel the rumor i bought into.

and...

2. Shrek 2 will be out in 2004?)

I picked up a book on ebay to look up a few more facts about the production of Nosferatu, Murnau, Schreck, and to perhaps learn about some of the deeper significances and the transcendence of that film. It's called The Material Ghost, and it gave me a scare in the middle of the night last night -- son of a gun if it doesn't glow in the dark!!

This may be the best Halloween ever.

-s.

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Perhaps you somehow transferred biographical details from some other thespian to Schreck? For example, there is another 1920s European silent film of a similar stature (both films made the Vatican film list) with a similarly singular, notable performance by a thespian who is often said never to have made another film, though the similarities pretty much end there: Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc. Not that I'm saying you have Count Orlock and Joan of Arc confused or anything.  

You know, that is a real possibility. Now that you mention it, i recall that i did know this about Falconetti. And after her brilliant performance in that film, how could she have not acted more? This is a sad, sad piece of trivia in regard to the Dreyer classic.

-s.

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The other sad, sad piece of trivia about The Passion of Joan of Arc is that Dreyer spent a decade planning a passion of Christ movie, but died before making it. My heart weeps at the thought of the film he might have made. Perhaps we will see it in heaven.

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stef wrote:

: Btw, did you know that . . . Shrek 2 will be out in 2004?

Yup. The impending sequel to Shrek was announced on the 'Shrek & Fiona's Honeymoon Storybook' CD-ROM that was given to kids who went to see Sinbad last year. Though of course, not that many people actually SAW Sinbad last year ...

SDG wrote:

: The other sad, sad piece of trivia about The Passion of Joan of Arc is that

: Dreyer spent a decade planning a passion of Christ movie, but died

: before making it. My heart weeps at the thought of the film he might

: have made. Perhaps we will see it in heaven.

Really? I've read the script, and I would have thought you might have found the film too liberal or revisionist.

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I didn't know there was a script. Is it online? I was thinking primarily of the sensibility he brought to Joan and how well it would have worked for a passion of Christ film.

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SDG wrote:

: I didn't know there was a script. Is it online?

Not that I know of; I found a copy at the library. FWIW, thanks to Amazon.com's new search-not-just-the-titles-but-ALL-the-words-in-all-our-books feature, it is impossible to find their page for this particular book right now, but I suspect it is out of print; however, you CAN order used copies there. One book I have not yet read, which is also out of print, is Letters about the Jesus film : 16 years of correspondence between Carl Th. Dreyer and Blevins Davis.

: I was thinking primarily of the sensibility he brought to Joan and how well

: it would have worked for a passion of Christ film.

Ah, well, Dreyer's film was about the LIFE of Christ, not just his passion. Some excerpts, if I may:

[page 41] I wrote the script for a film on Jesus in the United States at the suggestion of Mr. Blevins Davis in the late forties, but earlier I had already formed my own theories regarding the events which must have preceded the arrest of Jesus. Some days after the Germans occupied Denmark, it struck me that such a situation as we Danes were in was similar to that of the Jews in Judea in the days of the Roman Empire. The hatred we felt toward the Nazis, the Jews must have felt toward the Romans. It seemed to me that the capture, conviction, and death of Jesus was the result of a conflict between Jesus and the Romans.

[pages 45-46] I consider it possible that it was the Romans who demanded the arrest of Jesus, for the Romans, who commanded a well-organized "gestapo," were informed of all that went on in Judea, especially in Jerusalem during the Passover. In Denmark there was an analogous case during the Occupation when the Germans, on February 24, 1942, requested the arrest of Wilh. la Cour and had him transferred to their authority. . . . The fretful, snappish tone seems to indicate that Caiaphas, even within the narrow political council, had met resistance to the handing over of Jesus from the advisors, who otherwise were puppets in his hand. . . . There is, in my humble opinion, nothing that indicates that Caiaphas was not a conscientious man who had the people's welfare in his thoughts.

[pages 50-51] Many things indicate that Paul has inspired Luke to these underhanded attacks on the Jews. If this is the case, we confront a most peculiar phenomenon, namely: "the anti-semitic Jew." . . . Paul does not point out that the Jesus the heathens are urged to worship is the one the Romans crucified years before for seditious activity. Jesus became an unknown man whose divine qualities appeared only when he rose from the dead. . . . The tendency to fawn upon the Romans and to smear the Jews also appears in The Gospel According to St. John, which was written at the same time as The Acts of the Apostles and shows the same hostility toward the Jews.

[page 56] In both
Joan of Arc
and
Day of Wrath
I have consciously tried to remain impartial. The clergy in the two films did indeed condemn Joan and the harmless old witch to the stake, but it was not because they were evil and cruel. They were only caught up in the religious convictions of their times. When they tortured their victims in order to force a confession from them, it was because the confession insured the accused eternal life.

[page 57, re: the film's intent] Yes, there is, insofar as I think it will aid in lessening the antagonism between Christian and Jew. For this reason, among others, I know that I want to let Jesus be shown as a Jew. The masses have a deeply rooted conception that Jesus was blond and Aryan. It is a good turn, I think, to see to it that this prejudice is stamped out.

[page 129] The face of Jesus bears a troubled look. He realizes that his mission has been a failure. No one, not even his disciples, understands his teaching: that the Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom.

[page 194] First Pharisee: He said that he is the Son of God. Gamaliel: We are all God's children.

[page 227, re: taxes to Caesar] Sixth Pharisee: We do not tempt you. We are in doubt ourselves.

[page 272] Through the whole film we will have been seeing men kiss each other when they meet, so that the kiss of Judas will appear a common practice.

[page 292] Narrator: Jesus dies, but in death he accomplished what he had begun in life. His body was killed, but his spirit lived. His immortal sayings brought to humanity all over the world the good tidings of love and charity foretold by the Jewish prophets of old.

I don't object to ALL of Dreyer's ideas, but the cumulative effect of all these tweaks and revisions suggests to me that this would not be the sort of film that we would see in heaven.

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I don't find it all that sad, in fact, i'd be willing to bet that Von Trier will eventually make it. wink.gif

-s.

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Hm. I, too, find a number of Dreyer's twists unobjectionable... though that last line is way, way wrong.

I think it's quite right that Judas' kiss should appear as a natural custom -- why else would Judas pick this sign?

It's true that Jesus' disciples misunderstood the nature of his kingdom to the end, though not that his mission was a "failure."

The lines from Gamaliel and "Sixth Pharisee" are obviously without basis.

Yeah, you're right that the film as conceived includes problematic elements, more than I would have hoped.

Further elaboration of my wistful comment about seeing it in heaven would require more detailed eschatological ideas (particularly regarding the general judgment) than I think is appropriate in this thread. smile.gif

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SDG wrote:

: The lines from Gamaliel and "Sixth Pharisee" are obviously without basis.

Not only that, but don't the gospels actually say that the 'Sixth Pharisee' and his group WERE trying to trap Jesus when they asked Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar?

Having said that, though, I DO like the fact that Dreyer wanted to put Gamaliel in his film. It's always interesting to wonder what various characters from the Book of Acts (Gamaliel, Paul, the crippled beggar at the Temple, etc.) were up to when the Gospels took place.

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I don't always post reviews for the sake of posting reviews, but dang, this one is pretty good. Besides, it's of a film that you won't often see reviewed.

Nosferatu at The Film Forum.

-s.

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As I mentioned elsewhere, I've been struggling over critiquing Nosferatu for years, trying to grapple with the meaning of the figure of the vampire, why he is so compelling yet so dreadful, what it all means, and how to look at it as a Christian (especially in light of the virtual absence of religious references in this particular film).

In particular, I've been troubled by Freudian and similar allegorical interpretations. Vampire films often have some level of erotic subtext, and I'm willing to see it here, although as Murnau works out his own take on the mythology nothing seems to me to make sense.

I can make nothing of comments from critics like James Berardinelli and the Lokke Heiss commentary track about Orlock representing Hutter's id or animal side and Ellen in some way gaining something from Orlock, for it ignores the most obvious thing about the vampire: He is freaking evil and destructive and KILLS Ellen and everyone else he touches (though Hutter survives his single feeding).

At the same time, I'm not willing to go with moralizing allegories of the vampire as wantonness (or veneral disease, which is a much more plausible thought in relation to Stoker's original novel), primarily because of the OTHER most crucial thing about THIS vampire and this narrative, which is that you destroy the vampire BY SURRENDERING TO IT. If the vampire is wantonness or veneral disease, you destroy it by resisting and attacking it, either through religion (crucifixes and holy water) or technological-scientific-natural means (stake through the heart, sunlight), but not by surrendering to it.

Finally, while there is something generically christological about Ellen sacrificing herself to destroy evil and save the city, I don't see that christological or soteriological categories helpfully illuminate the mystery of the vampire itself. I do find that its combination of dread and fascination are evocative of the horror of evil appearing attractive to our disordered appetites and passions.

Beyond that, though, I think that Nosferatu is so unsettling in part precisely because we cannot rationalize or allegorize him away.

My brief review

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Hmmm, so we watched this (for the first time in my case) last night, outside, complete with random real life animal noises coming from behind us and bats flying about overhead. Which was pretty cool.

I was hoping for a bit more discussion on this film than there is here (and both the review links are broken). I remember there being some discussion on it after it screened at Flickerings (didn't Stef call the director DW Murnau or something?).

Or has anyone written about it somewhere else?

Matt

PS We watched Keaton's The General the night before and the big screen effect certainly made a big difference.

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didn't Stef call the director DW Murnau or something?).

I would never...

It's a right-wing conspiracy...

It was all my little sister's fault...

The dog peed on it... etc etc :D

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My, how times change. My old review is gone, and The Film Forum is now a German language website.

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