RogerBW's Blog

Nosferatu 18 July 2022

1922 horror, dir. F. W. Murnau, Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim; IMDb / allmovie. Hutter travels from his coastal German home to sell a house to the mysterious Orlock.

From a technical perspective this is a fascinating blend of modern and older techniques: the camera is far more mobile than was usual for 1922, there's even location shooting, and undercranking that more or less works. On the other hand there's that terribly expansive theatrical acting style, designed so that people way back in the cheap seats can understand what your character is feeling without waiting for the intertitle.

But from a filmmaking perspective… this is horror largely without jump-scares, but it's horror that manages to be all the more horrifying by mostly implying rather than showing. It's real, and it stays with one.

The name changes were not, I think, made to try to deceive the famously litigious Florence Stoker; indeed, the production company never even applied for the rights. There had been a ban on foreign films being imported into Germany, set up in 1916, and my theory is that this was intended to be a low-budget production for a local audience that wouldn't be able to see the inevitable "big" American or British film of Dracula when it got made. (Similarly, the non-Carpathian action is moved from England to Germany.) Even so, Stoker had all the copies in Germany burned; this masterpiece only survives because of copies that had already been sent to foreign exhibitors.

But this is the first film to be made based on the story of Dracula (a lost Hungarian production of 1921 seems to have been largely a copy of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari that borrowed the name), and it's the one that introduced the idea of plague following in the vampire's wake – and the first to have him destroyed by sunlight. It's a much more satisfying ending than the one in the book.

Yes, all right, both Knock and Orlock have elements of the Jewish-villain stereotype which are familiar if you've spent time exposed to Nazi propaganda (hey, I was running a WWII game). I don't think Murnau was particularly anti-Semitic, mostly the opposite – but he was embedded in a culture that said that this is what a villain looks like.

I think it would be fair to argue that one of the major reasons for Dracula's success is that the vampire is a gentleman, if a foreign one; in the late Victorian age when female sexuality was barely discussed, he represented the threat of the Sexy Foreigner. This Orlock is none of that: he is a monster. And yet, in the quest for a profit, everyone ignores that…

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 11:44am on 22 July 2022

    Will you be covering the other Nosferatu film, Nosferatu the Vampyre?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:46am on 22 July 2022

    It's a possibility. We didn't want to do a triple-bill for the podcast, but I could certainly see us revisiting vampire films at some point - so I'll probably hold off watching it until we reach a decision on that.

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