RogerBW's Blog

Shadow of the Vampire 22 July 2022

2000 horror, dir. E. Elias Merhige, John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe; IMDb / allmovie. In 1921, Murnau travels from Berlin to make a film about the mysterious Count Orlock.

Well, up to a point. It's not just that there was no vampire on the historical set of Nosferatu, or that the film as it was actually made is rather different from the film that would have come out of this process. It's that individual people are got wrong: Murnau, unlike many directors, was not a tyrant, indeed people would happily work themselves to exhaustion for him without him having to shout at them. And Albin Grau, while he was indeed production designer and producer, was also a Rosicrucian occultist, and that's just missing here even as the supernatural gradually leaks into reality. Most crucially, filming night-for-night was simply impossible until some years later.

But apart from these little niggles, it's rather fun. The conceit is that Murnau has found an actual vampire, and has promised him the leading lady in return for his appearing on film as "Max Schreck" playing Count Orlock – after all, what could be a more natural performance?

The anchoring performance is of course Willem Dafoe's, as Orlock as Schreck as Orlock: he makes the prosthetics live in much the way Schreck did, and everyone else dismisses his eccentricities as part of the Method. At times one almost sympathises with him, which I think must be considered the point. John Malkovich has a rather harder job with the somewhat stereotyped part of the obsessed director, but manages even so, and their rare scenes along together are particularly effective.

All right, there's a gratuitous breast shot in this piece that otherwise does a good job of implying rather than showing; I wonder if it was done to get an R rating. If only Greta's drug-craving frenzy had had some narrative purpose, for example to leave her conscious after the later laudanum shot because she's built up a tolerance… ah well.

I was struck by a casual mention of Czechoslovakia. It's a period-accurate term, but it only started being that three years earlier, when it split off from Austria-Hungary at the end of the war. Before then if you knew about it at all you'd call it Bohemia and Moravia and part of Silesia. Given how much people like to complain about countries changing their names, I was slightly surprised that nobody mentioned it.

Still. Good fun. And there's a very fine steam engine in it, if briefly.

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

  1. Posted by JBauer at 10:38pm on 08 October 2022

    Your entry for the 1922 film on 18 July now points to this one.

    I've actually been to that castle. It's smaller on the inside than you might expect (those walls are very thick). It was apparently not a happy place to be.

    Incidentally, Orava, where the original film was shot, is in Slovakia, which was part of Hungary while Silesia is part of Poland.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 09:05am on 11 October 2022

    Thanks, accidental URL overlap - now fixed.

    I'd love to see the actual places some day - even when a director hasn't gone to the trouble of making something look different from the way it is in the flesh, there's an impression one gets from the physicality of the thing which for me doesn't really come over on film.

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