Nosferatu (1922)

Toronto Film Society presented Nosferatu (1922) on Monday, March 10, 1952 as part of the Season 4 Main Series, Programme 7.

SEVENTH EXHIBITION MEETING – FOURTH SEASON
Monday, March 10, 1952    8.15 p.m. sharp
Royal Ontario Museum Theatre

The Popcorn Story   (U.S.A.)   Approx. 10 mins

PRODUCED BY:  United Productions of America
RELEASED BY:  Columbia Pictures
DIRECTOR:  Stephen Bosustow

The U.P.A. cartoon is the most original and significant development in its field since Disney first delighted us with his early “Silly Symphonies”.  Cautiously regarded at first as rather bizarre novelties, these one-reel divertissements soon achieved high critical and audience recognition for their freshness of approach, strikingly clever draughtsmanship and sophisticated humor.  “Gerald McBoingBoing” won an Academy Award and wide public favor, and the near-sighted, affably clueless old gentlemen named “Mister Magoo” has been steadily entrenching himself in our affections in his own particular starring vehicles.

The Popcorn Story is a good example of the U.P.A. style.

New Earth   (Holland 1931-34)   30 mins

DIRECTION:  Joris Ivens
PHOTOGRAPHY:  Joris Ivens, John Ferno, Piet Huisken, Helen Van Dongen
MUSIC:  Hanns Eisler
EDITING:  Helen Van Dongen

Iven’s masterpiece New Earth is one of the milestones of documentary.  Begun as a réportage of the draining of the Zuider Zee and its conversion into farmland, it emerged into a passionate attack on the economic methods which permitted dumping the products of the new-won ground into the sea, thereby anticipating the messages of the Rotha films, World of Plenty and World is Rich.  Brilliantly observed, and even more brilliantly edited for propagandist purposes, it summed up as the record of a tragedy typical of modern life, that of a project begun on an epic scale and ending in anti-climax.

Almost all of Ivens’ films are uncompromisingly political and propagandist, but they differ from other political propaganda in being directly related to people and revealing a serene and sunny belief in peoples whatever the darkness of the age.

Ivens’ collaborators deserve mention.  Helen Van Dongen edited all of Ivens films except the most early and recent–they worked on equal terms as joint creators.  Later she worked as editor with Flaherty on The Land and Louisiana Story.  John Ferno photographed New EarthSpanish Earth and The 400 Million for Ivens and accompanied him to the U.S. where he struck out on his own as a director (in the documentary field.

Richard Griffiths: The Film Since Then

Nosferatu (Dracula)  (Germany 1922)

DIRECTION:  F.W. Murnau
SCENARIO:  Henrik Galeen
PHOTOGRAPHY:  Fritz Arno Wagner, Gunther Krampf
DESIGN:  Albin Grau
Based on the novel, “Dracula” by Bram Stoker

CAST:  Max Schreck, Alexander Granach, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schroeder, G.H. Schnell, Ruther Landshaft, John Gottowt, Gustav Botz, Max Nemetz, Wolfgang Heinz, Albert Denohr.

Murnau’s horror film on the subject of vampires, Nosferatu was a product of his early period.  He had already a few films to his credit–The Hunchback and the Dancer (1919), Janus-Faced (1920)–a version of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, Vogeloed Castle (1921)–a crime film, and the realistic farm drama–Burning Soil (1922).  These early films testified to Murnau’s unique faculty of obliterating the boundaries between the real and the unreal.  Reality in his films was surrounded by a halo of dreams and presentiments, and a tangible person might suddenly impress the audience as a mere apparition.

Kracauer

Nosferatu the Vampire followed the current vogue for nightmares and satisfied the German fascination for the macabre.  It belonged to the same tradition of fairy-tale films of the period–Weine’s Calgari, Wegener’s Golem, Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, which expressed the profound romanticism of the Germans, their fascination with cruelty, fear and horror.  Siegfried Kracauer points out that Nosferatu belongs to the group of film concerned with the depiction of tyrants.  The basic theme of The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari–the soul being faced with the seemingly unavoidable alternative of tyranny or chaos–exerted extraordinary fascination.  In this film type, the Germans of the time–a people still unbalanced, still free to choose its regime–nursed no illusions about the possible consequences of tyranny; on the contrary they indulged in detailing its crimes and the sufferings it inflicted.  … The horrors Nosferatu spreads are caused by a vampire identified with pestilence.  … Like Attila, Nosferatu is a ‘scourge of God’, and only as such is identifiable with pestilence.  He is a blood-thirsty, blood-sucking tyrant figure looming in those regions where myths and fairy tales meet.  It is highly significant that during this period German imagination always gravitated towards such figures–as if under the compulsion of love-hate.”

The film was an adaptation of the Irish author, Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula”, but Henrik Galeen, the script writer made so many changes in the novel that the enraged Stoker demanded all copies of the film destroyed, with the result that prints of the film are rare.  Manuel Rotellar of the Cine Club, Zaragoza, Spain in his little book on Nosferatu justifies the changes on the score that Murnau proposed “only to use the most fundamental facts in the narrative and lend them a new vital rhythm,” and that the film thereby gained “in plastic richness, in authentic expression, and in the creation of atmosphere.”  Rotellar further contrasts Murnau’s film with the American Dracula to the detriment of the latter, opposing the restrained search for unity of the one, to the commercialised sensationalism of the other.

There are, naturally, many things to complain of in this work of transition.  Rotellar points out its weaknesses which will be quite apparent to us.  In 1928 the Film Society in London revied the film with the remark that it “combined the ridiculous with the horrid.”  However this early Murnau film contains much of considerable interest and merit and there are sequences which resist the passage of time and point to Murnau’s exquisite tact, film sense and technical ingenuity.

Nosferatu is full of experiments in fantasy.  Béla Balázs, a German writer of Hungarian descent, wrote in 1924 that it was as if “a chilly draft from doomsday” passed through the scenes of Nosferatu.  To obtain this effect Murnau and his cameraman Fritz Arno Wagner used all kinds of tricks.  Strips of negative film presented the Carpathian woods as a maze of ghost-like trees, white trees against a black sky.  Shots taken in the “one-turn-one-picture” manner transformed the clerk’s coach into a phantom vehicle uncannily moving along by jerks.  The most impressive sequence was that in which the spectral ship glided with its terrible freight over phosphorescent waters (the camera here seems to fly and is subjectivized).  Rotellar draws attention to the interlacing of lyrical and macabre veins to build up atmosphere and intention (i.e. the introduction of Harker with the contrast between the two houses and gardens); Murnau’s choice of decor and setting to develop the horrific concept of the plot–the thirst for life-blood; his symbolism and conscious creation of psychological momentum (i.e. the use of negative as a symbol of ultra-terror on Nosferatu’s arrival in the city).

Within a period of two years Murnau abandoned the macabre; the fairy-tale film had served its purpose in exploiting elements peculiar to motion picture technique to suggest magic, poetry, and the excitement of the fabulous.  Murnau’s brilliance as a director sensitive to the resources of the cinema were summarised in The Last Laugh (1924) which represents the highest level of the classic development of the German cinema.  Tartuffe followed in 1925 and Faust in 1926.

Nosferatu by Manuel Rotellar, Cine Club
Zaragoza, Spain 1950
Film Forum Vol. 7 No. 2 Nov. 1951
From Caligar to Hitler by Siegfried Kracauer

A synchronized music score from
phonograph recordings will accompany
the film

MEMBERS’ EVALUATIONS

Late Returns on Earlier Programmes:

Eternal Return: “Simply and sincerity of story very effective, but some situations seemed forced, and censor cuts annoying”—“A beautiful film, tremendously appealing, but wish the ending hadn’t been cut”—“I liked the variety of the different sets of characters, but sometimes felt two separate films were showing at one time”—“Glad ending was cut; my emotions couldn’t have stood any more!”—“Since ordinarily I find Cocteau exceedingly distasteful, I was surprised to find I didn’t mind this one very much; still I don’t like the idea of a villainous dwarf in films; dwarfs too are an oppressed minority”—“The dog was wonderful.”  One member would like to see other Cocteau films, naming OrpheusLes Parents Terribles and Blood of a Poet.  (We showed the latter a couple of years ago with stormy and controversial reactions!  Orpheus will very likely be shown next season.)

Love of Jeanne Ney:  “Much too long but acting good for the type of play”—“The players conveyed more with their faces and gestures than the talking pictures do with their abundance of dialogue; much suspense, but stretches of too much detail tended to make it draggy and stilted”—“Very well cast; amazed to find that 20 years ago they had made use of the camera for such effects”—“Wonderful acting particularly by ‘Uncle Raymond’ whose imaginary money-counting scene is one of the great moments in film history; but too long, bowdlerized story, perverted ending; enjoyed it anyway”—“Suspense was fantastic; photography as sensitive and delicate as could be imagined; but story too exactly what one expected”—“Excerpts from such a film to show its place in evolution of German film making might have some point, but fail to see value of sitting through 103 minutes of such nonsense”.

Unvavorable comments on this film were almost entirely confined to such unavoidable features as the poor print, lack of English subtitles, cuts, etc.  One member, however, thought the film “Very Bad” and added:  “I think the Emperor is naked”.

Pacific 231:  “Extremely dynamic; music and movement became a unity”—“Would very much like to see it again”—“Made all my train journeys come alive again”—“Terrific!”—“Very interesting with unusual, remarkable photograph”.

Feelings of Depression:  “Rather interesting but not original enough; too many repetitions at the end”—“Title precisely describes the sensations it gave me”—“Please, no more, ‘Depressions'”—“Outstanding in its amateurishness; a good idea but why so poorly done?”—“Some interesting and very perceptive direction, but acting not always good; photography could be better; on the whole not bad”—“Rather pointless”.

The River:  “Very impressive and persuasive, interesting camera work, but too-emphatic and repetitious commentary becomes tiresome”—“Beautiful all in all, but suffers from change of pace at about 2/3 mark”—“Well done except for loud brassy music”—“Commentary tedious at first but extremely effective in the repetitive sections; good photography; a fine documentary”—“A graphic classic”—“Still powerful”.

Several members commended Paul Duval’s introduction to L’Atalante;  several complained about the continuing annoyance of late-comers.  One member, claiming to speak for a dozen others, considered the programme much too long and tiring, and while praising The River, felt he was too exhausted by the time L’Atalante came on to properly appreciate it.  He thought the introduction to the film “precious”, was especially critical of Feelings of Depression, and called Pacific 231 a “trivial short about trains”.

CURRENT FILM NOTES:

I find it hard to be objectively critical about Death of a Salesman because it had such a shattering emotional effect on me; I have found only a very few films (including All Quiet on the Western FrontThe Grapes of Wrath and The Passion of Joan of Arc) so powerful.  This is not to say it is great cinema, or perhaps strictly cinema at all; it has been taken to task by some for retaining the framework of the stage play and failing to re-tell its story in camera terms.  I feel that Stanley Kramer’s primary aim in producing the film was to preserve the flavor of Arthur Miller’s drama, and I think in this case he was right; it’s perhaps the most faithful screening of the play to date, and just as probing, candid and disturbing in its merciless, yet compassionate examination of Willy Loman and his way of life.  Further, I believe that, within the chosen limited framework, director Laslo Benedek has used camera and lighting with some skill and subtlety.  Fredric March seems to me to do a tremendous job as Willy; a performance that, like the picture, appears to be controversial.  Mildred Dunnock and Kevin McCarthy are especially fine in support.

George G. Patterson

TORONTO FILM SOCIETY

PROGRAMME ADDITION   March 10th, 1952

The film Loony Tom by James Broughton was made
available to the Toronto Film Society by A.F.
Films New York, and the National Film Board
Preview Library Ottawa.  Booking confirmation
was received following the printing of the
programme notes.

Loony Tom  (The Happy Lover)   U.S.A.  1951   10 minutes

Written, directed and narrated by James Broughton.

Starring Kermit Sheets.

“‘Just relax’, James Broughton is apt to say when somebody begins to discuss his films with unique seriousness, ‘and try to surrender yourself’.  The advice is not difficult to follow, because the films this young California poet has made have an informal, inviting quality that sets them apart from many American experimental films that one approaches with nervous interest.  As affirmations of calm joy and ironic affection for human life, they are freshly appealing–have something of the freedom, intuition and natural indifference to convention of Vigo.

Loony Tom–witty, sharp–is devoted, its creator explains, ‘to the sprightly cause of spreading joy about the world’.  A gay, erratic pantomime figure, Tom prances through the countryside making immediate and outrageous love to every woman he encounters.  The rhythm of a chase, the exaggerated postures and hectic situations remind one of a Mack Sennett comedy, but the slapstick is not an end in itself, and neither cruel nor destructive.  It is poetic slapstick.  Tom is observed with tenderness and sublime approval; love and wooing are his sole and natural occupations, they express his simple, ecstatic confidence in happiness—–wonderful miming by Kermit Sheets.”

Gavin Lambert in Sight and Sound

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