Sunday, 5 April 2015


“Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.” - Blaise Pascal

For Movie Monday today I am considering a movie that we saw at the weekend, Nosferatu: The Vampyre by Werner Herzog (1979).

This is a famous film and is a remake of an equally famous silent expressionistic classic also from Germany, FW Murnau’s Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horrors of 1922. Both of these movies are based on the famous 1897 Gothic novel “Dracula” by Bram Stoker (which is available in its entirety online).  Stoker’s “Dracula” remains one of the most popular novels ever published and Dracula has been adapted for the stage and screen hundreds of times. It is a typical Victorian Gothic novel of a bloodthirsty vampire whose nocturnal activities are a metaphor for the hidden salaciousness and immorality of a supremely moralistic age. Bram Stoker wrote seventeen novels, but “Dracula” remains his most famous and enduring work.

The German film-maker, FW Murnau wanted to make a film version of “Dracula” but was denied the rights to the book by Stoker’s estate. Murnau proceeded to change the title to “Nosferatu”, the name of Dracula to “Count Orlok”, and then he proceeded to make a classic of the silent film era. It is a prime example of German film expressionism but at the same time a faithful adaptation of Stoker’s story. The film has images that are haunting and horrible, lingering and lugubrious, unsettling and uncanny. Considering when the film was made, even today it is quite disturbing and amazingly effective in the horror genre. I watched this film some time ago in my University years and one can now watch it in its entirety on YouTube.

Werner Herzog in the late 70s reimagined Murnau’s “Nosferatu”, remaining quite faithful to the original version and trying to capture as much as possible the atmosphere of Murnau’s masterpiece, utilising modern technology, equipment, colour film stock and sound. He uses Murnau’s vision and extends it in a logical fashion, attempting to fill in the lacunae of the original. It is not a remake, shot for shot, nor does mimic artistically the original. Herzog was too great a director to slavishly ape his predecessor. He is inspired by Murnau and he creates a beautifully haunting film where even the character of the vampire changes and he becomes strangely sympathetic to us. The vampire is trapped by circumstances in an undead state he loathes (and which he continues to live, by compulsion of fate) and he often meditates on his inability to die and also his yearning for love, the blood-lust being a poor substitute for it.

In case you are not familiar with the plot (which planet are you from?) here it is in a nutshell: Jonathan Harker, an estate agent’s representative is sent to Count Dracula’s castle to negotiate the sale of a house in Wismar, where he lives. Count Dracula is a vampire, one of the undead ghouls who needs human blood to remain alive. Seeing a photograph of Lucy Harker, Jonathan’s wife, Dracula decides to move to Wismar, bringing with him rats, plague and death.

The film has a certain theatricality about it and in certain scenes resembles a patchwork of tableaux-vivants – a stroll through the chamber of horrors of Madame Tussaud. In other scenes, there is a glowing misty light that mimics Vermeer’s paintings. Isabelle Adjani is a beautifully cool Lucy and her acting is rather formalised and detached. Klaus Kinski as the Count is magnificent and his caricature-like face and hands do not detract from the look of the film. Jonathan’s part played by Bruno Ganz is adequate and his rather prissy, narcissistic, ineffectual anti-hero comes across well. The locations are beautiful and brought back memories of my time in Delft, Holland. There is a chilling foreboding throughout the film and suits very well several subtext messages that Herzog is conveying to us.

Watch if you can the German-speaking version with subtitles, rather than the English-speaking version (the film was shot twice) as the acting is better in the German version. Both original version and Herzog’s recent one are definitely worth seeing.

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