Tuesday, 3 May 2016

A Symphony of Symbols

Following on from my screening of Herzog’s Nosferatu at the weekend, I watched Murnau’s film yesterday evening - the chance to view both films in close succession seemed too good to pass up. Watching the film again I was particularly mindful of producer Albin Grau’s contributions within the film – the set design and most significantly, Count Orlok's grotesque appearance. Grau’s occult preoccupations finds expression in the document the real estate agent is seen reading early on in the film – a coded message from Orlok which looks more like a page from a grimoire. Some additional cabalistic symbols can be spotted in the film, in the book Hutter is given about vampires, but Grau’s biggest graphical contributions to the film are the several posters he designed to promote the film. Murnau’s film is often erroneously referred to an expressionist film, an impression which may be due to Grau’s memorable promotional artwork which depicts the Count (and the town of Wisborg) in all sorts of strange and unlikely proportions.

Seeing both films again, Herzog’s film is more faithful to Murnau’s than I previously gave it credit for, the remake (which seems like an irreverent term for it), re-stages many shots, both significant (the doomed ship drifting into port) and incidental (the morbid looking cuckoo clock), although two of my favourite moments from the Murnau, the fast-motion arrival of Orlok’s coach and the frenzied stacking of the coffins on the cart, were not, understandably so, replicated by Herzog. On that point I think the Murnau just inches ahead of the Herzog, the phantasmagoria of Silent Cinema seems best suited to this particular story. Brad Stevens on the commentary track found on the MOC edition, suggests that Orlok himself is exerting a strange control over the film with regard to these starling moments of surrealism, a notion I find most agreeable.

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