Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Nosferatu & Shadow of theVampire

      As we approach the climax, you may remember early in The Historian a mention of the 1922 silent-film version of Dracula, Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens (usually known simply as Nosferatu).  Notably, as mentioned in The Historian, this film was the first appearance of the belief that vampires could be killed by exposure to sunlight. 

       Nosferatu was directed by one of the great silent film directors in early cinema, the Acadamy-Award winning  (Sunrise, 1927) German director F.W.Murnau.  Murnau hadn't received the rights to make a film adaption of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula.  To try getting around this, he changed some of the main character names and plot points, such as Count Dracula became Count Orlok and the previously mentioned idea that sunshine killed vampires.  The very term "vampire" didn't escape editing, as it became "nosferatu".
Vampire?  Nosferatu?  Either way, Max Shreck's Count Orlok is terrifying to look at.  photo source

       Even with these changes, Bram Stoker's estate didn't take kindly to the adaptation and sued, with the court ordering the destruction of the film.  However, the film had already been shipped and copies survived.  The film is in the public domain in the US, but can be seen in a number of different variations and editions, some of which change the character names to correspond back to Stoker's novel.

       Legends from the production of Nosferatu include that Max Shreck, who played Count Orlok in the film, was not an actor but instead an actual vampire.  Despite this of course not being true, these rumors lead to the creation of the film Shadow of the Vampire (2000). 

       The 2000 film Shadow of the Vampire, plays off the legend that Max Shreck, the actor portraying Count Orlok in Nosferatu, was an actual vampire rather than an actor playing a vampire.  In the film, director W. F. Murnau, portrayed by John Malkovich, finds a mysterious person who he calls Max Shreck to play the vampire Count Orlok.  Max Shreck/Orlok, portrayed by Willem  Dafoe, is not an actor or even a human at all: he is a vampire pretending to be a human actor playing a vampire.
The 2000 re-telling of the story behind the classic silent film Nosferatu (source)
       The film shows the fictional production of Nosferatu as the crew begins to have suspicions about the mysterious Shreck/Orlok, especially when it's discovered that Shreck remains in full costume and character at all times, even when they're done with filming for the day.  Shadow of the Vampire has great performances,  from the entire cast, especially from Malkovich's Murnau and Dafoe's Shreck/Orlok.

       Neither are perfect films, but for any fan of horror or silent cinema, Nosferatu is a must watch with the fictional retelling of the story behind the film, Shadow of the Vampire, if only for the acting and ingenuity, a great treat, especially for the Halloween season.

Yours in profoundest grief,


Coffee and a Book Chick said...

What a great overview! I must admit, I haven't seen these films, so I'll be sure to check these out -- it will be great to have for Halloween!

I can't even imagine what a scandal it must have been when Nosferatu came out! I've read that Bram Stoker didn't have the copyrights set up overseas or something like that? So any film made over there, they couldn't get any profit from it -- scandal and intrigue!

I can't wait to see Shadow of the Vampire -- I love John Malkovich, so that should be a fun one to watch!

Trish said...

There's something especially sinister about the old scratchy vintage films. Creepy fun!

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen either film, but will check each out. I love vampire movies, especially the classics. Thanks for the interesting background on Nosferatu.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

Nosferatu is horrible looking...I've never been able to convince myself to watch it. I finished The Historian last night and am dying (no pun intended) to discuss it!!! :):)

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