Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Nosferatu - Eine Symphonie des Grauens

I had always meant to watch "Nosferatu - Eine Symphonie des Grauens" (a symphony of horror), but somehow never did, until last night - on YouTube. I'm glad I waited this long because had I not, I wouldn't have thought to seek out the beautifully restored version of it that I watched. I can now understand why, in 1922 -  *ninety years* ago -  the "Schweizer Illustrierte Kino Woche" wrote that "Nosferatu"'s beguiling power caused those who watched it in theatres to forget they were there until the lights came on.

The premiere of "Nosferatu" was at a time when the horrors of the First World War still lived in the minds of all Germans. Millions of their soldiers had fallen, either killed or wounded. On every street corner, pedestrians were accosted by crippled former soldiers begging for alms. It was also the time when millions were dying from the Spanish Flu that was raging through Europe.

The producer of "Nosferatu", Albin Grau, said that the figure of Nosferatu helped him understand the horror story that was the First World War. In the way it sucked in and destroyed all who got near it, it was like a cosmic vampire.

The story of Nosferatu was based on Bram Stoker's "Dracula", a novel that had fascinated Albin Grau. However he hadn't found it particularly strange, for, when serving in the war, he had met a Serbian farmer who told him about his father. The father had died and been buried with no churchly sacraments. Thereafter he was seen by many, an undead being who seemed to be seeking a true and final resting place.

As a result of these sightings, the body was exhumed some months later. It was still in the coffin, but looked like it had only just died. Two preternaturally long and sharp teeth protruded from its mouth. It was decided it would be best to hammer a wooden stake into its chest, so it would pierce the heart. This was done. The undead being was seen no more.

After reading "Dracula" and hearing about the Serbian farmer's father, Albin Grau wasted no time in forming a company, Prana-Film, for the sole purpose of producing "Nosferatu". To be the film's director he chose the then up-and-coming Wilhelm Murnau, whose work on "Nosferatu" is still looked upon today as trail-blazing.

Despite most films then (in 1922) being filmed entirely on a studio set, "Nosferatu" was shot "on location" - the locations being the Carpathian mountains, and the medieval town of Arwaburg, and an old church in Wismar, and the salt silos of Lübeck.

The better to create a truly eerie atmosphere, the director and cameramen experimented with light and shadow - particularly light and shadow on the faces of the actors, so that the malevolent eyes of the Nosferatu could seem the deeper in his massive skull.

There is the now-renowned scene where the Nosferatu in the wee hours has infiltrated the Hutter's home. You can see only his shadow as he creeps up the stairs and into the bedroom where the defenceless Ellen Hutter lies in her bed. You see only the huge shadow of his unnaturally long fingers with their unnaturally long nails as they reach for Ellen's neck.

One of the odder things about "Nosferatu" was the name of the lead actor, Max Schreck, for the German word "Schreck" means "terror" or "fright". Was it only a stage-name? It turned out it wasn't, and that Schreck was his real name. This, plus how convincingly Max Schreck played the vampire, caused some serious film critics to ask whether Schreck wasn't, himself, an actual vampire.

So enthusiastic was Albin Grau to make "Nosferatu" that he went ahead despite not getting the film-rights to the story. Because the plot of "Nosferatu" was so like that of "Dracula", Bram Stoker's widow successfully got a court-order that all film-copies of "Nosferatu" be destroyed. And they were, but only in Germany, for the reach of German justice didn't extend beyond Germany's borders.

There was already a film-copy of "Nosferatu" in France and one in America, which is the only reason you can still enjoy "Nosferatu", and see it for one of the masterworks of German Expressionism which it is.


If there aren't vampires really, what about that there are other-worldly beings that, like vampires, come out in the dead of night and disappear when dawn comes?

Think about the Nightmare, which you only get in the dead of night. However, when dawn begins to break, you need no longer  worry about the least not for another twenty-four hours.

How about that the atmosphere in the dead of night has properties that lower your psychic defenses, making it easier for malevolent beings from a parallel world or another dimension, to invade your mind when you are asleep? But, when dawn comes, these atmospheric properties change, and these other-worldly beings have to go back from whence they came? Isn't this as plausible a cause of the Nightmare, as what the men of science tell you? 


If you are at least half interested in the history of cinema, you owe it to yourself to watch "Nosferatu" if you haven't yet, and particularly the wonderfully restored and re-mastered version that I last night watched, and which you can too if you *click here*.

As you watch, and you forget where you are as much as did those watchers whom the "Schweizer Illustrierte Kino Woche" wrote of those ninety years ago, ask yourself whether a silent film with its intertitles and atmospheric music, isn't superior in conveying a good story on film, to your normal sound film.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

It was ninety four years ago today..........

.........that The Red Baron, le Baron rouge, left this earth for ever, after being shot down from below out of the sky like a partridge.

He was only twenty-five, but has left his footprints forever in the sands of time. He was destined for only a short life, for he courted death willingly. Less than a year before he left forever, he was seriously wounded in the head while in the sky.

Completely disoriented and having lost a good part of his vision, he managed to land his machine. He had to undergo several operations to get fragments of bone out of his head. Six weeks later, despite warnings from his doctors, he was again in the sky. However, throughout the remaining months of his stay here on earth, he suffered headaches and nausea. And, in character, he was not the same again. 

His fame lies in his shooting down of eighty enemy planes, though more likely eighty-one, since one of his kills came down on the French side, and so couldn't be confirmed by his own side, the Germans. In any case, he shot down more planes than anyone else in the Great War, la Grande Guerre.

It might be thought that because he was so adept at shooting down enemy planes, he was an aerial acrobat. Far from it. He simply had an eye for the weakest pilot in any enemy flotilla his squadron came across in the sky. Like an eagle over the savanna he swooped down on the prey he'd picked out, and that was that.

Even so, he ensured his success by ordering his colleagues to cover his sides and rear as he swooped down.

Something else about him. He didn't like war as such. He simply liked it for the sport it offered. For each plane he shot down he bought a silver cup and engraved on it the date of the victory and the type of plane. However, after his sixtieth victory he could add to his collection of cups no more because, just as Germany was running out of money, he was running out of money too.

Who was it who shot him out of the sky like a partridge? No-one knows for sure, although names were circulated about. This, though, is not what is important. What is important is the respect he had in the eyes of his opponents.

They organised a military funeral for him. Six allied officers carried his coffin. A guard of honour fired salvos as the coffin was lowered into the ground. On his gravestone, someone anonymously wrote: À notre ennemi vaillant et digne.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sleeping Dogs

I often think about how bored dogs must get. They can’t do most of the things we humans do to pass the time, like read books, surf the internet, watch television etc.

Apart from time spent going on walks with their owners, dogs can do little else to pass the time than sleep.

Come to think of it, sleeping more wouldn’t be a bad way for us humans to better pass our free time. We would dream more, and consequently multiply the chances of having interesting dreams that we could analyse, thereby understanding ourselves better.

Sleeping more, we would also have less time to make trouble for others; and those others, if they slept more, would have less time to make trouble for us.

Our society would be the more peaceful for this.

Sleeping dogs have much to teach us.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Miss Burden

I'm continuing reading William Faulkner's "Light in August", that I spoke briefly of in my posting of March 21st. I'm savouring rather than wolfing "Light in August" because you just can't wolf Faulkner.

I had never read Faulkner before, and had always promised myself to, but kept putting it off. Then the writer of a blog I regularly read said there were connections between "Light in August" and Kafka's "The Trial". This was the prompt I needed to begin reading Faulkner, and what better than with "Light in August."

Now half-way through it, I haven't yet come across anything that makes me think, "Ah, The Trial''. It must then be somewhere in the second half.

One of "Light in August"'s main characters is Joe Christmas, so far twenty or thereabouts, who had been adopted and raised by a poor and pious couple. He escaped them and drifted through many towns and many jobs.

Joe has some black ancestry, or "negro" ancestry as it was called in the nomenclature of the 1920s Deep South, the time and locale of "Light in August". However, he passes for white.

At the point in "Light in August" I'm now, Joe is living in a cabin on land owned by a fortyish spinster, Miss Burden, who comes from Old Money, and who lives alone in the main house. Joe and Miss Burden drift into an affair, and most passionate it is. This all doesn't at first sight sound very believable, but Miss Burden has volcanic feelings too long suppressed, that manifest when she and Joe are together, which they are most nights.

Joe was aware of Miss Burden's
.....imperious and fierce urgency that concealed an actual despair at frustrate and irrevocable years, which she appeared to attempt to compensate each night as if she believed that it would be the last night on earth by damming herself to the hell of her forefathers, by living not alone in sin but in filth.

She had an avidity for the forbidden wordsymbols; an insatiable appetite for the sound of them on his tongue and on her own. She revealed the terrible and impersonal curiosity of a child about forbidden subjects and objects; that rapt and tireless and detached interest of a surgeon in the physical body and its possibilities.

And by day he would see the calm coldfaced, almost manlike, almost middleaged woman who had lived for twenty years alone, without any feminine fears at all, in a lonely house in a neighborhood populated, when at all, by negroes, who spent a certain portion of each day sitting tranquilly for the eyes of both youth and age the practical advice of a combined priest and banker and trained nurse.