September 15, 2004

Nosferatu @ KIFF

Festival Express was fun to watch, but before we went in to the theater we met Dianne Meade, the wife of the festival director, who invited us to a party that was starting about the time the FestEx movie did. After the concert-on-a-train experience we stumbled into the room and the party was all but evaporated. However, the main man Dr. Benjamin Meade was still there and he graciously offered us free passage to a viewing the next day of the classic silent film, Nosferatu. Any film buff is familiar with Nosferatu, at least informationally. I imagine most are like myself and had never had the opportunity to view it on the big screen (or the little screen for that matter). And to add a big kicker, this showing was featuring a live orchestra! The Alloy Orchestra had four members but they sounded like a full compliment. The music added so much to the viewing of the film.

Nosferatu is the original vampire movie, based on Bram Stoker's Dracula. In fact Stoker's widow got so pissed off when she saw the 1922 production that she almost managed to get the negative destroyed. Apparently F.W. Murnau, the director, took just a few too many liberties with the material. Oh well, it did survive and we are so glad it did.

This movie is honestly frightening. The use of light and shadow to tell the tale is brilliant. In this film, the vampire is not the sexy virile physically overpowering character that Bela Lugosi and his theatrical progeny have effected. Count Orlock, the bloodsucker of this film, is impish and impossibly thin. With his pointed ears and nose he looks more like an alien than a vampire. And his fangs are long and very close together at the front of his mouth, unlike the fangs at the corners of his mouth like the later interpretations. And since these are his only visible teeth, Murnau's design seems more specialized for the extraction of blood -- more user-friendly.

Orlock does not seduce his victims. He overpowers them psychically. He does not need good looks and charm.

For me the most striking moment in the film was when Orlock was approaching his innocent prey, and you don't see him, you see his very well-defined shadow on the stone wall. You can see his nose, his overgrown fingernails, his fangs. It's one of the scariest images I've ever seen on a movie screen and it's nothing but a shadow.

There was a film released a couple of years ago called The Shadow of the Vampire which is about the making of this film. John Malkovich plays Murnau, and Willem Dafoe plays the fanged one. It's a fictionalized gig where Murnau supposedly finds a real vampire to play Orlock, and for some reason crew members keep dying. It sounds fun and I intend to see it soon.

Our thanks to Ben Meade, who is a filmmaker in his own right, for letting us in free. I intend to see Ben's works as soon as possible. From what I've read they are too intense to begin to describe here.

Posted by Wayne at September 15, 2004 01:00 AM
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