Silent Sunday: Nosferatu (1922)

This is probably the first time in years that I’ve actually enjoyed Nosferatu. In fact, I’ve spent years claiming I like Herzog’s remake better, which is probably heresy coming from someone who loves silent cinema like I do, and that Murnau’s film gets by mainly on the sheer otherness of Max Schreck as the vampire. And now, well, maybe I’ve been unfair to the film, cos I liked it better tonight than I ever have. Maybe it was the impressively mood-enhancing thunderstorm going on outside while I was watching it; maybe it was just seeing the film in such great shape for really the first time. I first saw it a bit over 20 years ago in a shitty version shown on SBS, barely an hour long, kind of contrasty, no tints and dubious music. Here it’s at its proper length (a bit over 90 minutes), looks finely detailed, tinted (and Nosferatu needs tinting if some of its scenes are to make sense), and with the original 1922 score, which is fascinating to hear (oddly restrained at points where you’d think it might go a bit overboard to underscore the bigger “horror” moments). It’s a damned impressive digital presentation of a film whose popularity I never fully understood; and though the loss of most of Murnau’s earlier films makes it impossible to really compare this with what came before, there’s still a feeling of advance in technique. I’m still not always convinced by some of the tricks used (particularly the fast motion to suggest supernatural power), and Schreck’s make-up job probably is still the best thing about the film, but suddenly I “got” it tonight in a way I don’t think I did before; for whatever reason, I think I understand—possibly for the first time, really—just why Nosferatu is so widely acclaimed as a classic. Only taken me 20 years…

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