18 March 2001 | jhclues
Max Schreck IS "Nosferatu"
In 1921, director F.W. Murnau set out to make a horror film based on Bram Stoker's novel, `Dracula,' but was denied the rights to the property by Stoker's estate. Undeterred, however, Murnau merely changed the title to `Nosferatu,' the name of the title character to `Count Orlok,' then proceeded to make what has come to be considered nothing less than a classic of the silent film era. An unsettling film (especially for the times in which it was made), it is a faithful adaptation of Stoker's story, and brings images to the screen, the likes of which at the time, had never before been seen. And although by today's standards much of it may seem relatively tame, there is an innate sense of the sinister about it that is timeless. For the same elements that so unnerved audiences in 1922 when it was released, are equally discomfiting now, most of which is courtesy of Max Schreck, who portrayed Count Orlok. It was the first screen appearance for what is now the most famous vampire in history, and the German character actor Schreck brought an eerie presence to the role that has never been equaled. Bela Lugosi may be considered the definitive Dracula-- his portrayal is certainly the most well known-- but even he could not match the sense of evil that Schreck brought to the character. The scene in which Schreck's shadow is cast on the wall as he slowly negotiates a staircase, emphasizing his misshapen head and elongated fingers and nails, is an image that leaves an indelible impression on the memory, as does Schreck's overall appearance: Lanky, though slightly stooped, with oversized, pointed ears and haunted, sunken eyes. It was Schreck's greatest screen role, and had it not been for a lawsuit by Stoker's estate that prevented wide distribution of the film, it would no doubt have made him a star. The supporting cast includes John gottowt, Alexander Granach, Wolfgang Heinz, Max Nemetz, Gustav von Wangenheim, Ruth Landshoff and Greta Schroder. An air of mystery surrounded the set during the filming of `Nosferatu' that became something of a myth, which began with the fact that Schreck, a method actor, was never seen by cast nor crew without his makeup and in character. And it was further perpetuated when it may have been implied by Murnau that Schreck was actually a vampire playing an actor playing a vampire, all of which goes a long way toward proving that `hype' is nothing new to the entertainment industry. One of the three most highly regarded German directors of the times, Murnau, whose philosophy was that `nothing existed beyond the frame,' directed a number of films, but none achieved the lasting notoriety of `Nosferatu.' For film buffs everywhere, as well as aficionados of silent pictures, this film is a must-see, and a perfect companion piece to the recently released (2000) `Shadow of the Vampire,' the film by E. Elias Merhige that chronicles the making of `Nosferatu.' A comparatively short film-- the restored DVD version runs 81 minutes, the video, 63 minutes-- it will nevertheless provide an entertaining and memorable cinematic experience. This is an example of not only the magic, but the magic at the very core of the movies. I rate this one 10/10.