Some years ago a good friend introduced me to Nosferatu, which I thoroughly enjoyed and consider to be a cinematic masterpiece. I determined to see more work from the same director, but have never got around to it now. I am glad I waited, as the Masters of Cinema series from Eureka is now allowing me to see these films in superb quality.
Faust is a dark tale of man's desires and the depths he can be driven to, tempered, ultimately with his capacity for self sacrifice and redemption.
The film opens with visually arresting images as the Devil Mephisto and an Angel lay a wager - if Mephisto can capture the soul of Faust, and turn the good Doctor to evil then he can lay claim to all the earth for his dominion. Mephisto starts a savage plague which Faust's science and faith cannot cure. In desperation he summons the Devil and seals a pact in his own blood, initially for the power to help the victims for a day. Cunningly Mephisto draws Faust ever deeper into his clutches, until, for the love of good woman he finds redemption.
The narrative is well known, but it is told in a fantastic and visually arresting fashion by Murneau, a master of his art. There are several big set pieces, especially at the beginning of the film, with some amazing special effects. Mephisto rising from a pit of fire, looking over the town spreading plague, the whole summoning sequence at the crossroads. These scenes are quite iconic, and leave one breathless with excitement and wonder.
Every scene is shot with meticulous attention to detail. The lighting for each is finely judged, and brings out the maximum impact and depth. The famous scene where the original Faustian pact is signed is a particular example; it is packed with immense emotion.
This release from Eureka once again pushes the limit of excellence. The film has been painstakingly restored, and the image is both sharp and full of depth. There are two versions presented, the domestic and export versions. There is an interesting note in the booklet as to why there are two versions. There are also two soundtracks, a full orchestral and a solo harp score. Each lends a different feel to the film. The harp score is gentle and soothing, gently understating the drama of the film. The orchestral score is big, dramatic, full of sturm and drang, adding a stirring backdrop to the film. Both are excellent, and I choose which one to watch depending on my mood. The two discs are stuffed full of extras, and there is an informative booklet with much useful information and interesting essays.
An excellent release of this cinematic masterpiece. A that everyone should watch, and this release is definitely the version to watch.
on 30 September 2006
For many years F.W. Murnau's FAUST was known to me only through a few stills and a poster. About 15 years ago I came across a public domain video copy which had poor picture quality and Vivaldi's FOUR SEASONS as its soundtrack. Even with these handicaps I could tell that it was something very special and I longed for the day when I might see a better print of the film. A few years ago Kino International released a high quality DVD of FAUST with a newly commissioned score and I was ecstatic as I could now see the film close to the way it must have looked in 1926. Now Eureka has come out with this double DVD set which allows us for the first time to see the film the way Murnau intended. The Kino edition was based on the export version which differs in a number of ways from the original domestic version made available here. The biggest difference is in the way a number of scenes are treated. They are more expanded in the original and have a sharper picture quality than the export version. The ending of Faust and Gretchen ascending to Heaven is missing which seems rather strange as that is key to the film's theme of redemption through forgiveness. Thanks to this set you can view both versions and see the differences for yourself.
The performances especially by Emil Jannings as Mephistopheles and Camilla Horn as Gretchen are remarkable and the various special effects used are outstanding for the time and still have the power to astonish. As I said in an earlier review most silent film buffs think PANDORA'S BOX with Louise Brooks to be the apex of German silent cinema and maybe it is but I cast my vote for FAUST. Murnau was a true cinematic poet, a German Cocteau if you will, and all of his considerable skill as a cinematic storyteller went into the making of this film. Because of FAUST Murnau was brought to America where his next film would be SUNRISE. I have one minor quibble with this otherwise outstanding offering from Eureka. The new harp score for the domestic version lacks the power of Timothy Brock's orchestral score for the export version and although you have the option of using the Brock with the domestic version, it doesn't always match up because of the differences between the two films. Nevertheless if you love German silent cinema in general, Murnau's films in particular or romantic fantasy overall then this edition of FAUST is a must.
on 11 August 2014
WARNING: Light spoilers ahead.
I'm almost ashamed to admit I was never really wowed by the film the only time I'd seen it previously on the first Eureka DVD. This year though I've been plowing my way through all of Murnau's surviving works and finding much of interest, so this Blu-ray of Faust was timed perfectly for me. This time I found it one of the most visually stunning films I've seen, and the Blu-ray is fabulous for that. The first 40 minutes is an endless visual assault, after which the film changes tactic somewhat and throws in melodrama and comedy. I found this dragged a little but Jannings keeps it afloat with a deliciously wicked performance. It changes again in the final third, and I was witness to raw emotion and the wickedness so-called good men can inflict upon the suffering. In fact, a devilish Mephisto seems to possess far more humanity than many of the God-fearing villagers. Very much a film of 3 distinct acts (along with it's prologue and epilogue).
I can now understand why this is hailed as a masterpiece, and it's a genuinely superb Blu-ray presentation. I had planned to leave the extras until another time, but ended up ploughing through the visual pieces (except the export version, the comparison featurette tells me all I need to know) all in one sitting. My highest recommendation.
on 19 September 2014
Faust isn't just a legendary piece of literature, it's surpassed that to become one of "the 9 story types found in cinema". Its everywhere, thus commenting on the story is utterly redundant beyond saying that this is yet another masterpiece from German silent cinema and F.W Murnau. A cruel archetypical masterwork.
Murnau's Faust is vastly under-valued, much more deserving of the reputation heaped on the over-rated Nosferatu and that's for one simple reason - execution. Being afforded blockbuster production design, this is marvel of sfx and set design decades ahead of its time. The films vision of hell alone is enough to cement the films status. Whats more, the devil (Mephisto) may well be the most perfectly cast depiction of the guy downstairs I've ever seen, his psychical presence is as visually striking and memorable as the powers he embodies. Loved the whole thing.
A cruel archetypal masterwork. The restoration on this Blu-ray both on the [multiple] scores and film are wonderful, the clarity and cleanliness of the image makes a legendary film all the palpable to the uninitiated. A must watch/own for all with an interest in silent cinema and cinema history.
on 19 March 2002
Most people know the director F. W. Murnau for the silent vampire film Nosferatu but few explore his other works. This is a great shame because in many ways Faust is at least the equal of the excellent Nosferatu but has been overshadowed into relative obscurity. Fast flowing and dramatic with excellent acting and superb directing this is definitely one of the greatest of all silent horrors.
The story follows that of Goethe's classic two part tragedy - an alchemist turns to the daemon Mephisto(pheles)for the power to help people. The daemon lures Faust into sin with the promise of eternal youth but true love wins out in the end and Faust ascends to heaven.
Murnau uses his skill as a director to ensure that the audience is enthralled by the storyline and that the characters are multifaceted and complex. He does this without confusing the viewer and with great subtlety, something has which earnt him much respect over time.
The special effects on this film must have been truly groundbreaking for its day. The way that Faust flies over the world on Mephisto's cloak is especially well carried off. In another great scene the giant Mephisto draws his evil wings around the town as if to block out the light of heaven.
All in all I would say that this is one of the best films I have ever seen and I feel that it only grows better with repeated watchings. The only real problem with the film is that it is exceedingly moral and a could be seen as a bit "preachy", this may put off non-christian viewers. However, to those who have read the Faust books it is clear that this is because this is essential to the understanding of the god-fearing minds of the characters.
I would reccomend this Faust to anyone who is interested in the Silent Era or horror films in general, and if you liked the film I would also reccomend the books.
Faust is just an incredible accomplishment in the art of silent cinema, one of the most ambitious and masterfully directed films of any era. If you've never seen a silent film and wonder if one could even keep your attention, Faust is the film to watch. Far too many classic early films were either lost or came to us in relatively poor condition, but this digitally mastered version of Faust is remarkably clear and free of white outs. I'm sure it looks better now that it did when it was released over eight decades ago. Don't go thinking we're only talking about characters standing around conversing, either; F. W. Murnau packed all kinds of incredible special effects into this magnificent piece of filmmaking.
You all know Faust - that fellow who made a deal with the devil. The story goes back as far as the fifteenth century, with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe penning the definitive version in the early nineteenth century. Murnau's Faust differs somewhat from the original two-part drama written by Goethe, supplanting rationalism with mysticism (no one did mysticism better than early German filmmakers). This approach, among other things, allows Murnau to open the film with nothing less than jaw-dropping visuals and effects. The story is heralded by the grim image of the apocalyptic horsemen thundering through the clouds, leading us to a confrontation between Mephisto (Satan) and an archangel over the control of the Earth. A wager is proposed, with dominion over the Earth set to depend upon the fate of one man's soul. That man is, of course, Faust, a good man targeted for evil temptation by the cursed one. Knowing he could not tempt Faust directly, Mephisto uses his own compassion against him. As a devastating plague is unleashed among Faust's fellow citizens, Mephisto casts his dark shadow over the landscape quite literally, as we see him hovering over the entire village. That, to me, is one of the most memorable and iconographic cinematic sights I've ever seen.
As his friends and neighbors beg Faust (Gosta Ekman) to save them from the plague, his unanswered prayers bring him to the point of despair. He actually summons Mephisto himself (in another incredible special effects-laden scene). After some deliberation, Mephisto (Emil Jannings) convinces Faust to sign a pact for one day only, and that proves to be an offer Faust can't refuse. A little later, though, Mephisto brings in the big guns - the promise of restored youth. Extending the contract from one day to eternity is basically just a formality at this point. All of his new powers don't truly satisfy Faust, though, and so he sets his sights on a lovely, pure maiden by the name of Gretchen (Camilla Horn). The whole mood of the film changes at this point, with the art of wooing temporarily displacing the clouds of doom hanging over the first half of the film - but this is only a prelude to true tragedy. As Daniel Johnston says, "Don't play cards with Satan, he'll deal you an awful hand," and that is exactly what happens here. It gets pretty darned depressing, really, making it hard for the viewer to see how Faust can possibly redeem himself for all of the misery he has caused. Murnau doesn't pull any punches when it comes to establishing the central theme of the story.
Thanks to earlier successes such as Nosferatu and The Last Laugh, Murnau had complete control over the making of Faust. Something of a perfectionist, Murnau made sure that every aspect of every single shot met with his satisfaction. It's obvious that the man was a genius, as even the contrast of light and shadow reinforces the central motif of the story he is telling. The special effects seem years and years ahead of their time. Even the makeup is remarkably well-done (I would never have guessed that Gosta Ekman played both the old and young versions of Faust, as the older version looks genuinely old). And the acting? Top-notch, all the way. Ekman is superb, Emil Jannings becomes the very personification of Mephisto, and an inexperienced Camilla Horn is simply enchanting as Gretchen. (The role of Gretchen was actually written for Lillian Gish, but she bowed out because Murnau refused her demand to have her own personal cameraman shoot the film.) The musical score, composed and conducted by Timothy Brock, is a wonderful counterpart to the film, as well.
In virtually every way possible, F.W. Murnau's Faust is nothing less than a cinematic masterpiece.
on 29 March 2011
Yes, this is a great film, and yes this release of the domestic version is enormously welcome, but who was it that adapted the Timothy Brock music score to fit the domestic version? It was clearly written to fit the export version, and watching the domestic version on disc one is in many places the equivalent of watching the very worst lip-synching. That is because, unfortunately, Brock's score follows the action closely. Watch the export version and listen to the dramatic timpani strokes at the death of Valentin (Gretchen's brother). Now watch the domestic version and listen to the feeble, inappropriate, anempathetic music. Or, try watching Gretchen in her death cell as she suddenly believes her baby is alive and she is able to rock it gently in her arms. Brilliant in the export version, but completely out of rhythm with the music in the domestic version. How on earth could anyone mess up like this, given the care taken in restoring this film? I have to say the problems do not lie everywhere, but they happen too often, and detract from the wonders of this recently discovered domestic version of this film. Without a doubt this version is in sharper focus, more tightly edited, and a better film that the export version, but somebody with a donkey's ears has soured its effect. As a consequence, it is the export version on these discs that will prove the more emotional experience for anyone with musical sesitivity. So, if you want to enjoy the domestic version you'll either need to opt for the piercingly irritating harp score that is offered as an alternative, or shut off the sound completely.
on 22 September 2014
Another "reference-level" release by Eureka! (Masters of Cinema). The Blu-ray have a wonderful video, sharp and brilliant, with a detailed black and white both in daylight and nocturnal sequences. You have also a choice of three music score: orchestra, piano (based on original music composed for the movie) and solo harp.
This astounding film by F W Murnau made in 1926 is at the very pinnacle of silent film making, probably the pinnacle of artistic presentation plus an almost unique movement of light and shade across the static framing of the scenes.
Like Gounod's opera the film dramatises the first part of Goethe's epic, with the key difference that Faust initially makes his pact with Mephistopheles to prevent a plague, and not solely to regain his youth, this comes later.
Gosta Ekman is equally convincing in his portray of both the old and young Faust but the great performance in the film is Emil Jannings as Mephisto as he slowly persuades and cajoles Faust into his power and eternal damnation.
Although a dancer and not an actress Camilla Horn is a competent Gretchen, and William Dieterle is passable as her brother Valentin.
But the value of this eighty year old film is the painterly way (Rembrant comes to mind) all of the scenes are constructed and acted, It is really as an artistic masterpiece that it excels.
The story is Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe's; the film is unmistakably F.W. Murnau.
The Archangel (Werner Fuetterer) and the evil one are in a struggle for the world. Both are sure they know best. A bet is stuck for the sole of a religious alchemist named Faust as we can see he has knowledge of the elements yet maintains a moral attitude.
A grate plague appears and with all of his books and learning Foust can not save anyone. He turns to prayer and seems to get nowhere. So in a fit he burns his books; in the embers he spots a book that suggests he call on Mephisto (Emil Jannings.) He does so and is repelled at what he did. However after some dickering he accepts a one day contract to at least be able to help some of the plague victims. Naturally he is to reject God and sign in blood. And you guessed it things go wrong. He is tempted by youth, "Your Life was only the dust and mold of books.", and distracted with an Italian cutie Duchess of Parma (Hanna Ralph) just long enough for the sands to run out on him. From there things go down hill but the story heats up.
With the overwhelming visuals and great acting one tends to not notice the elements or threads that tie this film today to our society. Notice the standard circle and the calling upon the four corners as Faust calls three times the name Mephisto. Also notice the garlands that Gretchen made for the children. More interesting is the use of the flower with "She loves me...she loves me not."
Emil Jannings does such a good job that you almost find your self rooting for the bad guy.
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