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54 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind games at the schloss, 15 Aug 2011
This review is from: Schloss Vogelöd (aka The Haunted Castle) [Masters of Cinema] [DVD] [1921] (DVD)
Here's an astonishing fact; by the time Schloss Vogelöd was first shown in April 1921, Murnau had already directed eight feature films and a staggering six of them have a production date of 1920. Also, at this point Murnau and writer Mayer were still five films away from the innovations of the 'entfesselte kamera'; the unleashed camera of Der Letzte Mann and the elimination of the inter-titles.

So, what of Schloss Vogelöd? It's one of Murnau's earliest surviving films since most among the number mentioned above are lost. As a self confessed Murnau addict I initially found this one hard to get into but after several plays I'm now won over. The English language title, 'The Haunted Castle' suggests a supernatural tale, but this is in fact a complex moral drama, as one would expect, from the pen of the great Carl Mayer. The schloss or castle is actually a large, isolated country house that's hosting a hunting party. Here a deception is set in motion designed to expose the true facts [and thus vindicate a suspected man] of a murder that has taken place some three years before the action begins.

Murnau and Mayer develop a brooding, almost palpable atmosphere as the moral decay and psychological trauma at the core of the narrative is exposed. This intensity of feeling is masterfully expressed in an image of two motionless figures in an empty hall during a flash-back in which the murderer is first revealed. Yet, there's also comedy, always a moot point with Murnau films, with the antics of a scared house guest, and some below stairs business in the kitchen. The odd gothic moment is played for laughs, too, but it's a wonderful nightmare sequence which is notable for prefiguring a famous image from Murnau's next film, the rather better known Nosferatu.

The film is lavishly designed with a multiplicity of elaborate sets; not all convincing. But, any slight staginess is transcended by Murnau's wonderful eye for depth and the quality of the performances. There are several excellent shots where the foreground action is played off against some detail in the background. While throughout, Murnau constantly draws his characters towards the camera from the deepest background as if to overwhelm the viewer. We are also treated to several beautifully photographed landscape scenes and a stunning flash-back set against a real window. All in all, such cinematic flourishes hint at greatness to come. However, the repetitive insertion of an exterior shot of Schloss Vogelöd [a miniature] becomes tiresome because it exposes the shortcomings of the shot instead of underscoring the mood and isolation of the events as is its intention.

Edition.

As there are some remarks in the comments section as to whether or not I actually own this disc I have removed my admittedly rather hasty summary of the benefits of the MoC edition over the Kino one. Having waxed lyrical on the film itself I grew weary and knocked-off a clumsy list which has given the impression that I was reviewing the film but not the MoC disc - so I proffer the following instead.

This edition offers an almost flawless transfer of the film, as restored by FWMS, which is clean and sharp with no apparent loss of detail, although the tinting on the MoC edition is more saturated than on the Kino disc, which is from the same source. While the strength of the tinting is a matter of taste this edition has a superior image quality. Also, MoC present the film in 1:37:1 and not 1:33:1 as with the Kino, but I have not made a visual comparison to say what the benefits may be, but I assume the framing is more accurate. MoC use the original inter-titles which makes it instantly superior to my mind.

The MoC comes with good quality extras while the Kino has none. The Luciano Berriatua film made for FWMS, of which different parts appear on the various MoC Murnau releases, is informative but a little dull in delivery but worth having nonetheless. The beautifully produced booklet has a variety of articles and photos, some showing the original expressionistic publicity. This artwork had very little to do with the actual content of the film which is naturalistic in style.

MoC wins on all accounts. If you have the Kino edition like me, be assured, it's well worth investing in this superior MoC edition.
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Comments

Tracked by 1 customer

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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 May 2012 13:43:56 BDT
Mark Twain says:
Just to clarify, do you have this product or not?

In reply to an earlier post on 10 May 2012 21:14:50 BDT
A. S. Potts says:
Urgent!
Attention Mr. Samuel Langhorne Clemens Stop Do have Stop
Thanks for interest Stop
Amendments submitted below for your approval Stop
Mortified to have unsettled ones lunchtime with such inexactitude Stop
Thought you were dead Stop

I have the Kino import; a basic package with noisy picture, so [had] no hesitation
in replacing it with this Masters of Cinema Series edition.
[And here's] what [you can] expect from MoC;
1] image much improved regarding noise -
2] deeper hues in the tinting [possibly a matter of taste] -
3] 1.37:1 aspect ratio [reveals a little more picture area?] -
4] the big plus has to be original german inter-titles [some are reproductions] -
5] as usual with MoC there's [an] informative booklet -
6] a 31 minute video extra by Luciano Berriatua.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 May 2012 20:53:05 BDT
A witty riposte but you are, in fact, recommending a product you haven't seen. Your (interesting) piece is about the film and not about this dvd version and package of it. Why not just say "I don't have it, though the film is great". MoC are generally very good, but not always perfect, so your recommendation must, surely, be qualified.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 May 2012 22:13:28 BDT
Last edited by the author on 25 May 2012 22:22:28 BDT
A. S. Potts says:
I'm afraid that your assertion that I do not possess this DVD is entirely wrong.

I do own this DVD, I do recommend it to all Murnau devotees, it is of excellent quality for the reasons listed and yes it is a review of the film.

So, once more with feeling............
the image quality of this MoC release is staggeringly good for a film of this age thanks to the restoration work of the F W Murnau Stiftung and Transit Film. Expect sharp, clear, clean, detailed and damage free images, although I'm less keen on the rather lethargic Neil Brand piano score. It's also worth pointing out that in spite of the original expressionist influenced poster artwork used for the cover the film is very naturalistic in style, albeit very atmospheric.

Now I have justified myself more then is necessary I gladly await your unequivocal retraction or else it's sabres at dawn in the gymnasium of the 2nd Uhlans.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 May 2012 23:01:36 BDT
Mark Twain says:
I must admit I feel overwhelmed with your responses, but wonder whether that is the intention.

I'm still not clear on whether you had the product at the time of the review, but no matter.

Thanks for the film review, though. It seemed insightful when I first read it. However, I now doubt whether to take your opinion seriously.

Regards, MT

In reply to an earlier post on 26 May 2012 11:39:48 BDT
Last edited by the author on 29 May 2012 09:26:00 BDT
A. S. Potts says:
All my reviews are a serious attempt to say something about the films and very particularly the quality and nature of the DVD package. I certainly take Murnau, this film and this DVD seriously. But I also enjoy a bit of banter.

As to overwhelming you, that wasn't my intention at all and sounds a bit oppressive - definitely not my intention - I'm sorry if my 'bit of fun' with the comments has misfired and sown some doubt in your mind as to the authenticity of my review/s. That's the last thing I would want because they take quite some effort to produce.

I will be more careful in exercising my sense of humour in future, it's obviously not to everyone's taste or comprehension.

Regards

'a little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men'

Roald Dahl

Posted on 20 Jul 2012 11:49:01 BDT
Mark Pearce says:
Hello A S Potts
Your review has won me over to buying Schloss.I'm a bit love (Sunrise/Nosferatu),hate(Last Laugh/Faust)with Murnau and I think your very understated sense of humour was the icing on the cake.
Regards

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Aug 2012 11:54:42 BDT
A. S. Potts says:
I bear my responsibility with a light heart and wonder which camp, love or hate, you find this in? I love them all, but not without reservation, but I do love a bit of chiaroscuro and cloying sentimentality.
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