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Best Version Ever Of The Best Vampire Film
on 8 November 2009
This review has been significantly shortened to fit Amazon.UK's 1,000 word limit.
Let's get the most important thing out of the way: this is by far the best looking version of Nosferatu I've ever seen. Most of the scratches are gone, & while this isn't from a 1st generation print, for the first time in my experience the picture is good enough to clearly see the actors facial expressions, which is essential for silent film & just makes Max Shreck even creepier! If it really was Shreck playing this role, it's a shame that he's otherwise considered an unimportant actor with so little (if anything else) remaining on film, as he's the creepiest vampire in film history. The picture is so clear that for the first time in my experience it's apparent in a scene near the end that part of Shreck's (otherwise amazing) makeup is a piece of cotton stuck to an ear. The image is not quite on a par with the restored Metropolis (which is the best looking 1920's German restoration I've ever seen), but it's quite good. In fact, you can compare pre-restoration scenes from the film in the excellent disc 2 documentary with the restored edition on disc 1 to see just how good the restoration is.
For those not familiar with Nosferatu, here's a BRIEF history. F.W. Murnau, one of the great Expressionist German directors filmed this unauthorized take off on Dracula in 1922. Bram Stoker's widow sued, & all prints were ordered destroyed. Fortunately for us, various collector's & export copies survived & since the 1950's(??) there have been various attempts to reclaim & restore a definitive edition. Based on the editions I've seen & reading about the 2002 BFI that I haven't seen, the current version is by far the best we've got. The clarity varies somewhat (as several prints were used), but it's mainly quite sharp & watchable. The restoration was done by noted Murnau scholar Luciano Berriatúa who also produced the excellent documentary that's on both the Kino & Eureka. There is also a restored musical score that was originally composed for the film in 1922. It's quite nice & it works really well with the film. The fidelity of the 2007 full orchestra recording is a little too good for a film this old; it feels a bit disorienting. They used a combination of the original German title cards, & where not available very close facsimiles. Both the titles & some of the book pages are absolutely gorgeous; it makes me wish I could read German & not ruin the artwork with the English subs!
For me there are 3 minor shortcomings to the film & package:
1. The tinting. This has nothing to due with Eureka; but the yellow tinting is much stronger then the other colors, I wish they would have used a weaker yellow.
2. The book is really nice, but the type is just to small for my 50 year old eye, even with reading glasses. I was able to read the entire book, but it was difficult.
3. I'm a collector, & as such I would have liked a lot more info on how they tracked down the prints used in this, why they're the best, if the principles believe there is any chance of ever improving on this edition, etc. There is a comment in the book that (if I remember correctly) some years ago noted Murnau scholar Lotte Eisner told Berriatúa of a French print that was the best existent & where she believed it was; that was the main print used here (& was new information to me), but again I would have enjoyed lots more detail. The commentary also barely touches on this.
The documentary is excellent. Of the information presented, one thing completely new to me is that Albin Grau who was both the film's producer & art director was a practitioner of Black Magic & a peer of Alistar Crowley; that's likely a big part of why this film feels so real. Both Grau's sets & book pages & Murnau's filming are really well done. The book & documentary also describe a story of Grau meeting a Romanian who told a tale of his father being a real vampire... There also is some useful elaboration on the film's budget problems; they made one of the greatest films of all time on what was basically an Ed Wood budget, which is said to be why much of the film is shot in real locations to save cost. In retrospect, the locations are part of the film's strength & atmosphere. I only find 1 scene hokey; they used a hyena as a werewolf. The commentators actually liked that touch, but I think a real wolf would have been a bit scarier! The documentary, commentary & book all also mention Shadow Of The Vampire, a recent semi fictional biopic on the making of Nosferatu. I highly recommend Shadow. Along with Nosferatu & Lugosi's Dracula, it's one of the top 3 vampire pictures ever.
I chose to be wordy on this, because I really think Nosferatu is the best horror film of all time. The bottom line is that this is a superb restoration. To be honest, at times I felt like i was watching the film for the first time; this restoration is that good. It isn't like the Metropolis restoration where the quality just smacked me in the face; I watched this twice (once with & one without the commentary) & it gradually crept up on me just how much better this edition is.