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The domestic version, is by far the best horror film of the 1920s,
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This review is from: Faust - Masters of Cinema series [DVD]  (DVD)
This is a 1926 classic of silent cinema. This new life that has been given to the film comes from the fact that the domestic (German) version has been restored and we can compare it with the export version that had survived. It is absolutely striking how the domestic version is tighter in the shooting, the taking and the cutting. The angle is slightly different and better, the contrast is a lot finer and more pronounced, which is very important for a black and white film. The cutting packs up many sequences and this increases the dramatic dimension and effect of the film. Apart from that you will not recognize any running version of the myth. The film is essentially centered on the love affair with Gretchen, but a long first part concentrates on the fight between God and Satan to conquer the world. Faust is nothing but a wager thrown by God at Satan's face. This prologue in the sky and this mystic dimension is partly, but only partly, borrowed from Goethe's Second part of his play. But that is all. This first part of the film also makes Faust travel in time but we are very far from the farce Marlowe set up in this voyage to various courts, including those of Troy's Helen, the Germanic Emperor and the Pope in Rome. It is shorter and more centered on the Emperor, on Germany. Most of the second part of Goethe's play is totally absent since this second part is entirely centered on Faust's voyage in time first, to the past, and then in time as well as in space towards some future, this time building dams in Holland. The film then centers on the affair and on the manipulation of everyone by Mephistopheles. He cheats all the time. He asserts his desire to protect Faust but he is the one who goes and tells Valentin, the brother, and then spread the news of Valentin's murder in the city, a murder he has done himself. But so far so good. We can live with this lying Mephistopheles. But then the film becomes melodramatic in an extreme proportion. Gtechen is only put in the blocks for her fornication and then abandoned in the street with her baby in the winter and that is a major difference with all other versions. The baby finally dies of cold. She is discovered with the dead baby and at once accused of having killed him and brought to the stake where she is burnt in spite of Faust's intermission. She accepts her fate since her baby is dead. But the ending is not without some resemblance with Gounod's Faust. In Gounod she kills her baby out of cold blood, and she is saved by the intervention of Jesus Christ himself. A deus ex machina to save her. Artificial and in Gounod practically farcical. Here it is more serious, very visual but Faust regains his youth again on the pyre and they kiss in the flames and both are saved together at this very moment by the intervention of some angel brandishing the fire of God. This is a moment when the film winks at Goethe who also saved Faust but after a long second part and for quite different reasons. The film finally concludes with a moral about one human dimension that will never be conquered by Satan, and this is LOVE. Here we find again both Berlioz and Gounod for whom love is the explanation of everything and love is also the excuse of everything. Then this very melodramatic action leaves us slightly lost in front of the film because the general atmosphere and impression we get here is that of horror, with the plague at the beginning and a pyre at the end, and several people being killed along the way. What made the Germans visit over and over again in these late 20s that theme of horror, either old and great myths like Nosferatu and Faust, or dystopias like Metropolis? Some leaning coming from history and everyday life after the defeat of 1918 and before the victory of 1933? These fifteen years are the melting pot of all frustrations and dissatisfactions, discontentments. But in this film shot before Murnau's moving to Hollywood we have a darker atmosphere than in Nosferatu, though less intensely tragic, or even Metropolis, though without any human or social hope at all, and the special effects are better used to create the scenes in heaven for example.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines