I still vividly remember the first time I saw Nosferatu. Over a decade ago, a friend and I were looking through a newspaper and saw that Nosferatu would be playing in a local theater around Halloween. Excitedly, we went over to the theater to buy some tickets, only to be told that the show was sold out. As we walked towards the street in a disappointed way, we ran into a man who was leaning over the trunk of his car. The whole trunk was filled with tickets. I'm assuming he's the one who put the show together, but who knows. He seemed reluctant to sell us any tickets, but he did anyway. I guess since he could tell we really wanted to go!
The theater in this story is The Oriental Theatre, one of the few remaining movie theaters in Milwaukee that was built during the 1920s. The theater is still decorated in the same glamorous fashion as it was in 1927.
You're looking at the room I first watched Nosferatu in. The Oriental Theatre normally has an organ player who rises up with the organ from below the stage. It's awesome to see. In this case, there were huge drums. So I saw my first silent movie in a theater while listening to the rumbling of live percussion!
I just managed to find the old advertisement for Nosferatu and my ticket from the show. It appears that I watched this movie on the year of its 75th anniversary. Wow, time flies! It also appears that I was present on the only night Nosferatu was ever shown at The Oriental Theatre.
I also found an old newspaper clipping about the night I was there. It turns out that The Alloy Orchestra used found objects as part of their percussion. Any piece of metal that produced the most fitting sound was used - even an old bedpan.
To give you an idea of what my experience was like, here's a trailer for The Alloy Orchestra's performance at another theater:
Seeing the vampire, Nosferatu on the big screen is a much scarier experience than seeing him on a TV screen. Max Schreck, the actor who played Nosferatu had naturally large, expressive eyes. Obviously, the shape of his nose and ears were changed, but a lot of that spookiness naturally came from somewhere inside him. On the left is Max Schreck in his human form:
An interesting piece of trivia is that "Schreck" means fright or terror in German. I guess that's why the Ogre Schrek has his name. Some people assumed that Max Schreck had changed his name to fit the Nosferatu role, but that wasn't the case.
There are other creepy characters in the movie, aside from Nosferatu. One is Knock (who you know as Renfield) This time he's a spooky imp-like business man.
A lot of names had to be changed for Nosferatu, since Murnau did not get the rights to Dracula from Bram Stoker's family. Count Dracula became "Count Orlock", Jonathan Harker became "Hutter", and Mina became "Ellen".
If you'd like to watch Nosferatu in its entirety, here it is:
I've been having a bit of a Nosferatu movie marathon lately. After not watching the movie in over a decade, I strangely chose to watch Nosferatu on the exact night of its 90th anniversary! This is strange, because I wasn't aware that March 4th was the day Nosferatu opened. I just now read that Nosferatu opened on March 4, 1922 in Berlin. What are the chances? This was my first time watching the movie on DVD.
Watching Nosferatu in my living room was a much different experience from watching it in a theater. As I mentioned before, the Nosferatu I saw in the theater was accompanied by booming live percussion. The DVD featured the original soundtrack the audience would have heard in a theater 90 years ago. (Hans Erdmann's 1922 score) It was orchestral and dramatic in places. You can get a feel for the music by listening to this sampler:
Samples of the original Nosferatu score
Nosferatu is a silent movie with subtitles, so any added music or sound effects make a huge difference in how you feel watching it.
Another noticeable DVD difference was that the overall color of the film changed with nearly every scene change! It was kind of distracting, but true to form. I learned that back in the day of silent films, the film was often tinted to show a change of mood. So if something happy was happening, everything might look golden. Then there might be an abrupt change to blue during a sad scene. The movie was shown entirely in black and white when I saw it in the theater.
This is how drastic the color changes on the DVD were:
I guess people were used to this 90 years ago, but it was really jarring for me. My eyes were trying to adjust to the color change, while I tried to guess why this was even happening. Was the picture blue because something sad was happening, or was it night all of a sudden? Here's one of my favorite scenes from Nosferatu, complete with color changes:
This clip demonstrates one of the funniest things about old silent movies. They seem kind of slow paced, until they become incredibly fast paced. The film sometimes speeds up to a funny degree, like when Nosferatu is moving his coffins. I love how he's able to magically just hop into one and direct the lid to float on top of him!
Directly after watching Nosferatu, I watched Shadow of the Vampire. This is sort of a what-if movie starring Willem Dafoe as Nosferatu and John Malkovich as the director, Murnau. Eddie Izzard is in there too. So this one is full of great stars and is one of the more intense vampire movies I've seen. It's as close to realistic as a vampire movie can get. Nothing here is glossed over or romanticized. Willem Dafoe is perfect as the classic Nosferatu, and adds a few tricks of his own. Max Schreck's eyes were haunting, while Willem Dafoe's are straight out terrifying.
Shadow of the Vampire is a very raw movie - at times it's even uncomfortable to watch. I felt like there were several messages in the plot. It made me think about the sacrifices people are willing to make for their creative projects. Some people might allow others to be hurt or even let go of their values, if it brought them success. Which is pretty much what happens here. Several times during the movie, I asked myself, "What would I do in this situation?"
Believe it or not, it took a lot of work to find an embeddable trailer of Shadow of the Vampire! So, I'm happy to be able to share this with you guys:
Once you've watched the creepfest that is Nosferatu, and the dark compulsion in Shadow of the Vampire, you'll be ready for some lighter entertainment. So, on a much lighter note...