With the Sky+ box holding steady between 88 and 90 per cent full, we watched Nosferatu on Wednesday night and, unfortunately, found it a bit dull.
Yes, we’re philistines. Yes, we’re uncultured. No, we’re not taping this weekend’s Geordie Shore marathon. (We’re watching it live. I jest.) But I could argue that what was beautiful and aesthetically pleasing and sophisticated when it was made in 1922 is not necessarily the sort of thing that will still hold an audience today. And no, I haven’t read the Twilight books so cannot appreciate what a rip off they are of Nosferatu.
Except that Nosferatu itself is a rip-off – an unauthorized film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel. Film producer Albin Grau decided to seek permission from Stoker’s estate to make a film based on the book, and was flatly refused. Pressing on with production all the same, Grau, his writer Henrik Galeen and director F.W. Murnau decided merely to change character names, locations and plotlines.
According to Plagiarism Today the Stoker estate saw the finished article and decided to sue for copyright infringement. The most damning evidence against the film-makers, even more than their earlier correspondence, was that an initial print of the film retained some references to “Dracula” in the title. Grau and his film company were bankrupted, and a judge ordered all copies of the film be destroyed.
However, one copy found its way to the United States, where Dracula was in the public domain.
The production company Prana Films could finally make some money from their efforts; the film has gone down in history as a true classic.
And don’t get me wrong, it’s all shiny-looking and whatnot – the film score was actually pretty sweet without dialogue to ruin it – but unfortunately I’m exactly the sort of inverted snob who can’t sit through an hour and a half of silent horror without my mind going for a wander.
And it’s that same inverse snobbery that means I have to give Nosferatu the highest degree of respect. Without it I wouldn’t have seen all the other vampire stuff (like…Buffy and…I think I watched half of Interview With… once); it gave the single biggest contribution to what we now associate with vampire films; tropes and mises-en-scene: the frightened villagers, the ruined castle, the fact that daylight would kill a vampire – even though the original Dracula text says it only weakens them. Stylistically too Nosferatu made a big contribution to early German cinema; two years after Das Kabinet and five before Metropolis, it’s a huge landmark. But just not for me.