DATELINE: Nosferatu Legend
Back in 2000 John Malkovitch and Willem Dafoe decided to make a comedy biography about the making of F.W. Murnau’s classic silent film, Nosferatu.
The movie is called Shadow of the Vampire, but it’s really about the world of shadowy silent movies, right up there with behind-the-scenes movie magic like in Singing in the Rain.
The main theory behind this wacky movie is that legendary director Murnau found a real vampire to pretend to be Max Schrenck and play the hideous creature of supernatural lore. He wanted to document the life of a real vampire.
Malkovitch played Murnau as one of those Prussian nightmares of autocratic ego. Dafoe took on the role as Schrenck, or Nosferatu who allegedly wiped out the crew one by one as Murnau tried to film his Translyvania polka.
The conflict between temperamental director and lunatic actor is certainly inspired: Murnau tries to punish Schrenck for his lack of cooperation by refusing to give him “closeups” or denying him “makeup.”
Along for the parody are Cary Elwes in his best blond-haired Aryan cinematographer and Udo Keir as the flighty producer.
However, the best moments are when two lead actors go over-the-top and head-to-head in a Method-acting free-for-all. Try crossing Sunset Boulevard with The Bad and The Beautiful and you have some idea of what you will be in for. Just roll your eyes and roll with the punches.
Murnau was, in Hollywood Kenneth Anger vision, a prissy aesthete whose dalliance with his chauffeur ultimately drove their car off the road in a fatal accident a few years later, but that’s another movie yet to be made.
Director E. Elias Merlinge went beyond the call of talent on this one, but it did give Dafoe an Oscar nomination for munching on bats and clicking his long fingernails.
Well, it’s a hoot and satire of Hollywood biopics.