Murnau & Max: Life & Death Struggle

 DATELINE: Noserferatu-too much?

Has it been twenty years since Willem Dafoe took on the role of Max Schreck as Nosferatu? And, John Malkovich played the great German director. Shadow of the Vampireis meant to be film history, horror in cinema, and ultimately docudrama to end all vampire tales.

It was like watching Burton and O’Toole in Becket in some kind of twisted duo version of clash of titans. They quibble like Fredric March and Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind.Yes, their screen confrontations are on this level.

Is it comedy, satire, or history? Perhaps it is all rolled into one silent screen classic, as the original depicted shadows over substance. You may laugh at the foibles of movie makers.

Unable to film Dracula, Murnau, the Herr Doktor of cinema, filmed on some remote location where an unknown actor, of Stanislavski Method, turned himself into a real vampire. Or did he?

The conceit of the movie is that Max was no actor, but a real creature of death whom Murnau located.

The film is looney in its hilarity. When Max misbehaves on the set, F.W. Murnau denies him makeup.  When Max Schreck begins to eat the cameraman, the two come to one of their marvelous argumentative scenes. Dafoe clicks his fingernails like a castanet and watches sunrise on film, moving us behind the hideous makeup. You can’t have a film like this without Udo Keir as well.

Two temperamental creatures want to make a movie to last for all time: and they do! Nosferatu’s spirit is captured in this behind-the-scenes account, however falsified or dramatized.

The ending is spoiled, purely preposterous, with Murnau directing the ultimate mass murders.

It’s koo-koo bird stuff, but dreams can be made of that too.

Vampires Cast No Shadow

DATELINE: Nosferatu Legend

shadow

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.