Like last month, I will be participating in Pure Entertainment Preservation Society’s A Month Without the Code Blogathon! Unlike the Clean Movie Month Blogathon, the purpose of this month’s blogathon is to watch and talk about films that were released outside of the Breen Code era. That way, elements of the Breen Code can be applied to these films through discussion and analysis. For the very first review, I have chosen Nosferatu! It’s a film that I had definitely heard of, but had never seen. So far, I’ve had a good track record when it comes to the silent film genre. The Kid, Wild Oranges, and Sunnyside are films that I have seen and enjoyed. Also, I thought it would be interesting to apply the Breen Code to a film that was released before the Breen Code existed. It’s time to start this unfrightening and not-so-spooky review of 1922’s Nosferatu!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: As I’ve said in my review of Wild Oranges, actors and actresses in silent films have to rely on body language, facial expressions, and actions/behaviors. The cast in Nosferatu used these acting elements to their full advantage, as if the “silent” part of silent films was never considered as a disadvantage. Both Gustav von Wangenheim and Greta Schroder, the actors who portrayed the characters of Hutter and Ellen, were very expressive! Their acting abilities helped the audience figure out what their characters were thinking and feeling. The two actors that stole the show, though, were Max Schreck and Alexander Granach! Even though their characters, Count Orlok/Nosferatu and Knock, are only on-screen for a limited time, they made the most of their on-screen presence. Both of these actors use their facial expressions to make their characters appear as creepy as possible. Because their acting abilities were that good, it made the portrayal of their characters appear believable!
The music: Similar to films like Sunnyside, the music in Nosferatu represented the tone of the overall film. This movie is classified as a horror movie, so the music during frightening scenes was tense and suspenseful. For less scary moments, the music was calmer and gentler. While Hutter visits an inn on his trip to Count Orlok’s castle, the music is light-hearted. This shows what Hutter is feeling, which is excitement toward his journey. When he shares his destination with the innkeeper, every patron in the inn becomes scared. At this moment, the music quickly changes to sound more mysterious and eerie. The fact that the music was always on-point with what was happening on-screen helped make the movie-viewing experience that much more engaging!
The on-screen chemistry: Even though their relationship wasn’t featured on-screen for very long, I liked seeing the on-screen chemistry between Gustav von Wangenheim and Greta Schroder! Anytime Hutter and Ellen interacted with each other, it was apparent that these characters truly cared about one another. As I already said, Gustav and Greta’s performances were very expressive. This not only helped make their portrayals endearing, but also help the audience stay invested in Hutter and Ellen’s relationship. This part of the story was a good way to balance out the scariness of Count Orlok/Nosferatu’s character. It was just one way of providing enough light-hearted moments to not frighten the audience too much.
What I didn’t like about the film:
Nosferatu’s limited presence: Before I watched this film, I had assumed that Count Orlok/Nosferatu would have a significantly large presence on-screen. Unfortunately, he was only featured in a handful of scenes. I also thought that most of the plot would revolve around Count Orlok/Nosferatu, especially since the movie is titled Nosferatu. However, the plot was about the fear associated with this character. While Count Orlok/Nosferatu was not an afterthought, it felt like the movie was about everything but him. This character ended up serving the plot very sparingly.
Not so subtle dialogue: Because Nosferatu is a “silent film”, the film’s dialogue is featured on title cards and shots that look like the audience is reading a page from a book. But this dialogue didn’t want to hide the fact that there was a vampire in the movie. Toward the beginning of the film, Knock, Hutter’s boss, tells him that in order to sell a house to Count Orlok, it would require a little bit of blood. When Count Orlok sees a picture of Hutter’s wife, Ellen, he says that she has a nice-looking neck. These are just two examples of how this dialogue was not so subtle about who Count Orlok really was. This happened so frequently, that I felt annoyed by it.
Contradicting logic: In, at least, two instances, there were times when logic in Nosferatu was contradicted. One example is when Count Orlok tells Hutter that he only sleeps during the day, which causes people to think that he doesn’t exist. But, when he boards a ship on his way to Wisborg, Count Orlok/Nosferatu walks around the ship’s deck in broad daylight. In a shot that was sharing the film’s plot, it was revealed that the people of Wisborg were afraid to leave their homes because they were unaware of who was affected by the “plague”. When they accused Knock of infecting the town with the “plague”, these same townspeople were chasing Knock throughout the town and a neighboring field. Moments like these made the story seem like it wasn’t as strong as it could have been.
My overall impression:
After watching Nosferatu, I can see that this year’s A Month Without the Code is off to a good start! I have been lucky when it comes to the silent film genre, as I enjoyed every film I’ve seen and/or reviewed so far! Nosferatu has such a rich story, making for an interesting and engaging movie. The stories of how this project was made and restored are also fascinating. It makes me thankful that someone went out of their way to preserve this piece of cinema and save it from obscurity. If this film was created during the Breen Code era, it would be very different. For one thing, it would not be a silent film, as movies released between 1934 to 1954 had audio where cast members could be heard. From the perspective of content, there are a few things that would need to change. These things are the following:
- The references to blood would need to be reduced. Since one of the characters in Nosferatu is a vampire, talking about blood makes sense. But, because mentions of bodily functions are looked down on, blood would have to be talked about at a minimum.
- There are two shots in this movie that could be seen as disturbing: one shows a Venus Fly Trap eating a fly and one shows a spider eating its prey. These scenes would have to be removed.
- On two separate occasions, a dead body is shown on-screen. These images would have to be removed and the on-screen deaths would need to be implied either through dialogue or clever visuals.
Overall score: 7.5 out of 10
Have you seen Nosferatu? What is your favorite movie featuring vampires? Share your thoughts in the comment section!
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