The Prophecy


While this poor chap is catching 40 winks in Murnau’s THE HAUNTED CASTLE…

Yoo hoo!

…who should turn up but Graf Orlok, the bald vampire from NOSFERATU, two films too early? (This is all we see of him, but I’d know that hand anywhere!) What’s he doing here?


Friedrich Murnau is perhaps the greatest exponent of prophetic cinema, and his life and death have some mysterious corners worthy of exploration…

you don't know what you might find...

One thing that has struck me in the past is how, in the magic carpet ride from FAUST (insert obligatory reference to Murnau’s WWI experience as a pilot HERE), the landscapes traversed resemble those, initially from earlier Murnaus, like these, which echo NOSFERATU:

Up above the streets and houses

Behold the Cliffs of Insanity! 

voyage of the damned

But later, the lanscapes seem to emerge from films Murnau was YET TO MAKE!

The cornfields in CITY GIRL have the same aura of white gold as these, viewed in FAUST…

faustian patch

The frothing streams of TABU are pre-echoed by this miniature landscape, from FAUST again.

babbling brook

Could it be that the other vistas in this amazing sequence are environments drawn from the films Murnau WOULD HAVE MADE, had he not died so abruptly?

landscape in the mist



(These faustscapes, by the way, are among the Impossible Places I would most like to visit, along with the worlds of Hayao Miyazaki and the strangely glazed countryside flown over after the Tunnels of Light sequence in 2001. My bags are packed.)

deserts of vast eternity

and they went to sea in a sieve

at the mountains of madness

Ironically, some of these shots were taken here in Scotland. I am ALREADY THERE!


dead head

Murnau’s death mask, illegally photographed by the author.

The rather good documentary that accompanies Masters of Cinema’s new DVD of NOSFERATU focuses on production company Prana Film’s intention to make films on mystic and supernatural themes, since the company founder was something of a sorcerer himself. But the documentary draws a blank when it ponders the question of whether Murnau himself believed in occult forces.

The enigma can be simply cleared up by referring to Lotte Eisner’s definitive study of Murnau:

In 1931, Murnau, she tells us, hadn’t visited his mother in Germany for some time, so he made plans to go and consulted a fortune-teller, “as was his habit.”

“You will arrive at your mother’s on April 5th, but in a different manner than you expect,” intoned the psychic, perhaps adding, “Wooo-oo-oooo-oo!” (My speculation.)

Rose Kearin, Murnau’s secretary, had some kind of bad feeling about this trip and urged Murnau not to take a plane to catch the boat. So Murnau hired a car and Filipino driver to get about on the continent, and another car, a Rolls, to take him to the boat. Murnau objected to the Rolls’ chauffeur, “But how ugly he is!” and insisted that his own driver should take the wheel. The journey began, with Murnau, the two drivers, Ned Marin, who managed the company that did the post-synching on Murnau’s last film, and a German shepherd dog called Pal.

Here we must discount the version narrated by Kenneth Anger in his entertaining smear-fest Hollywood Babylon. Ie. Murnau did not cause the car to crash by fellating the driver. My adaptation of Sherlock Holmes’ famous dictum runs, “Once we have eliminated whatever entertaining myth Kenneth Anger is peddling, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” 

As the Rolls sped along at top speed, a lorry came in the opposite direction, and the pulchritudinous chauffeur lost control. The car left the road and hurtled down a bank. Murnau, who’d been dozing, awakens to find himself in a vehicle plunging nightmarishly into the void. At this point — classic example of a guy who’s seen too many movies — he throws himself out of the car. Rolling at high speed he cracks his head on a fencepost and fractures his skull. Death follows rapidly.

Everybody in the car is fine. Even the fucking dog is fine.

Murnau’s body arrives in a box at his mother’s on April 5th, as predicted. Woooo-oo…

Murnau’s death mask sits on Greta Garbo’s desk in Hollywood for years.

A young Persian gardener said to his Prince:

‘Save me! I met Death in the garden this morning, and he gave me a threatening look. I wish that tonight, by some miracle, I might be far away, in Ispahan.’

The Prince lent him his swiftest horse.

That afternoon, as he was walking in the garden, the Prince came face to face with Death. ‘Why,’ he asked, ‘did you give my gardener a threatening look this morning?’

‘It was not a threatening look,’ replied Death. ‘It was an expression of surprise. For I saw him here this morning, and I knew that I would take him in Ispahan tonight.’

~ Jean Cocteau, The Look of Death.

The look of Death

7 Responses to “The Prophecy”

  1. Bill Krohn and I do the commentary on the Masters of Cinema edition of Murnau’s Faust.

  2. Yes, and I’ve been meaning to have a listen to that, I got the disc recently but got sucked into watching the film all over again. I loved what you guys did on THE SAVAGE INNOCENTS.

  3. Thanks. That Savage Innocents is now a rareity. MoC had to withdraw it because they didn’t have the rights.

    Bill and I did Faust almost in real time. We went back over one tiny passage Bill wasn’t happy with a few days after our initial recording session.

  4. Yes, I’m really glad I got Savage Innocents before it vanished — thanks to Chris “Dovzhenko” here. Reminds me, I should load it into my computer in case anything ever happens to the original!

  5. […] Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: […]

  6. […] “good for centuries,” as a character in Joe Orton’s LOOT puts it. His body was shipped from the west-coast of America to Germany so some kind of preservation would seem […]

  7. […] this talented voyante be the same psychic who predicted Murnau’s death? It seems probably. How many psychics were there in LA in the late twenties, anyway? And how many […]

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