Bring Me The Head of F.W. Murnau


I stole Murnau’s head!

This bleached boulder is F.W. Murnau. I happened to be in the Berlin Film Museum during the early years of this century. I *knew* it was forbidden to take pictures, because I’d tried to snap the room full of monitors and a guard had told me off (politely). When I saw they had Murnau’s death mask, the one that sat on Greta Garbo’s desk for years, I resolved to grab a shot when the guard wasn’t looking. It came out a bit bright.

So when I heard that F.W. Murnau’s head had been stolen, I assumed it was this one. Maybe it had been removed from its case for dusting and somebody had run off with it under his duffel coat. Or maybe it was an old-fashioned smash-and-grab job, half a brick through the case and then snatch the head and run off with it like a rugby player aiming for a try.

But no — the actual head of the actual F.W. Murnau has been removed from his coffin. His lead-lined coffin — was he afraid of becoming a vampire, or of being peeped at by Superman? One would have thought we’d be talking about a skull, not a head as such, but It’s possible the hermetic seal has kept Friedrich fresh — but perhaps, like the wall paintings of Fellini’s ROMA, he will rapidly go off when exposed to our modern air. Or maybe he was embalmed — “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 advisable.

The presence of candle wax at the crime scene has been interpreted as evidence of black magic rituals, though it could also have been for illumination. If the ritual was enacted there in the Murnau family crypt, why take the head afterwards? I suppose it’s difficult to fathom the motives of people who break into crypts in the first place. The body-snatcher — no, that won’t do, we must say “head-snatcher” to be accurate, is now presumably safe at home, muddy footprints on carpet, admiring their illicit acquisition on the coffee table, while their DVD of SCHLOSS VOGELOD flickers on a laptop.

I hope it was worth it, mister! And I hope you can afford the services of Saul Goodman to defend you when the polizei kick the door in.

12 Responses to “Bring Me The Head of F.W. Murnau”

  1. D.C. Cairns, surely it is only a matter of time before the police see through your ploy, your confession to a lesser crime in order to cover up the greater crime of grave robbery.

  2. henryholland666 Says:


    Oooohhhh, a Murnau movie I haven’t seen that isn’t lost.

  3. La Faustin Says:

    “F.W. Murnau has decapsed” — Frank O’Hara

  4. We shall have to call him f.w. murnau now.

  5. Always aiming for the lower case crimes…

  6. kevin mummery Says:

    Too bad Warren Oates wasn’t born a lot earlier, or maybe too bad Murnau didn’t live a lot longer….imagine Oates in a Murnau directed film.

  7. Bill Routt Says:

    In this context, t is no accident that They Saved Hitler’s Brain was directed by David Bradley….

  8. Has anyone thought to check the recent activities of the two guys who corpsenapped Chaplin? Maybe they’re experiencing a career renaissance?

  9. Bill Routt Says:

    This stuff about the Chaplin Body Snatchers (not to mention what happened to John Barrymore’s body) raises the distinct possibility that somewhere, somehow (oh, I can’t even THINK it!), heads and bodies might have got horribly interchanged …

  10. The Chaplin abductors, Roman Wardas (the brains) and Gantscho Ganev (the muscle), were undone, strangely enough, when the Swiss police tapped Oona’s phone while posting officers outside of 200 potential telephone booths to catch the callers. Both men were auto mechanics. You’d think they would have understood the dangers of transmission break-down.

  11. As with art theft, stealing any unique item is fraught with problems because you can only really sell it back to the people you stole it from. Which is the kind of thing professional thieves go out of their way to avoid.

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