The Actual Sunday Intertitle: The Midnight Call

To the Cameo to see Murnau’s NOSFERATU, maybe the only film we’ll see at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. The only other retro screening is THE LAST WALTZ. The modern films may be excellent but I don’t know anything about them. I think not having a retrospective is a mistake.

NOSFERATU may be one hundred years old but he’s fresh as a daisy. The screening used the original score as supplied by Eureka! Masters of Cinema. No live accompaniment. I think that score is good but too bombastic. I felt a disconnect — Murnau’s film seems stately and creepy, and Hans Erdmann’s judgement of when the big moments are doesn’t align with mine. But it certainly has atmosphere — it’s reminiscent of Wojciech Kilar’s work on BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA.

I’d forgotten about the hyena, a bit of geographically astray fauna that anticipates Tod Browning’s famed armadillos and opossums. An intertitle indicates that we’re supposed to interpret this mournful-looking rather than laughing fellow as a “werewolf.”

A few interesting things I’d forgotten or else hadn’t noticed before, apparent on this very crisp big-screen presentation. When Hutter, terrified by Orlok’s nocturnal appearance, rushes to the window, Murnau provides his POV of a chasm and cataract, making it clear that there’s no escape via that route. But the POV shot appears to be UPSIDE-DOWN. The water trickling from the cliffs rains upwards. This seems to make it more dramatically vertiginous.

Quite possibly cameraman Fritz Arno Wagner is hanging by his feet to get this shot, so possibly the unusual angle was unintentional. They could have flipped it in the edit if they’d wanted to.

On my very first short I had a guy hang by his ankles to get a cliff shot. I was reluctant to let him, but he was very keen. (He was lying on a slope with the camera off the cliff — he wasn’t literally hanging but it was necessary to hold his ankles so he didn’t slide downhill…) My shot turned out rubbish.

Always intrigued by the psychic linkages. The art of editing spatially unrelated scenes together invites “spooky action at a distance” — the suggestion of mental links that cross gulfs of space. Ellen is psychically hooked into Hutter. Hutter, on the other hand, is oblivious to his distant wife, and indeed to everything else. Graf Orlok seems to wiretap Ellen’s psychic connection and reacts to her sleepwalking as he’s about to bite Hutter.

Knock, the Renfield character, becomes hooked in to Orlok’s plans. Seeing a ship arrive, he knows it’s his master’s, and he senses the death scene at the end. One of the barriers to fully accepting telepathy as a thing is that we don’t yet know the medium it would operate in. But in movies, it’s definitely found its medium. As in THE SHINING, montage = telepathy.

2 Responses to “The Actual Sunday Intertitle: The Midnight Call”

  1. Fiona Watson Says:

    “I don’t think we need the writer any longer.” “I don’t expect you to understand this, and I’m loathe to admit it myself, but the writer is necessary.” BWA HA HA HA. It’s a shame the film doesn’t work because the concept has to traduce the dead and the direction isn’t up to snuff. Still, it’s totally worth it for Willem Dafoe, the only actor to get an Oscar nomination for playing a vampire. I look forward to Robert Egger’s version of Nosferatu with Dafoe reprising the role. Maybe he’ll win this time.

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