There are many films that have stood the test of time and one of them, now 91 years old, will be coming to the Art Theater this week for a special presentation. Made in 1922, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu was the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker’s seminal horror novel Dracula and some contend it is still the best. Atmospheric and undeniably eerie, the movie plays out like an extended nightmare as the director creates a tone of dread that casts a pall on the entire production. Proving that less is more, the film is still able to generate chills without the benefit of modern special effects, relying instead on some simple camera trickery employed by Murnau as well as the presence of actor Max Schreck in the title role. The director cast him because he found him to be “strikingly ugly” and knew that only a minimum of makeup would be needed to transform him into a vampire. Pointy ears, long nails and false teeth were applied to the actor and a hideous, unforgettable creature was born as Count Orlok has become an icon of the horror genre, despite the fact that the character only appears on screen for a total of nine minutes.
However, had it been up to Bram Stoker’s wife, this horror classic would never lived to see the light of day. Having found out that an unauthorized adaptation of her late husband’s novel was being filmed, she took legal action against Murnau to stop production. She failed to do so, and the director thought that by changing the character’s names he could avoid litigation. However, Mrs. Stoker was able to get an order stating that all prints of the film be destroyed and this edict was carried out to the nth degree.
But as fate would have it, one print had made its way to the United States, where the Dracula novel had already fallen into eminent domain because of a lapse in its copyright here in the states. As such, there was nothing preventing theaters from screening it or from others to make copies of it. Many film historians theorize that every print of the movie in circulation today can be traced back to that one surviving print. In a sense, the film itself is much like its subject as it literally came back from the dead and there is a sense of eternal life about it, what with it approaching its 100th anniversary and it still being in circulation.
Nosferatu will be shown at the Art Theater this Thursday, March 7th at 9:00 p.m. The showing is made all the more special as the Andrew Alden Ensemble will be playing their original score during the screening. Out of Boston, the quartet utilizes a wide variety of contemporary instruments in order to give the film a more modern feel. As Alden himself says, “Many of the scores that you hear on the DVD editions you watch are a bit cheesy or rely far too much on percussion. Our job isn’t to restore the score to what it was originally, but to give it a contemporary feel in order to draw in a new audience.”
The group also play original scores to Night of the Living Dead, The Lost World and The Phantom of the Opera, but Alden says that Nosferatu remains the title they are booked most often to accompany. “There’s something timeless about the film,” says Alden, “as it is very serious and very scary. It’s still effective today and unlike other films like it, it has stood the test of time.”
Nosferatu will screen at the Art Theater this Thursday night at 9:00 pm. For more information about this event, go to www.thecuart.com or http://andrewaldenensemble.com.