Sunday, December 27, 2009

Phantom + others

I said a little while back that I wanted to look at more of Murnau's stuff so I'm going to do that now. I watched a film last week called Schloß Vogelöd (The Haunted Castle) that he made in 1921 that takes place in a castle that isn't haunted. It's more of a chamber drama about revenge I suppose, which wasn't awful, but it barely had any of Murnau's expressionist touches, and add to that the fact that the film transfer on to the digital format was fucking abysmal. It was really hard to tell what was even happening most of the time, plus with trying to read the inter-titles it just wasn't worth it. Tagged on to that DVD was an American film from 1925 called Wolf's Blood. I'm guessing the distributor put this together as one of those "horror double-bills" that you often stumble across to add an extra bit of enticement, especially when the movies aren't that good. It's too bad that these aren't horror films. Wolf's Blood gets credit for possibly being the first werewolf movie ever, but what they don't mention is that it also might be the dumbest movie ever too. It's never scary; a guy gets a blood transfusion of wolf's blood that turns him retarded. I was kinda hoping that he'd just run off into the woods after they say he mauls some guy (yeah, you don't see it), but a whole fucking love story comes into into it and flushes it below 1 star territory.

Phantom, 1922
Dir: F.W. Murnau
December 26, 2009

Phantom (1922) was made right after Nosferatu (1922), but Murnau had such trouble getting money together due to the terrible inflation that the German Mark was going through that it a miracle a lot of it got made. Add to that the fact that for the longest time people thought that this was a lost film it's pretty remarkable that we even get to watch it at all. It was found and put together based on Murnau's notes about it, but it's tough to say for sure on these things if it's exactly the way it was supposed to be. Some of the reels that were found were damaged, so a lot of the frames needed coloring to make any kind of restoration possible. The archivists tried to correlate the color to the mood of the scene but again it's hard to say if this adds anything to what Murnau was trying to do. The film itself is pretty good, especially when Muranu's dreamy Expressionist moments are allowed to dominate scenes. The biggest problem that film has is that it was penned by Thea von Harbou (Metropolis), and her heavy-handedness is all over the place in this one. Especially at the end. In what could have been a downright bummer, where Lorenz (Alfred Abel) goes to jail for his obsession, it peters out into "oh I was so crazy back then" foolishness. So the whole flashback part of it really ruined it for me. Lorenz is a goody goody who writes poetry and has female admirers, but when he's run over by the daughter of one of the wealthiest families in the city, he's love struck. His poetry, championed by a book-keeper and his smitten daughter, is scoffed at by a publisher as mediocre. He soon realizes that he will never be able to win the heart of this girl without money; he is chasing phantoms. He asks a wealthy aunt for a loan, and she agrees given his honest reputation. When he meets a woman who is a dead ringer for the rich girl at a night club, it's game over. The worst part is that she is a prostitute. He starts blowing all the borrowed money on her and aunty is none too pleased. The film unravels the way a tragic drama should, and like I said, had it ended on that downbeat note, it would have hit home much harder. Lorenz's inability to get out of the mess that he makes for himself is probably the best over-arching theme of the film, so the fact that they lessen it's blow at the end kills it. This is worth checking out if you like Murnau or early expressionist films. Those parts in this are really good. I mean look at the in-camera trick below. The buildings on the left are "collapsing" on him!

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