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  October 1-13, 2004

Haunted Visions: The Films of F.W. Murnau

Truly a master of light and shadows, F. W. Murnau (1888-1931) created a total of 21 films in his short life, and of these, 12 survive to this day. The Harvard Film Archive, in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut Boston and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is proud to present a retrospective of this influential German expressionist director. F.W. Murnau not only exploited new filming techniques such as the use of negative exposure, stop-motion and low angle camera positions, but also made pioneering achievements in terms of film settings, choosing to film both in studios (Faust, The Last Laugh) and on location (Nosferatu, Sunrise). Along with G.W. Pabst, Robert Wiene and Fritz Lang, he established German expressionism as arguably the most significant movement of the silent film era. Working with the best cinematographers and set designers of his time, including Fritz Arno Wagner, Karl Freund, Karl Hoffmann, Walter Rohrig and Hermann Warm, Murnau crafted a body of work which penetrates deeply into the psychic world of his characters and constructs a remarkably distinct cinematic universe.

Program notes adapted from the Hong Kong Film Archive.

This program is co-presented with the Goethe-Institut Boston and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (www.mfa.org/film). Special thanks to Eric Rentschler, Sabrina Kovatsch, Transit Film, Gudrun Weiss, Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, Jutta Albert, Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv and Stefan Drössler, Filmmuseum Munich.


Live Piano Accompaniment by Yakov Gubanov
October 1 (Friday) 7 pm

Journey Into the Night (Der Gang in die Nacht)

Directed by F. W. Murnau
Germany, 1921, b/w, silent, 95 min.
With Olaf Fønss, Erna Morena, Conrad Veidt
German language version

In the earliest surviving film by Murnau, a famed doctor strays from his wife and is seduced by a dancing girl. The dancer and her new conquest move to live in a village where their love is tested by the appearance of a mysterious blind painter (Veidt in a Caligari-esque reprise). Working from Carl Mayer's poetic adaptation of the original Danish script The Conqueror, Murnau explores the spirituality of his main characters. Temptation, desire and isolation among lovers continued to be favorite subjects for Murnau, culminating in his 1927 masterpiece, Sunrise.

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Live Piano Accompaniment by Yakov Gubanov
October 1 (Friday) 9 pm

The Haunted Castle (Schloß Vogelöd)

Directed by F. W. Murnau
Germany, 1921, b/w, silent, 81 min.
With Arnold Korff, Lulu Kyser-Korff, Lothar Mehnert
German language version

Long-hidden secrets are revealed one mysterious day among the visitors of Castle Vogelöd, leading to jealousies, disguises, foreboding dreams and murders. As with much of Murnau's work, the film shows the influence of the Swedish school (on location sets, authentic atmosphere, harsh realism, and restrained acting). The misty and dreamy landscapes contrast beautifully with the castle's indoor architecture, reflecting the characters' emotional turmoil, a blueprint for his later masterpiece, Nosferatu.

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Live Piano Accompaniment by Peter Freisinger
October 2 (Saturday) 7 pm

The Burning Soil (Der brennende Acker)

Directed by F. W. Murnau
Germany, 1922, b/w. silent, 111 min.
With Eugen Klöpfer, Vladimir Gajdarov, Werner Krauss
German language version

Johannes, a farmer's son finds work as an old Count's secretary. His ambition leads him to charm Gerda, the Count's daughter. But when he discovers that the Count's second wife Helga will soon inherit a field rich in oil (ironically dubbed “the devil’s field”), he changes his allegiance. Snowy landscapes and a meticulously arranged interior atmosphere give the film its poetic charm.

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Live Piano Accompaniment by Peter Freisinger
October 2 (Saturday) 9 pm

The Grand Duke’s Finances (Die Finanzen des Großherzogs)

Directed by F. W. Murnau
Germany, 1924, b/w, silent, 82 min.
With Harry Liedtke, Mady Christians, Hermann Vallentin
German language version

In this farce set in a small Mediterranean paradise, an engagement letter promising the Grand Duchess of Russia to a deeply indebted Grand Duke is mysteriously stolen. The Duke’s creditors are poised to seize his land, while the Duchess has other plans with a group of revolutionaries. Written by novelist/screenwriter Thea von Harbou, Murnau's venture into the world of comic irony represents a break from German Expressionism and a move towards a more realistic use of locations and actors.

Live Musical Accompaniment by Pianist Martin Marks and Soprano Ellen Harris
October 8 (Friday) 7 pm
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Faust

Directed by F. W. Murnau
Germany, 1926, b/w, silent, 90 min.
With Gösta Ekman, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn

 

To determine whether God or Satan has control over the earth, the two decide to wager on the corruptibility of the soul of Faust, a pious alchemist. Mephisto (Jannings) is sent by Satan to tempt Faust, to trade his soul for eternal youth. Murnau’s sweeping retelling of Dr. Faustus is stunning in its visual brilliance. In production, Murnau made it clear that mise-en-scène was to be the most important aspect of the film, and the metaphorical battle between light and darkness is not just part of the grand narrative, but is also a major inspiration for Faust’s complex visuals.

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Faust

Directed by Jan Svankmajer
Czech Republic/UK, 1994, color, 97 min.

Svankmajer's Faust is an ordinary, inquisitive Everyman who, upon exiting a Prague subway station, is handed a map that draws him to his doom. Led to an abandoned theater, he finds a copy of Goethe's Faust, begins to read aloud and unwittingly summons up a doppelgänger Mephistopheles who offers him everything his heart desires in return for his soul. Peopled with shape-changing demons and puppet-versions of Goethe's characters, Svankmajer's tour-de-force is hilarious and shocking, and utterly unforgettable. (Program notes courtesy of Zetigeist Films)

Please note, this film replaces our previously scheduled screening of Murnau's Five Fausts, which we regret we are unable to screen at this time. Thanks for your understanding.

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Live Piano Accompaniment by Yakov Gubanov
October 9 (Saturday) 7 pm
October 10 (Sunday) 9 pm

The Last Laugh (Der letzte Mann)

Directed by F. W. Murnau
Germany, 1925, b/w, silent, 88 min.
With Emil Jannings, Maly Selschaft, Max Hiller

This tragic tale of an aging hotel doorman who is demoted to lavatory duty features a landmark expressionistic performance by the great character actor Emil Jannings, who imbues the character’s wounded pride with near-mythic resonance. The first film to bring German director Murnau to international acclaim, this silent film classic transforms the doorman’s humiliation in losing his cherished coat into a parable of the German obsession with the trappings of rank. The story is told without intertitles, relying instead on innovative visual exposition and the groundbreaking camerawork of Karl Freund.

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Live Piano Accompaniment by Yakov Gubanov
Screening on October 9 (Saturday) 9 pm
October 10 (Sunday) 7 pm

Nosferatu (Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens)

Directed by F. W. Murnau
Germany, 1922, b/w, silent, 84 min.
With Max Schreck, Alexander Granach, Greta Schröder

This film marked the first appearance on screen of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and remains arguably the eeriest and most magical of the many film versions of this famous supernatural tale. Murnau’s use of real locations instead of stylized studio sets to create atmosphere, his deployment of special effects such as negative exposure and fast-speed motion to suggest a ghostly ride, and his casting of Max Schreck as the gaunt, spectral figure of Dracula make this one of the director’s most formally innovative works.

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October 11 (Monday) 7 pm
October 13 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Tabu

Directed by F. W. Murnau
US, 1932, b/w, 84 min.
Presented with Original Score
With Anne Chevalier, Matahi, Hitu

A young Polynesian girl is chosen to be sacrificed to the gods, only to be saved by her lover who attempts to escape from the fate of their tribal taboo. Germany, Hollywood, Polynesia – Murnau's cinematic journey traversed national and cultural boundaries. His final destination, like Gauguin’s, was a spiritual-erotic natural paradise crippled by superstition and gradually consumed by Western civilization. Shot entirely in Tahiti, Tabu ranks among the best works of Eisenstein, Griffith and Dovzhenko. Just a few days before its premiere, Murnau was killed in a car crash.

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October 11 (Monday) 9 pm
October 13 (Wednesday) 7 pm

Sunrise

Directed by F. W. Murnau
US, 1927, b/w, silent, 100 min.
Presented with Original Score
With George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston

Renowned for his use of moving camera shots to explore three-dimensional space, Murnau arrived in Hollywood as sound films were coming into vogue. His first American film, shot silent but released with a musical track, was based on a melodramatic German novel. Murnau, along with acclaimed cameramen Karl Struss and Charles Rosher, transformed the material by merging the psychological realism of the domestic drama with a lyrical depiction of both the quiet country village and the bustling city—connected by the protagonists’ celebrated streetcar journey through the different visual landscapes.

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