(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)
* Contains spoilers *
S = script
A = acting
C = cinematography
M = music
P = pacing
F = feel
Mid-point of scale (all scores out of 17) = 9
In acknowledgement of the fine live accompaniment of Neil Brand (@NeilKBrand)
At the end of to-night’s screening, I quickly read through the music credits, some by Hans Erdmann, that had been used to try to recreate his lost score for Nosferatu (1922) : at the end, one of the (excessively ?) summery themes that had been present at the start recurs as Hutter arrives back and kisses Ellen. Not a mood that lasts, although it appeared that Hutter had raced Count Orlok’s ship to Wisborg to protect her from him, which he then (save merely being there) does not do, even when she points out Orlok’s face at the window and says that he is there night after night – or seems powerless to do.
Continuing with the music, for the moment, one piece, a frivolous one (popularly given an accompaniment in the tapping of typewriter keys ?), is used when the letter from Hutter reaches home, seemed quite out of place for anyone with a familiarity with the reception of popular classical music to use. It was then that I realized with certainty that various compositions had been compiled, for the sub-Brahmsian summery and romantic music might have been written for this film, set in 1838.
Some instruments, maybe inevitably, came to the fore in the scoring, such as the xylophone, bass-drum, double-bass, and even a bass clarinet, as did a ground-bass, a creepy series of rising intervals, and chiming effects. All in all, though the film has to have an accompaniment, I felt that Neil Brand’s live playing at Cambridge Film Festival felt as though it did far more with far less :
We are several times shown, in an intertitle, the warning not to let the shadow of Nosferatu be cast upon one, and this score, at times, felt as though it were not just casting a shadow on the film, but overpowering it. The beauty of what Brand improvised – to continue this theme of choking – is that it allowed the film space to breathe, did not overlay the visual element with too much heavy meaning.
There is much meaning to be had here, with beautiful images of The Empusa at sea, and of the waves meeting the sea at Wisborg, where (amidst the iron memorials) Ellen likes to be, looking out at the water : for sheer beauty of the cinematography, these shots deserve to be relished.
Paper communications between Knock and Orlov in alchemical, magical symbols – such as one might get by putting a page of plain text in the font of that name – are but part of what is going on, since Knock telepathically knows when The Master is on the sea, getting nearer, or is dead.
Ellen, too, receives communication at a distance. When she sits up in bed at the time when fearful Hutter (who even tries to hide under the duvet) is about to be attacked in bed, she cries out – the doctor comes, and says that it is disturbances of the blood, blood on which Orlok feeds, of course, and is about so to do on her husband’s. Later, when both men are heading for Wisborg (there must be something missing that explains how Hutter knows that he is imprisoned), there is a sense, when Ellen calls out that ‘He is coming’ and she will go to him, she may no longer mean Hutter…
At the beginning, we see Hutter’s carefree expressions, but his delight in surprising Ellen and swirling her around before presenting her with the bouquet that he has picked is balanced by her asking why he killed the pretty flowers, suggesting a disposition to the melancholic, as may her appearance, her hair.
Hutter may not later choose the best language, by saying that he is going to the land of thieves and spectres, to make her feel assured of his safety (one feels that he is playing, although perhaps knowing that he plays with what he does not understand : his dashing the book to the ground after the night at the inn suggests denial), but he seems apt to rush off and leave her just like that. However, not just, one feels, that no woman in those times would be left alone, she is put in the care of the Harding couple, where she turns out to be a sleepwalker, who could have come to grief, if Harding had not caught her when she falls.
So, Ellen’s case maybe is not be taken superficially, and maybe the connection that Orlov, admiring her neck in Hutter’s cameo, makes with Ellen is some sort of unholy triangle of lust, where blood is not just sustenance (and he has tasted Hutter’s) : he wrote to Knock in the first place, because he desired a desolate property there – and where more desolate than these deserted warehouses, into which he can import his pest-laden coffins ?
He desired the property, he desired Hutter at his castle (just so that he could first feed on him, then lock him up away from Ellen ? Hutter’s papers, signifiying his agreement to the transaction, are never going to be returned, if Hutter does not leave), and he desired to be near Ellen and infect Wisborg. If Orlok has Hutter and Ellen behave according to his plans, then those plans have taken insufficient account of the fact that, in ein ganz sundlos Weyb, he desires what can destroy him.
The book from the inn, which Hutter finds with him at the castle, he tells Ellen not to read, but she does, of course, read it, and finds her fate. Struggling with it – and, importantly, not acknowledging that she has accepted it by symbolically throwing open the window facing Orlok – she disturbs Hutter, who has not even been able to offer the protection of staying awake to watch (which may signify that Orlok subdued him by taking his blood).
Significantly, he is sent not for an ordinary medical man, but for Bulwer, the Paracelsian professor (who has earlier been demonstrating the wonders of the Venus fly-trap and the like), and Hutter does not hesitate to follow the instructions. It is that he, of all people, will understand the nature of the struggle in which Ellen has been, not that she expects to survive it ? Of the triangle, Hutter is the survivor, and we have no sense of whether he can resume any life, as we are shown the destroyed castle of Orlok.
This is where I ended with my thinking in the other review – that there is, somehow, a sympathy for the vampyr, who poetically seeks out what is most likely to destroy him, in Ellen as the sinless sacrifice (the translation mistranslates ‘Weyb’ as ‘virgin’). His stiff, occasionally slightly hesitant demeanour, the doors, hatches and coffin-lids that open and close at his command, and the true horror as his form becomes upright in the hold of the ship, and he emerges from its hatch : he has so much power, and yet risks so much to feast on the bewitching Ellen.
A truly poetical meditation on the self-destructive impulse, which disguises itself from its possessor in the form of an obsessively thought- and carried-out plan.
If you want to Tweet, Tweet away here
Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)