W. Murnau was one of the leading filmmakers of the German Expressionist
movement of the 1920s, most well-known for the first adaptation of Bram
Stoker’s Dracula—Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror (1922). He also spent a little time
in Hollywood in the late silent era, responsible for one of Tinsel Town’s great
silent pictures, Sunrise: A Song of Two
Humans (1927), which won the only Academy Award ever given for “Unique and
Expressionism is mostly defined by a stylized visual conceit that distorts
reality for an emotional effect. Highly-contrasted light and shadow play large
roles in the mode, as well as sharp, angular lines of design. The works of,
say, Tim Burton, could be said to be influenced by the school of German Expressionism.
Most of the films noir made in
Hollywood in the 1940s and 50s also harked back to the movement.
Video has released a double feature Blu-ray containing two lesser-known
pictures made by Murnau in Germany—The
Haunted Castle from 1921, which is more of a whodunnit melodrama than
anything resembling the paranormal or supernatural, and The Finances of the Grand Duke from 1924, a light comedy with some
espionage mixed in. The first concerns a revenge tale with some secret
identities and guilt-ridden angst. The second contains a plot that might be too
complicated for its own good, dealing with a likable dictator who wants to save
a tiny country from its creditors.
film is anything to write home about—they are both rather staid, slow, and,
is astonishing, though, is Kino Video’s miraculous restoration in 1920x1080p,
which presents the movies in such a pristine and gorgeous transfer that it’s
difficult to believe these pictures were made nearly a hundred years ago. Unfortunately,
there are no supplements or audio commentaries on the disk.
silent film and Murnau enthusiasts may very well find something here to savor. Studying
old movies embodies a little bit of time travel. There are good lessons
contained within that inform us of the manners, social sensibilities, and artistic
trends of the day. So little of this period’s work survives, and Kino should be
applauded for making it available.