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Strawberry Hill House Gothic Film Season: Nosferatu

November 14, 2012

Strawberry Hill House Gothic Film Season: Nosferatu

Richmond Film Society

30 October 2012

Season 50: Programme 4

The Waldergrave Drawing Room, Strawberry Hill House, Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, London

NOSFERATU (Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens)

Silent movie with piano accompaniment from Wendy Hiscocks

Germany, 1922

Screenplay: Henrik Galeen and Bram Stoker

Cinematography: Fritz Arno Wagner

Director: FW Murnau

Leading players

Max Schreck – Graf Orlok/Nosferatu

Greta Schroder – Ellen Hutter: seine Frau

Georg H Schnell – Harding: Hutters Freund

Gustav von Wangenheim – Hutter

Alexander Granach – Knock: ein Hausermakler

Ruth Landshoff – Annie: Harding’s Fra

The programme (adapted) outlines the history of this classic horror film:

In 1921 director FW Murnau set out to make a horror film based on Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, but was denied the rights to the property by Stoker’s estate.  Undeterred, Murnau merely changed the title to Nosferatu and the name of the title character to Count Orlok then proceeded to make what has come to be considered a classic silent film.  An unsettling film, it is a faithful adaptation of Stoker’s story, and brings images to the screen which had never been seen before.  There is an innate sense of the sinister that is timeless.  It was the first screen appearance for what is now the most famous vampire in history and Max Schreck brings an eerie presence to the role that has never been equalled.  Schreck, a method actor, was never seen by the cast or crew without his makeup and in character.  It may have been implied by Murnau that Schreck was actually a vampire playing and actor playing a vampire, proving that hype is nothing new to the entertainment industry.  Murnau, one of the most highly regarded German directors of the time directed a number of films but none achieved the lasting notoriety of Nosferatu.

We made our way over to Strawberry Hill House and climbed the iron stairs that led to the Waldergrave Room.  It was a cold and moonlight night and we could have been entering The Castle of Otranto itself – or the lair of Count Orlok.  We were greeted by a woman dressed in an appropriate gothic costume who offered us a glass of blood-red wine: we declined and went into the room where the film was being shown.  There was a full house and a screen was set up in the middle of the room so that it was in effect cinema in the round.  What was unique about this event was that the film was accompanied by Wendy Hiscocks on piano.  The film lasts 94 minutes, so performing an improvised accompaniment is quite an undertaking.  Wendy Hiscocks performed extremely well, matching the films changing moods superbly with music in a style appropriate to the 1920s.  The event therefore, unlike all modern film performances, had an important element of live performance and this greatly added to the occasion.  There are some parts of the film that inevitably are amusing more than scary, but Nosferatu still has the power to disturb, due mainly but not completely, to the classic performance of Max Schreck.   Schreck’s representation of the vampire Count Orlok is extremely economical and perhaps modern compared to the melodramatic style characteristic of the silent film age.  The performance of the piano accompaniment by Wendy Hiscocks was very enthusiastically received, and deservedly so.  When the applause was over we left the Waldergrave Room and ventured into the cold moonlight night.

Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Murnau's Nosferatu, promotional photograph

Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Murnau’s Nosferatu, promotional photograph

A scene from Nosferatu

Richmond Film Society’s season continues on 13 November with The Salt of Life by Gianni di Gregorio and will be preceded by their Annual General Meeting.

Barry Mitchell

5 November 2012

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