On this day in 1888, the great German filmmaker F W Murnau was born. He started in film right around the time when it had come into its all as an artistic medium. And his films are always quite beautiful to look at. He had a great eye. But he is best known for the mood of his work — he is one of major figures in German Expressionistic cinema. And like others in that movement, he was very interested in horror. This first film was based upon The Picture of Dorian Gray. He later did adaptations of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Faust.
He is best know, however, for his horror classic, Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror — one of the first true horror films. Of course, like all of his films, he never got the rights to make the film. And in this case, it brought legal action from Bram Stoker’s widow. As a result, the film never had the chance to be commercially successful. But it is considered a classic today. All prints of the film were supposed to be destroyed. Luckily, one was saved.
Sadly, the same cannot be said of many of Murnau’s films. His first six films have been lost except for some minor fragments. And three of his later films are lost. This includes one he made in Hollywood, 4 Devils — which is thought by film historians to have been one of his best works. In all, he directed 21 films and nine of them are lost — almost half! That’s shocking for a major filmmaker of such a late date. And these are all feature films — 50 minutes and longer.
Still, you can find many of his films on the internet: Nosferatu, Faust, Tabu. And that’s a lot more than you can say for a lot of people. There are many whose films exist but no one cares enough to release them or put them online. I especially recommend checking out Tabu, because it shows a different side of Murnau than we normally see and you get a good feel for his keen visual sense.
Happy birthday F W Murnau!