In his final film, F.W. Murnau presents the tale of two young lovers on the idyllic island of Bora Bora in the South Pacific. Their life is shattered when the old warrior declares the girl ... See full summary »
God and Satan war over earth; to settle things, they wager on the soul of Faust, a learned and prayerful alchemist. During a plague, Faust despairs and burns his books after failing to stop death; Satan sends Mephisto to tempt Faust, first with insight into treating the plague and then with a day's return to youth. Mephisto is clever, timing the end of this 24 hours as Faust embraces the beautiful Duchess of Parma. Faust trades his soul for youth. Some time later, he's bored, and demands on Easter Sunday that Mephisto take him home. Faust promptly sees and falls in love with the beautiful Gretchen, whose liaison with him brings her dishonor. Is there redemption? Who wins the wager? Written by
I think of Murnau's Faust as a masterpiece not only of cinema, but of the human imagination. I understand that reviews at the time of its premier were lukewarm, but I honestly can't imagine not feeling grateful for the opportunity to see this film today. Moments and images from it are so powerful, they are vivid in the mind years after seeing them -- two hours in a dream world.
The flying sequence has been commented-on more than once, and with good reason. It is a spectacular series of shots wherein the camera tracks through long miniature sets which gradually change from a dense cluster of medieval rooftops and steeples, to a tortuous countryside of mountain peaks and snake-like rivers, twisted trees, deep gorges with plunging waterfalls and stone cliffs, rapids, a field of long grass, elaborate renaissance architecture and an Italianate palace. Along the way there is an encounter with grotesque elongated black birds in the sky, their wings flapping in unison. The sets incorporate running water (with little bits of smoking material floating in the rapids to simulate splashes and spray), an illuminated moon, and smoke to simulate clouds and fog. The whole sequence can't be much more than a couple of minutes long, but the effort to design, construct and coordinate the sequence must have been staggering. The following palace scene is set on a huge multi-level set with female dancers stretching off into the distance. They are there for no better reason than to establish an atmosphere of sumptuous decadence, and young Faust arrives in the middle of this riding between two enormous elephants, which seem to be entirely artificial and crafted of fabric, wire, etc. So it goes throughout the production. Almost every scene is a feast for the eyes, and the darker scenes are vividly expressionistic in design.
The acting is the old-fashioned silent-movie variety of big operatic gestures and vivid facial expression. It may seem odd to those not used to it, but it is NOT an example of ham actors overdoing it. This was a legitimate style of acting in its time, and offers genuine artistic beauty to those who can manage to appreciate it.
The fact that there seems to be no video version of `Faust' at the time of this posting is criminal. Ditto for Murnau's "Sunrise." These things should NEVER be out of print.
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