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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.
F.W. Murnau's telling of the classic German legend, 'Faust' is a
masterpiece to behold. From both the technical and story standpoint,
the film excels and despite being nearly eighty years old, Faust still
stands tall as one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all time.
F.W. Murnau has become best known among film fans for 'Nosferatu', but
this is unfair to the man. While Nosferatu is something of an
achievement; it pales in comparison to this film in every respect.
Faust is far more extravagant than Murnau's vampire tale, and it shows
his technical brilliance much more effectively. The story is of
particular note, and it follows a German alchemist by the name of
Faust. As God and Satan war over Earth, the Devil preaches that he will
be able to tempt Faust into darkness and so has a wager with God to
settle things. Satan sends Mephisto to Earth to offer Faust an end to
the plague that is making it's way through the local population, and
eternal youth, in return for Faust's soul...
The way that Murnau creates the atmosphere in the film is nothing short of amazing. The lighting and use of shadows is superb, and helps to create a strong sense of dread at the same time as making the film incredibly easy on the eyes. It's the music that's the real star of the show, however, as it's absolutely fantastic and easily ranks up with the greatest scores ever written. The scenery is expressionistic and gives the film a strong sense of beauty (which is increased by the excellent cinematography), especially in the darker scenes; all of which are an absolute delight to behold. The story is undoubtedly one of the most important ever written, and within it is themes of good, evil, religion and most importantly, love. The points are never hammered home, and instead they are allowed to emancipate from the centre of the tale, which allows the audience to see them for themselves rather than being told; and that's just the way a story should be.
It's hard to rate the acting in silent cinema as being a member of a modern audience, I'm used to actors acting with dialogue and judging a performance without that is difficult. However, on the other hand; silent acting is arguably more difficult than acting with dialogue as the only way to portray your feelings to the audience is through expressions and gestures, and in that respect; acting is just another area where this film excels. In fact, there isn't an area that this film doesn't excel in and for that reason; it easily ranks up with the greatest films ever committed to the screen.
To fans of early horror, director F.W. Murnau is best known for
'Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens,' his chilling 1922 vampire
film, inspired by Bram Stoker's famous novel. However, his equally
impressive 'Faust' is often overlooked, despite some remarkable
visuals, solid acting, a truly sinister villain, and an epic tale of
love, loss and evil. The story concerns Faust (Gösta Ekman), an old and
disheartened alchemist who forms a pact with Satan's evil demon,
Mephisto (Emil Jannings). As God and the Devil wage a war over Earth,
the two opposing powers reach a tentative agreement: the entire fate of
Mankind will rest on the soul of Faust, who must redeem himself from
his selfish deeds before the story is complete.
Relying very heavily on visuals, 'Faust' contains some truly stunning on screen imagery, most memorably the inspired shot of Mephisto towering ominously over a town, preparing to sow the seeds of the Black Death. A combination of clever optical trickery and vibrant costumes and sets makes the film an absolute delight to watch, with Murnau employing every known element fire, wind, smoke, lightning to help produce the film's dark tone. Double exposure, in which a piece of film is exposed twice to two different images, is used extremely effectively, being an integral component in many of the visual effects shots. In fact, aside perhaps from Victor Sjöström's 'Körkarlen (1921),' I can't remember double exposure being used to such remarkable effect.
It's often difficult to judge performances in a silent film, but I've certainly got a generally positive attitude towards the acting in 'Faust.' I was particularly astonished by Gösta Ekman, whose character, given limitless evil control, is transformed from a withering old man to a handsome youth. Despite my impression that two different actors had been used, it seems that Ekman convincingly portrayed both the old and young man, which is a credit to both the actor and Murnau's make-up department (namely, Waldemar Jabs). Emil Jannings plays Mephisto with a sort of mysterious slyness, always one step ahead and always up to no good. Whilst I wasn't completely blown away by young actress Camilla Horn as Gretchen the woman with whom Faust falls in love her acting is adequate enough, and she certainly shows some very raw emotion in the scene's final act, when her forbidden romance with Faust sends her life in a downward spiral.
'Faust' was F.W. Murnau's final film in Germany, his next project being the acclaimed American romance, 'Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927).' At the time, the film was the most expensive ever made by the German studio, UFA (Universum Film AG), though it would be surpassed the following year by Fritz Lang's classic science-fiction epic, 'Metropolis.' Notably, there were five substantially different versions of 'Faust' produced, several of these by the director himself: these include a German original version, a French version, a late German version, a bilingual version for European audiences, and an American cut compiled by Murnau especially for MGM in July 1926. Each of these altered particular scenes and camera angles, and often included material that would be more relevant to the target cultural audience (for example, the US version reportedly contains a joke about the American Prohibition era).
At the heart of 'Faust' is a love story between the corrupted title character and his doomed love, Gretchen. I felt that the scenes when Faust is trying to coax Gretchen into loving him were the slowest parts of the film, much less exciting and invigorating than the darker and more effects-driven sequences that preceded and followed it. Nevertheless, F.W. Murnau's 'Faust' is an absolute gem of 1920s silent horror, and anybody who doesn't look out for it is very surely missing out on something special.
Title: FW Murnaus Faust (1926)
Director: FW Murnau
Cast: Gosta Ekman, Camilla Horn, Emil Jannings, William Dieterle Review:
Having seen Murnaus Nosferatu and having enjoyed it immensely I had to check out some of his other films. Faust quickly caught my attention. After Murnau made Nosferatu, he was given the opportunity to do whatever film he wanted..and they gave him the huge budget to do it. The result was an impressive, visually stunning, supernatural film.
God and the Devil are fighting for who gets to control humanity. They do a wager, they decide that if Satan (aka as Mephisto) can corrupt Faust then all of humanity would belong to Mephisto. After the wager is on, Mephisto spreads the plague throughout Fausts town and people start dying. He decides to call upon the powers of darkness to help people out.
First off, more then anything, this movie is a true visual feast. How Murnau made this movie with the limited resources he had at the time is a true testament to his talent as a filmmaker. Heck, it was 1926, before make up fx, before stan winston, before blue screens and CGI, before anything! Yet, he managed to create an incredibly rich film. Heck this guy even managed to do a crane shot in the movie! In a scene where Faust and Mephisto are flying through the sky's...the camera swoops over a landscape filled with waterfalls, mountains and cliffs...all in one shot! I was actually amazed how with their limited technological resources Murnau managed to do this type of shot back in those days.
The imagery is amazing...starting with Mephisto spreading his gigantic black wings over Fausts small town. I kid you not when I say that, that image is one of the coolest images I have ever seen on any movie. Images of the horsemen of the apocalypse riding the sky's....angels with swords, Faust conjuring up Mephisto by reading from his book...man this movie was really something to behold. Its all wrapped around that black and white aura that gives the film that eerie feel. Kinda like the same feeling I got when I watched White Zombie. I love black and white horror visuals. And Faust was full of them.
Of special interest to me was that scene where Faust conjures up Mephisto by reading some words from a book, its truly a great movie moment with an incredible supernatural feel. The visuals of those circles of light emanating from the ground up towards the sky...that was amazing. And actually I think that scene influenced Francis Ford Copolla in Bram Stokers Dracula because he uses the exact same image of circles of light emerging from the ground.
Faust fantastical imagery truly demonstrates that Murnau had complete and total control over everything that he showed on the screen. The snow, the wind, the shadows, the lights...all perfectly handled to create the exact mood and feel that was required at them moment. Its quite obvious as well that this movies benefited from a much much bigger budget then Murnaus previous films. The sets look a lot like those on Caligari at times, the detailed miniatures are very well achieved and the extras are plentiful.
The performances are great, better then in Nosferatu. They are sometimes a bit exaggerated, but not as much as in other silent films I've seen before. On this one, the performances seemed just right to me. Of special mention is Emil Jannings as Mephisto. This guy played Beelzebub with some real relish. The character comes off as evil, treacherous, calculating...and he does it all with this smirk on his face. Great character. The make up on him is great and he kinda reminded me at times of Bela Lugosi as Dracula. But overall, hes performance was the best in the film. I also really enjoyed Camilla Horn as Gretchen, her scenes with her baby in the snow were great not only in the acting department but visually as well.
Overall, Id recommend this movie to those of you interested in German silent cinema. Its really something to see how even in those days, the imagination and creativity was there. And even the limited technological resources couldn't hold them back from creating a truly beautiful, haunting, spooky, supernatural film. For those of you who enjoyed films like Murnaus Nosferatu or Robert Wienes The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari then you will most certainly love Faust.
I would certainly say it is far superior to the films mentioned before, yet for some reason doesn't get as much recognition. Check it out schmoes for a slice of the best horror silent cinema ever. Definitely worth a look.
Rating: 5 out of 5
My first silent film lasted over two hours. Dialog full of screens after everything's been said. To be honest, I was surprised at how there was never a point of down, there was never a realization that I was watching a silent film, though it did take a bit of getting used to in the beginning. Some might get pushed away due to the fact that the screen transfer isn't great, or that the music has been recently dubbed, but I found it all to fit perfectly. The acting in this film is more than over expectation, that made me believe in the story from start to finish. By the end I had a new found admiration for the makers of movies from our past, and what standards they can set for movies now.
Faust is a famous German story from Johann Wolfgang Goethe but to be
honest I wasn't familiar with it until I saw this movie. Perhaps that's
also why I liked the story so much, the movie changes direction time
after time and from the beginning on you don't know how it is going to
end. A great story of good versus evil in which love conquers all.
What makes the movie very memorable is the visual look of it. The movie is filled with some truly amazing early special effects. F.W. Murnau truly was a master in using convincing early special effects in his movies, some scene's are really impressive. Also the cinematography is spectacular and it has some brilliant lighting.
In many ways the movie was decades ahead of its time. The way the story is told in the movie is unique and spectacular for its period and so is the use of humor in it. All the scene's with Mephisto and Marthe Schwerdtlein were shear comedy brilliance, also mainly thanks to Emil Jannings his acting.
Mephisto himself really was one scary great villain character, especially when the character is first introduced to Faust.
Maybe not entirely a classic masterpiece, the middle and the drama is bit too much dragging and lacking for it but certainly a movie historical important and memorable movie. A F.W. Murnau movie that deserves to be seen by more.
A lyrical fable version of Goethe's famous story, where Mephisto and an angel gamble with Faust's spirit, the entire film has an aura of delicate beauty. When Faust's town is shrouded with a pestilence, Faust summons Mephisto and agrees to a trial selling of his soul, in the hopes that he can save the townspeople. When Faust does indeed cure the town, Mephisto tempts him with the promise of youth and Gretchen, the most beautiful woman in Italy. Misty, often eerie, fiendish imagery, like satanic birds, hooded men, flying horsemen and Caligari-inspired exteriors fill the screen. When Faust signs his contract, the words burn themselves into the page as Mephisto dips his feather pen in Faust's vein. A wonderful touch near the beginning has Faust trying to escape Mephisto but having him appear wherever he goes, always a few steps ahead. Both Faust, as a young man, and Gretchen are lovely, and Jannings gives an excellent performance as the Dark Prince. A masterpiece of poetic atmosphere that ages Murnau's technical mastery wondrously, the film is aided tremendously by the sometimes ominous, sometimes enchanting orchestral score. 10/10
By 1925 UFA, German cinema's pioneer production company, was almost
collapsing under the weight of mounting financial difficulties, having
lost over eight million dollars in the fiscal year just ended. It was
at this point that American film studios found the perfect opportunity
they've been looking for to finally defeat their one opponent in the
market of continental Europe. It was ironic that a film industry born
out of the necessity of WWI and Germany's inability to provide
American, British or French films in the years between 1914 and 1919
would go on to become Hollywood's number one opponent. Indeed Paramount
and MGM offered to subsidize UFA's huge debt to the Deutsche Bank by
lending it four million dollars at 7.5 percent interest in exchange for
collaborative rights to UFA's studios, theaters, and personnel - an
arrangement which clearly worked in the American companies' favor. The
result was the foundation of the Parufamet (Paramount-UFA-Metro)
Distribution Company in early 1926.
This is only tangential to FAUST but important nonetheless to place the film in its correct historical context. Both as FW Murnau's last German film before he left for Hollywood and as UFA's most expensive production to that date. It is no wonder that within a year of accepting Hollywood as business partners, UFA was already showing losses of twelve million dollars and was forced to seek another loan, when FAUST, a film that cost them 2 million dollars alone and took six months to film only made back half of its budget at the box office. FAUST would go on to be succeeded by Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS as the most expensive German production but it remained FW Murnau's aufwiedersehen to Weimar cinema. He was one of many German film artists and technicians that migrated to sunny California following the Parufamet agreement (Fritz Lang would follow a few years later, having refused Goebbels' offer to lead the national film department for Nazi Germany, along with others like Paul Leni, Billy Wilder, Karl Freund and Ernst Lubitsch).
Weimar cinema wouldn't make it past the 1930's and FW Murnau's career would come to an abrupt end with his death at 42 in a car accident, but FAUST, as the last German production, not only in nationality, but also in style and finesse, definitely deserves its place next to 1922's NOSFERATU in the pantheon of German Expressionism. Frontloaded in terms of spectacle and dazzling visuals, this retelling of Goethe's classic version of Dr. Faust's story is as slow paced and dark as Nosferatu but with the kind of fantastic, mystical and romantic blend that characterized German post-war cinema. A cinema aimed at repressed lower middle-classes which, in the absence of a national identity swept away by war, were now turning to a new cultural identity conscious of the social realities of the times. In that sense, Murnau's Faust is part escapism spectacle, part edifying fable on the corruption of evil and the redeeming qualities of love and forgiveness.
And if the story is overwrought melodrama by today's standards, the magnificent sets constructed by UFA technicians and special effects work stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the best from the 20's. Mephisto looming black and gigantic over a town swept by plague is an iconic image etched on the same pantheon wall of German Expressionism as Count Orlok's shadow. The angels of death riding on their horses with beams of light shooting through them combines the dark fantasy of the production design with expressive lighting, the kind of which would eventually become shaped into film noir by directors like Otto Preminger and Fritz Lang. Gösta Ekman as Faust (superbly made-up as an old man to make even Welles green with envy) and Emil Jannings as Mephisto stand out among the cast.
Faust is my favourite German film, a timeless tale brought to life
visually perfect by Murnau in 1926. The photography and special effects
although obviously constrained by the prevailing technology was
stunning and relentless, a tour de force of camera trickery to bring
the power of the story across to Artheads and ordinary folk alike.
Trouble is, it's a German b&w silent film so mainly Artheads and a few
like me will ever see it for its beauty. Sunrise from a year later
takes some beating but Faust does it easily.
The Devil wants to rule so places a morally dubious wager that if he wins Dr. Faust's soul he wins the Earth. Faust falls into the snare and so begins his descent into Hell, along with the woman he has in one night of passion "No man can resist Evil". After 9/11 can we really be sure who won? There's so many memorable scenes: The Devil lowering over the town (Jannings having to spend hours perched uncomfortably over billowing soot until Murnau was happy with the shot); Faust throwing his books on the fire in his fantastic room (with piles of dangerous nitrate film deliberately going up to help); the un-cgi magic carpet ride; Gretchen with her baby in the snow etc. Ekman and Jannings were especially superb in their respective roles, but everyone and everything played their parts well.
The print is a knockout remaster, the menacing atmosphere whenever Faust or Mephisto are in shot is palpable as was only possible with nitrate film stock. Thoroughly recommended to those even only mildly interested who've never seen it before, one I will hopefully watch repeatedly in the future.
Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau was the most important director of the German
expressionism era. He made 22 films from which only 11 have persisted.
Murnau often made several different versions of his films, which made
it impossible to tell which was the original one. Faust was no
exception; he made 9 different versions of it whose editing, rhythm and
acting differ from each other. F.W. Murnau did a lot of breakthroughs
in cinema - he's the most influential filmmaker of his time. For
instance in his earlier film Der Letzte Mann (1924, The Last Laugh)
Murnau used the camera as a character for the very first time. It was
the first time the audience couldn't tell when you were watching the
events as an outsider and when as a character. Faust is no lesser. Eric
Rohmer has written about it in his dissertation and Herman G. Weinberg
saw Faust as the most beautiful film ever made.
Everybody knows the German writer Goethe who wrote Faust. But the story did live before his play. It lived as a folktale. And this is where the critics did wrong. They thought that Murnau's Faust was a fiasco; probably because they tried to compare it to the original play. But F.W. Murnau did Faust (1926) based on the folktale. So the philosophy of Goethe's Faust was left away. The production company (UFA) of Faust also produced another artistic film, Metropolis by Fritz Lang. When the audience didn't like either of these films the company failed.
Faust is a story about God and Satan who wager. A man, Faust, agrees to sell his soul to Satan so he can have all the power of the world. First he wants to use the power to help the diseased people but the temptations of eternal youth and beauty win. "Damned be the illusion of youth!" Faust is a timeless story because the idea of selling one's soul will always be there. Faustic contracts are still made. There is only one thing that can terminate the contract. Liebe - Love. The flaming word appears on the screen to assure us. Earlier I mentioned the new camera-work of The Last Laugh. But Faust did something new too. It was the first film that was based on the metaphorical force of light and shadow. The use of shadows in Faust is symbolic and brilliant. When talking about light and Murnau one might be reminded of Nosferatu (1922), a Gothic vampire story by F.W. Murnau, where the beams of light killed Nosferatu.
Faust deals with essential and timeless themes. On the surface the themes are good and evil but Faust is much more complex than that. I would recommend this masterpiece of the German Expressionism to all film lovers. I wouldn't be surprised if one said that Faust is the best film ever made. F.w. Murnau manages to capture real humane emotions.
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