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F.W. Murnau Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Trade Mark (2)  | Trivia (32)  | Personal Quotes (2)

Overview (4)

Born in Bielefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Died in Santa Barbara, California, USA  (road accident)
Birth NameFriedrich Wilhelm Plumpe
Height 6' 4" (1.93 m)

Mini Bio (1)

F.W. Murnau was a German film director. He was greatly influenced by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Shakespeare and Ibsen plays he had seen at the age of 12, and became a friend of director Max Reinhardt. During World War I he served as a company commander at the eastern front and was in the German air force, surviving several crashes without any severe injuries.

One of Murnau's acclaimed works is the 1922 film Nosferatu, an adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Although not a commercial success due to copyright issues with Stoker's novel, the film is considered a masterpiece of Expressionist film.

He later emigrated to Hollywood in 1926, where he joined the Fox Studio and made three films: Sunrise (1927), 4 Devils (1928) and City Girl (1930). The first of these three is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.

In 1931 Murnau travelled to Bora Bora to make the film Tabu (1931) with documentary film pioneer Robert J. Flaherty, who left after artistic disputes with Murnau, who had to finish the movie on his own. A week prior to the opening of the film Tabu, Murnau died in a Santa Barbara hospital from injuries he had received in an automobile accident that occurred along the Pacific Coast Highway near Rincon Beach, southeast of Santa Barbara. Only 11 people attended his funeral. Among them were Robert J. Flaherty, Emil Jannings, Greta Garbo and Fritz Lang, who delivered the eulogy.

Of the 21 films Murnau directed, eight are considered to be completely lost.

In July 2015 Murnau's grave was broken into, the remains disturbed and the skull removed by persons unknown. Wax residue was reportedly found at the site, leading some to speculate that candles had been lit, perhaps with an occult or ceremonial significance. As this disturbance was not an isolated incident, the cemetery managers are considering sealing the grave.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Pedro Borges

Trade Mark (2)

Innovative use of light and dark shadowing to create a certain mood
Visual storytelling without intertitles.

Trivia (32)

In 2003 a retrospective of his work was shown at the 53rd Berlin (Germany) International Film Festival.
He was voted the 33rd Greatest Director of all time by "Entertainment Weekly" magazine.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945". Pages 807-819. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
Did not live to see the premiere of his last film; he died in an automobile accident in Santa Barbara, CA, on March 11, 1931. The car was driven by Murnau's Filipino valet Garcia Stevenson. Murnau was entombed in Berlin. Robert J. Flaherty, Emil Jannings and Greta Garbo attended the funeral, and Fritz Lang delivered the funeral speech.
Directed 17 films in Germany and four in America.
Signed by William Fox in 1926, he remained under contract until 1929. During his tenure he brought much prestige but little financial reward to the studio through the expensively-produced Sunrise (1927), for which he was effectively given carte blanche. Much of the success of this film (and the first Academy Award for Best Picture, Unique and Artistic Production 1927) was the result of Murnau's creative collaboration with his German art director Rochus Gliese. Many of Murnau's expressionist techniques were later emulated by other Hollywood directors and changed cinema forever.
His best-known film, Nosferatu (1922), which many film historians consider his masterpiece, was acclaimed at the time of its release by surrealist artists and writers, but had a mixed initial critical reception. The estate of Bram Stoker sued the producers for unauthorized use of the novel and an English court ordered all copies and negatives of the film to be destroyed. Fortunately, this could not be enforced in Germany, though the producers divested themselves of all materials by selling them to Deutsche Film Produktion.
Directed one Academy Award-winning performance: Janet Gaynor in Sunrise (1927).
Two of his films won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography: Sunrise (1927) and Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931). His film 4 Devils (1928) was nominated for the award but didn't win.
Two of his American masterpieces are included in the National Film Registry: Sunrise (1927) (among the first 25 films selected in 1989) and Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931) (selected in 1994). Established in 1988 because of the National Film Preservation Act, the National Film Preservation Board works to ensure the survival, conservation and increased public availability of America's film heritage in the National Film Registry.
His Sunrise (1927)--considered one of the masterpieces of American cinema--was voted the fifth greatest film of all time in "Sight & Sound"'s 2012 critics poll. It's the highest-ranked silent film on the list.
Played by John Malkovich in Shadow of the Vampire (2000). Many of his admirers consider it an outrageous caricature of the real man.
He studied art history and philology in Berlin and Heidelberg, where he met renowned theatrical impresario Max Reinhardt (I). He was impressed by Murnau and admitted him to his acting school. There he not only learned acting but was also introduced to directing.
A pilot in the German Air Force during World War I, he went back to Germany after the war and entered the film business. As a director he shot his first movie, Der Knabe in Blau (1919) with Ernst Hofmann and Margit Barnay.
He never got to see his film Tabu (1931); before it was released he was killed in a car crash. At the wheel was his 14-year-old servant, who lost control of the car. It crashed into an electric pole. Murnau hit his head and died in a hospital the next day in nearby Santa Barbara, CA.
His stage career was interrupted by World War I, in which he was a lieutenant in the German Air Force and later became a bomber pilot. When he had to make a forced landing in Switzerland--a neutral country--he first was interned, but soon was able to work for the theater in Lucerne.
In Tahiti he shot Tabu (1931) without any movie stars; the parts were played by locals. In order to finance this movie he invested his entire fortune and also borrowed money, putting himself in debt. Luckily, Paramount was enthusiastic about the film and offered him a contract for ten years.
He "divorced" himself from Hollywood to shoot his own film, by himself. He later brought aboard documentary filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty.
Because his parents were against his plans for a career in the theater--and because they also did not accept his homosexuality--he changed his name from Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe to Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau.
He created what are now considered milestones in German cinema. One of his best known was Der letze mann (1925), with an impressive Emil Jannings as a doorman who was relegated from a bell captain in a bright uniform to a cloakroom attendant. It is also considered a trend-setter for the "liberation" of the then heavy camera from the tripod. For the first time the camera moves together with the actors through the room, setting a new benchmark in filmmaking technique. Unfortunately, Murnau was forced by UFA to change the ending to a happy one, instead of his downbeat idea of having the once-proud bell captain working in toilet. He hated the new ending and did not want to shoot it, but he had no choice. As "revenge", he deliberately show the scene in an artificial, overdrawn manner.
Nosferatu (music by Hans Erdmann) and Faust (music by Werner R. Heymann) were two of the first films to feature original film scores.
He directed Satanas (1920) with Fritz Kortner and Ernst Hofmann, Der Januskopf (1920) with Conrad Veidt, Magnus Stifter and the later Dracula (1931) star Bela Lugosi, and Schloss Vogeloed (1921) with Arnold Korff and Paul Bildt. These films already possessed many of the gloomy "Germanic" touches he was famous for, which still hold up to the present day. Unfortunately, some of these works are lost.
In July 2015 his grave was broken into, the remains disturbed and the skull removed by persons unknown. Wax residue was reportedly found at the site, leading some to speculate that candles had been lit, perhaps with an occult or ceremonial significance. As this disturbance was not an isolated incident, the cemetery managers are considering sealing the grave.
F.W. Murnau is often regarded as the most important silent movie director.
Together with documentary film pioneer Robert J. Flaherty, Murnau traveled to Bora Bora to make Tabu (1931). Flaherty left after "artistic disputes" with Murnau, who had to finish the movie on his own. It was censored upon release in the US to remove scenes of nudity of some local Polynesian women.
Tabu (1931) was originally shot by cinematographer Floyd Crosby as half-talkie, half-silent before being fully restored as a silent film - Murnau's preferred medium.
His love of dark, sinister, "gloomy" atmosphere was nowhere more evident than in Nosferatu (1922). If features actor Max Schreck's impressive but frightening performance as Count Orlok, a vampire who rushed his victims headlong into disaster.
Because of legal disputes with the descendants of "Dracula" writer Bram Stoker, Murnau did not use the name "Dracula" for the vampire in Nosferatu (1922) but changed it to Count Orlok. This film is regarded as a jewel of German silent movie film and one of the most frightening films of all time, due in no small part to the performance of actor Max Schreck as the vampire. His portrayal was so terrifyingly realistic that rumors began almost immediately claiming that he actually was, in fact, a real vampire.
He was buried in Southwest Cemetery in Stahnsdorf (Südwest-Kirchhof Stahnsdorf) near Berlin, Germany. Only 11 people attended the funeral. Among them were Robert J. Flaherty, Emil Jannings, Greta Garbo and Fritz Lang (I), who delivered the eulogy. Garbo also commissioned a death mask of Murnau, which she kept on her desk during her years in Hollywood.
Of the 21 films he directed, eight have been completely lost. One reel of his feature Marizza, genannt die Schmuggler-Madonna (1922) survives. The loss of his American film 4 Devils (1928) is considered a major loss to the art of silent cinema. Check your attic.
He really came into his own at the dawn of the 1920s, with a string of films that are now considered classics of the silent era.
His talent did not go unnoticed by the American film studios. William Fox of Fox Films lured him to the US. His first movie shot there was the classic Sunrise (1927) with George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor. At the first Oscar event in film history this movie was nominated for four Oscars and won three of them--for the best movie, best leading actress and best camerawork.

Personal Quotes (2)

Don't act - think!
I think films of the future will use more and more of these "camera angles" or, as I prefer to call them, these "dramatic angles". They help photograph thought.[1928]

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