Shadow of the Vampire is a film about the making of a German all time classic silent horror-movie from 1922 called Nosferatu-Eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu-a Symphony of Horror). The production of Nosferatu had to deal with a lot of strange things (some crew members disappeared, some died). This movie focuses on the difficult relationship between Murnau, the director, and Schreck, the lead actor.Written by
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Shadow of the takes the viewer to 1921 to "witness" the making of F. W. Murnau's silent classic vampire film Nosferatu. Shadow of the Vampire does not pretend to be a documentary; it is a highly stylized, fictional work that delves into its very own imaginative speculations about a filmmaker's creative process.
Having assembled his crew, Murnau (John Malkovich) travels to a small town in Czechoslovakia, where he intends to recreate before his camera the story of Bram Stoker's "Dracula". Set on creating the most realistic vampire film, Murnau secretly recruits a real vampire (Willem Dafoe), promising to recompense the creature with leading lady Greta (Catherine McCormack). Murnau cautiously introduces the vampire to his producer Albin Grau (Udo Kier) and scriptwriter Henrick Galeen (John Gillet) as "Max Schreck", a truly professional "method actor" trained by Stanislavsky. Schreck performs his scenes suspiciously well, only appearing on the set at night and in character, keeping his end of the bargain with the director. Soon, however, his blood thirst takes over and he fearlessly threatens to eliminate, one by one, Murnau's most dispensable crew members.
Shadow of the Vampire stems from the premise that its protagonist, the fictional Murnau (Malkovich), must hire a real vampire in order to ensure a truly authentic representation of the vampire character, "Count Orlock", for his film Nosferatu. The viewer who seeks a more accurate portrayal of the making of the real Nosferatu may find this premise strained and far-fetched, and may even consider the film's ensuing humor a bit aimless. However, Shadow of the Vampire integrates the humorous premise to its metaphorical exploration of the artistic process and of the inevitable struggle between the star, the director and the crew. (In one scene, Schreck tries to secure his interests --a new victim-- by negotiating with Murnau. He reflects: "I don't think we need the writer any longer.") Aside from the film's complex treatment of the film within the film and of the character within the character (where Shadow of the Vampire re-presents Nosferatu, and Shadow's cast plays Nosferatu's cast), the film's most enjoyable aspect is its careful reconstruction of specific Nosferatu scenes. When demonstrating how Murnau shoots these well-known scenes, Shadow's own shots shift between black & white and color; from a full-frame to one enclosed by an iris. Shadow's recreation of the classic scenes are often accompanied by Murnau's off-screen voice-over instructions to the actors, who in turn stop in mid-shot, enter, or exit the frame. These choices offer a fantastic depiction of silent film technique, and they as well add new life and a sort of magical dimension to the original Nosferatu scenes. Undoubtedly, Shadow of the Vampire may be most fully appreciated by the viewer that has already developed a sensitive appreciation for Nosferatu's unforgettable images. Still, Shadow of the Vampire may be enjoyed as well by those fascinated by filmmaking or --as Shadow's Murnau put it-- by "the science of the creation of memory."
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