The horrors of war as classic horror film

Nosferatu...the shadow of Count Orlok.

Nosferatu…the shadow of Count Orlok.
F.W. Murnau, director 1922.
(Wiki Commons image)

Nosferatu and Westfront 1918

The 1922 German horror film Nosferatu was directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. This unauthorized version, now a masterpiece of the Expressionist film movement, was adapted from author Bram Stoker’s book Dracula (1897), a treatise on the fears and anxieties that existed within Victorian society.

Murnau was a veteran of the Great War and served as a Company Commander with the German Army on the Eastern Front. Later Murnau became an aviator with the German Air Force flying missions over Northern France for two years. He survived several air crashes and was subsequently interned in Switzerland after landing his aircraft in that country. During his captivity Murnau was involved with a theatre group and wrote a film script. In 1919 together with actor and Great War Veteran Conrad Veidt they founded the Murnau-Veidt film company.

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau

Film director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau.
(Wiki Commons image)

Nosferatu however was produced by the Prana Film company who chose bankruptcy in order to avoid a court ordered paying out of Bram Stoker’s widow, Florence for copyright infringement. The court further decreed that all copies of Nosferatu were to be destroyed but a single copy of the film survived as it was in global distribution. It is from this one “master” that several copies were made and from which Nosferatu became a cult classic.

The Prana Film company, partnered with Murnau, was founded by Albin Grau who was most interested in the occult and was also an artist and architect. Grau became the producer and production designer of Nosferatu and apparently learned of vampires from one of the locals while serving in the German Army in Serbia.

The German Expressionist movement was an avant-garde movement that began its development prior to the Great War. Instead of presenting the reality they chose instead to focus on interpreting the meaning of emotional experiences. The movement garnered a following within the Arts including film and remained popular throughout the Weimar Republic (1918 – 1933). One notable war film, Westfront 1918 (1930) directed by George Wilhelm Pabst is a classic of the Expressionist movement.

George Wilhelm Pabst

Westfront 1918 film director George Wilhelm Pabst.
(Wiki Commons image)

Pabst who was born in Austria-Hungary returned to Europe in 1914, from the United States, where he was working in the film industry, but was soon imprisoned at Brest for the duration. While incarcerated Pabst organized a theatre group and in 1919, when he was released, moved to Vienna where he formed a theatre company interested in the production of avant-garde projects.

Western Front 1918

German actor Claus Clausen as The Lieutenant in Westfront 1918.
(Wiki Commons Image)

Both Nosferatu and Westfront 1918 depict horror and the fear within people. Although of two distinct, yet entwined, genres both directors, Murnau and Pabst understood, through their Expressionist explorations and networks, how to cultivate an audience’s emotional reactions to the events depicted on the screen. Both men were close to their work, knew the events of their realities but expressed and manipulated these realities to best effect by creating visuals and sound for emotional impacts.

In documenting and portraying these fears Murnau and Pabst produced for their audiences classics of imagination and reality…lived and relived…the living and the dead.

About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was captivated by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Over time Paul became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography, narration and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was inspired when he learned Weir visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. "Gallipoli", the film, led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii, Gallipoli, North Macedonia and Salonika. When Paul first watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests was a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, Paul believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


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