Sunday, 31 December 2017

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE


55. “Go ahead! Eat the writer! That will leave you explaining how your character gets to Bremen!”



31/12/2017




A film repeated very often in the UK is “Mr Bean’s Holiday,” which culminates at the Cannes Film Festival, where Carson Cuse, played by Willem Dafoe, has the premiere of his latest film, a ponderous, personal piece, sabotaged by Bean. While that has nothing to do with the film I am supposed to be talking about here, it does mean British audiences have great knowledge of every shape, wrinkle and line in Dafoe’s face, and it is good to see that “Shadow of the Vampire” uses it to great effect.

A fictionalised account of the making of F.W. Murnau’s 1922 horror masterpiece / “Dracula” rip-off “Nosferatu,” “Shadow of the Vampire” casts Dafoe as Max Schreck, the actor playing Count Orlok, who is described here as someone who studied under the Russian theatre director Konstantin Stanislavski, whose system of training was a precursor to “method” acting – this is why Schreck is only ever seen in character, as we now know Jim Carrey did as Andy Kaufman for “Man on the Moon”. It is claimed he acted on the stage in Berlin, although none of the film’s company recall him – in real life, Schreck worked under the famous director Max Reinhardt, with many of his company going into film.

John Malkovich, as F.W. Murnau, is portrayed as the cinematic auteur on a personal quest to produce a work of art. Using the established practice of silent films, he talks his actors through each take like he is writing a novel – indeed, once we know “Dracula” is to be pirated, everyone making his film has to hang on Murnau’s word as he rewrites the script.


It is not necessary to pick out the historical inaccuracies in “Shadow of the Vampire,” as we know Murnau did not hire Schreck as a real-life vampire to be contained, just as he takes his hunger out on the film’s dwindling company. Our knowledge of modern Hollywood actors means we almost expect Schreck to make demands over never travelling by boat, requiring a ship set to be built on top of a castle to keep the scene in the film, which doesn’t look out of place in a Terry Gilliam film. One of Schreck’s predatory feedings is even captured on film by Murnau, having warned Schreck that, if it is not in frame, it doesn’t exist. Having said all that, no shooting took place outside at night in real life, as it was impossible at the time – night scenes in “Nosferatu” were shot in daylight, and tinted blue.

Two other actors of note are Eddie Izzard, playing Gustav von Waggenheim, the actor playing the Jonathan Harker analogue, who also gets the first inkling that Schreck could be a vampire; and Udo Kier, the title role in “Andy Warhol’s Dracula,” as Albin Grau, the producer of “Nosferatu,” who was an occultist in real life.

“Shadow of the Vampire” is worth a look if you want a rollicking good horror story with period detail, and a cast that clearly enjoyed being involved in the story, especially Willem Dafoe.

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