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Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979) - 2 Disc
Anchor Bay has recently re-released Nosferatu with a new anamorphic transfer. The extras are the same and the only difference is that the new version is stretched out over two discs, with the English version on one and the German version on the other. A one disc (German only) version is also available as part of the Herzog/Kinski box set.
THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
When Werner Herzog says that he thinks F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) is the best German film ever you can be sure that he's taking all factors into account: The beauty of the images and the flawless pacing, as well as the sense of dread imposed on the Jewish-caricature of the title character, an influence of the Weimar Republic's anti-Semitism during that era (an era that also saw the creation of such lasting masterpieces as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Metropolis). When he decided to remake Nosferatu in 1979 Germany was a vastly different place and Herzog was ready to work with that. Nosferatu was Herzog's first attempt at what he considers a genre film and his second collaboration with the legendarily volatile actor Klaus Kinski. What he ultimately created is one of the most complex and emotional retellings of the Dracula myth.
For starters, Herzog ignores the Bela Lugosi model entirely, dressing Kinski in Max Schreck-style fangs and skin, a nod to Murnau's film. But he also adds a sadness to the character that turns the story into more of a tragedy than a horror show. Kinski brings a sense of longing that is not tempered by the kind of glamour that Lugosi and Gary Oldman brought to their vampires. One look at his parasitic rat-like presence and you know that he will never experience the love that he craves. The object of his affection is Lucy, played by Isabelle Adjani, who is already married to Johnathan, played by Bruno Ganz. The supporting actors are good, but very understated, leaving Kinski, as usual, in the spotlight. Roland Topor deserves special note as the cackling Renfield, which has got to be one of the juiciest roles in film, since every actor who has ever played him seems to be having a ball.
The idea that Dracula is a foreign agent that corrupts the innocent town here is underscored by Herzog's linking the myth to the spread of the plague through Europe. Dracula brings pestilence with him and, as we watch a procession of coffins through he town square, we begin to understand how easily ruined this society is. Herzog doesn't let the townspeople off the hook quite as easily as Murnau does, however. They are shown to be selfish and in total denial over their worsening situation. It's only Lucy's selfless act at the end distinguishes her as something pure, above the others. This revision makes Herzog's Nosferatu less of a justification for scapegoatism than the original and puts more responsibility on the citizens who do not have their eyes open.
There is a lot to recommend in Herzog's Nosferatu but ultimately it is a very slow film. Fans of Coppola's Dracula may find it tedious or they may feel inspired by the different approach. regardless, Kinski's performance is phenomenal, as different from his previous collaboration with Herzog (Aguirre) as it is from his next (Woyzeck).
Given that Nosferatu was available only on multi-generation dubs for many years, this disc is a revelation. While the image is a little soft, it is a remarkable improvement over any previous version. Anchor Bay has done a fine job of presenting the best elements. It is presented in widescreen (1.85:1), anamorphic. This new transfer is sharper and more vivd than the previous release. Anchor Bay's first disc also featured a wonderful transfer but their work on the new one adds just that touch of clarity that makes this new version worth the upgrade for serious fans of the film.
The audio is also excellent. There are English and German versions (more on that in the "extras" section) and the German side features Dolby Digital 5.1. The English side is Dolby Digital 1.0. The use of sound and the score by Popol Vuh is subtle and ethereal.
The extras on Nosferatu are simply outstanding. When Herzog shot Nosferatu he built one of his typically international casts. Therefore the film doesn't really have a mother tongue. He shot each sequence both in English and German, but with some actors dubbed regardless. The English and German versions are a little different. This disc features both, one on each side. I prefer the German version with subtitles, but Anchor Bay has provided a choice.
Herzog has also recorded a commentary track for Nosferatu which, if you've read my reviews of his other films, you is know is always one of my favorite features. Herzog's story-telling style is engaging and his reminiscences of working with Kinski always amazing.
Additionally there is a terrific behind-the-scenes featurette that was made at the time. It shows a younger Herzog hard at work realizing his mad visions. It is interesting to contrast his heavier persona then with his less self-serious outlook now.
There is also a selection of trailers.
The Dracula legend has a lot of fans and has been adapted in many forms. Herzog's vision is unique in the way it draws inspiration from Murnau's classic (soon to be released in a special edition of its own) but still retains an originality. Nosferatu is much quieter and more intimate than Herzog's grand epics Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, and Cobra Verde, closer to his Woyzeck, which would be shot with the same crew immediately following the wrap of Nosferatu. Fans of European cinema as well as vampire films should definitely have a look at this masterpiece, as should any adventurous filmgoer.