Nosferatu: Into the Land of Phantoms

Discussion in 'Classic' started by X-human, Nov 15, 2019.

  1. X-human

    X-human I ate my keys

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    Back in October American Neo-Cabaret artist Jill Tracy uploaded Nosferatu with a live performance of her score up on YouTube:
    I've always enjoyed her work but never got a chance to check this out. So I'll probably check it out this weekend.
     
  2. X-human

    X-human I ate my keys

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    While I've always been in fascinated with Gothic Horror I have to admit Nosferatu has historically left me cold; even when other silents like Dr. Caligari worked beautifully. While I didn't especially dislike it I can't say I understood the love others have for it; with Werner Herzog calling it the best film to come out of Germany. Two years ago I watched Nosferatu in a 20's movie theater with a live organist hoping that this authentic experience might finally bring the film to life for me but it still was a slog and it also the garnered more unintentional snickers from the audience than any other silent film screening I've been to. I want to like this film but it's always remained elusive to me.

    So it is with that dim hope in mind that I watched Jill Tracy's version. I've found her previous music an inspired mix of old and new world so I had high expectations in spite of myself. She did not disapoint. This score is both modern enough to be engaging while keeping the spirit of the era alive throughout the film. You get a rich sense that you're watching this in a smoke filled Bohemian bar with a glass of absinthe at your side. As such this all came together for an engrossing experience. The Malcontent Orchestra has really given this film a pulse now with a beat that helps spur the action on. Sequences have a sense of urgency to them which the cello and steady percussion help deliver.

    What's really interesting about this score for me is that it brought out some subtle black humor. Not in a "comedic" way but by distancing itself from a more ridged traditional approach it lets the scenes play out in a new light. I found Harker and Nina's ideal relationship and naiveté now to be parody. So there was more of a tongue in cheek vibe like Tod Browning's Dracula or Francis Ford Coppola's to the straight characters. What was once hammy acting now feels more calculated. And I see more of a direct inspiration here for Fearless Vampire Killers than the Hammers it's often compared to. This almost certainly sheds new light on on the film and makes it an even better pairing with Shadow of the Vampire. Suddenly this film fits in more readily with these other excellent adaptations of Dracula. It's really unlocked the film for me.

    The only unfortunately thing is that this uses an over exposed and fairly truncated version. It's both edited down and sped up to be just about an hour long. This may be why the film music is so brisking as it is keeps paces. The iconic shot of Nosferatu rising from his coffin is cropped. And many details like Nina's photo that Dracula admires is so blown out he might as well be looking at a mirror. There's not a lot of film damage though compared to other films of this age. This is the sad consequences of this being a public domain print. It would be wonderful to have a distributor with a restored print commission Jill Tracy to perform a complete score for them.

    This score is a good compromise between keeping things modern enough to make the film accessible to new audiences yet not out of line with the period it came from; all while keeping an atmospheric approach. And since it's free on YouTube I highly recommend anyone giving this a try on the next dark and stormy night. Whether you're already a fan or someone like me who's struggled with this specific film before. I can't say if this new soundtrack would convert anyone over who doesn't already enjoy silent or especially older film; but it might at that.
     

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