Screenplay by Henrik Galeen
Directed by F.W. Murnau
Live music accompaniment by Tess Said So
Art, Not Apart Festival for Canberra Arts
Arc Cinema - National Film And Sound Archive Saturday 18 March
Reviewed by Len Power
It’s not often we get the opportunity to see a cinema performance of a classic silent movie with a live musical accompaniment. As part of the Art, Not Apart Festival for Canberra arts, the Arc Cinema at the National Film And Sound Archive presented F.W. Murnau’s 1922 German Expressionist horror movie, ‘Nosferatu’ with a new live musical accompaniment by musicians, Tess Said So.
‘Nosferatu’ was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel ‘Dracula’. Stoker's heirs sued over the adaptation and a court ruling ordered that all copies of the film be destroyed. However, a few prints of Nosferatu survived, and the film came to be regarded as an influential masterpiece of cinema. The copy held by the National Film and Sound Archive is in very good condition. The image is clear and sharp with only occasional jumps where frames are missing.
The performance of Max Schreck, who plays the vampire, is unforgettable. It’s a highly stylised performance which, together with a unique makeup design, creates a sense of pure evil.
The rest of the cast perform well but the melodramatic style of the acting caused a few titters in the audience. The direction by F.W. Murnau is superb and the production design is carefully detailed. Murnau was noted for his use of perspective in his films and one of the most memorable and eerie scenes in the film has a long procession of coffin carriers all dressed in black descending down a long narrow street with tall buildings crowding in on either side.
The live musical accompaniment written and performed by Tess Said So is quite an achievement. With Rasa Daukus on piano and Will Larsen on percussion, the musicians have created a soundscape that enhances the visuals of the film perfectly. It’s a unique score blending minimalism and electronic elements that appeals to the ear in a modern way but creates a haunting atmosphere that suits this old world story. It’s no surprise to learn that they recently won the Best Interactive, Film & Digital Award at the 2017 Adelaide Fringe Festival for their live soundtrack performance for this film.
It’s only when you see a silent film with a live musical accompaniment that you understand the power that silent cinema had. Our audience was obviously impressed and gave the musicians a well-deserved standing ovation. I hope this performance can be repeated so more people in Canberra can experience it.
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Artcetera’ program (9am Saturdays) and ‘Dress Circle’ (3.30pm Mondays).