There are certain films where lightning in a bottle occurs, and a perfect moment of chemistry, time and place come together to result in a classic. Sequels aside, these original films are rarely remade i.e., Wizard of Oz, The Godfather, Jaws, because of their established and iconic place in culture brought about by stellar production and performance. This happened with the first ever Dracula film,1922’s Nosferatu. Yet despite its overwhelming superiority this particular film ended up being remade because it falls in a unique category:

  1. It represents one of the most explosive monster genres ever created thus, despite its unmatched brilliance, the genre guaranteed that this particular Bram Stoker tale would be retold on film.  
  2. Also, that this film was silent, guaranteed that a remake would need to be done to satisfy the new technology of talking films.

But for those two reasons, this film does represent a unique moment-in-time that separates it from any other Dracula film that has followed over the course of a century.

 

The Historic Stew of Dark Age Germanic Barbarism to Dark Modern 20th Century Weimar Decadence: Nosferatu

Time period, location and history preserve this film in its own unique container into which we can experience a viewing. Consider that in the continent of Europe no region’s history fascinates more than the ancient region of Germania. In 2000’s Gladiator, Ridley Scott captured a historically accurate snapshot of a time and place where the much larger, savage, but disorganized Germanic barbarians refuse to yield to the more organized and efficient killing machine known as the Roman Legion. This staged a great visual contrast between a philosophically/technologically sophisticated, and soon-to-be Christianized empire, versus base, savage, barbaric tribes. Whereas the Roman Empire had sewage systems and running water, their physically larger and more fierce enemy in the North were more comfortable gutting and draining the blood of a captured enemy while they hung him over a campfire. Eventually these barbarians would become civilized, adapt Christianity and over-take the Roman Empire. The point to glean from all this is that the trajectory of 2,000 year European history since the Roman Empire has always been impacted by Western Europe’s conflict, negotiation and coexistence with the German lands, tribes, kingdoms and modern states.

Germanic Barbarians

Germanic Barbarian Witchcraft

This location on the map represents a hauntingly ancient, beautiful, dark, teutonic, mountainous, gothic-castled landscape. This is a region of soil blood-soaked by 2 millennia of: barbaric wars, religious wars, and a technologically brutal WWI that left limbless and horrifically disfigured survivors as blunt reminders of what the monstrously dark-side of humanity is capable of perpetrating. So this human experience germinated over a 2,000 year trajectory and landed in the culturally brilliant yet decadent and jaded Weimar Republic at the turn of the 20th century. The culture of Weimar and 1900’s German Expressionism is where this film lives and is the reason why no other Dracula remake since can approach its superiority. But, before remarking on that, another point needs to be understood.

 

German Greatness in Technology, Culture and the Arts: Nosferatu is Standard-Bearer

When the Germans decide to do something it becomes a global standard to contend with- whether it be a force for good or bad. In 1870 when they unified into a nation state they became the most powerful in the world and helped take down the British Empire. When East Berlin became communist, they essentially out-commied their Russian overlords as the more fanatically totalitarian STASI communist state. When they make steel it becomes the best in the world; cars; drumsets et al. So when there was an artistic culture of expressionism combined with sexual revolutionary decadence Germany took it (or descended rather) to depths beyond which no other culture could equal. Keep in mind, this historically contradictory moment in time- brilliant, nihilistic and sexually decadent- was also where the seeds of Nazism geminated and took life two decades later.

So follow this 2,000 year trajectory, and understand this trajectory to be a deep-seeded stew of uniquely German historical experience from which Gothic German Expressionism springs; and from that spring you have the source from which the Nosferatu film was made. This is why those plastic, nouveau Hollywood bungalows with their modern sunny California movie studios in the 1930’s could not come close to competing with the hauntingly dark Gothic reality of the silent German production in 1922. Not even Coppola’s brilliant remake in 1992- the only true big budget Dracula film ever made with an A-list cast- can best it.

Nosferatu

German Expressionism Horror: Nosferatu

So, by now it’s understood that when the modern German state weighs in and flexes any type of posture- be it technology, politic or culture- the world feels it.  Even in this literary horror genre put to film, the Germans have the superior global standard. To use a sports metaphor, Nosferatu is like a banner hanging in a College sports gym, that holds a century long record that modern day directors look up at, and though they shoot for, know it can never be bested because the performance represents a time and place that can’t ever be duplicated.

 

%d bloggers like this: