Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Currently Watching: Faust (1926)

I've praised F.W. Murnau for years after seeing his "Nosferatu" and "Sunrise."  VERY few filmmakers from the 20s have impressed me aesthetically the way he has, and he has such a daring intimacy against his technological proficiency.

I finally watched Murnau's "Faust" for the first time after wanting to for years.  Even though I've been watching a lot of really intense classic movies from multiple countries and decades lately, this is one of the few that REALLY made me go "wow" and feel that adrenaline rush that comes only from seeing a great film.  I'm a bit biased, for Dr. Faustus is one of my favorite poems, and the adaptation didn't disappoint.  Murnau's film takes the poem's premise in a different direction, condensing while exploring the poem's themes and ultimately making for a bit more emotionally satisfying film as opposed to the ridiculously dark end of the poem.

From the first five minutes, Murnau's uses of exaggerated expressionism, superimpositions, multiple transitions and unexpected camera moves make this is a kind of gothic religious drama.  The images are the best thing about the film, as shot after shot overwhelms with a steady contrast between black and white elements, and using lots of distortions in location and face.  The first 30 minutes of the film are exhilarating to watch, with Murnau perfectly synthesizing his skills as visionary and storyteller.

I read some reviews online following my viewing where people said the middle was too long, lacking the intensity of the opening and closing acts.  I'll agree with that, but only because the beginning and end are SO good that anything in between would almost have to pale in comparison.  The story moves with deft pacing, alternately terrifying and comical, but always sneaking in unexpected imagery to help reinforce its themes.

The entire frame is taken advantage of here, and Murnau does terrific editing work to help keep his larger than life ideas from taking off.  This is a controlled project to rival Eisenstein in some sequences, but the middle feels a lot more freeform, expressing the protagonist's freedom with his power.  Camera moves are light and edits are sparse, letting the film more stage-like in its romantic interludes.

Excellent silent film from one of Germany's GREATEST directors ever.  Wish I could write more, but I'm far too burned out from school.

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